Nobel Laureate Declines Polish Award Over Bishop’s LGBTQ Negative Statements

Olga Tokarczuk

A Nobel laureate has declined a local award from her Polish hometown because she would have been required to share the prestige with a Catholic bishop who has expressed LGBTQ-negative viewpoints. The laureate’s decision underscores the intensifying erosion of human rights protections for the Polish LGBTQ community, animated by Poland’s ultranationalist government, as well as by church officials.

As reported by the Assiniboia Times, 2018 Nobel Prize recipient in literature Olga Tokarczuk emphasized that although she was grateful to be chosen for Poland’s Lower Silesia’s honorary citizenship award, she could not accept it. Tokarczuk stated that being recognized alongside Bishop Ignacy Dec would have exacerbated the existing divide between Polish society and its LGBTQ population.

In September of this year, Bishop Dec characterized the LGBTQ civil rights movement as “the most serious threat to humanity.”

Tokarczuk, a strong advocate for the LGBTQ community, was nominated for the award by local legislators connected to Poland’s moderate Civic Coalition political party. In contrast, Bishop Dec was selected by the country’s ultraconservative Law and Justice party, which has actively sought to dismantle LGBTQ human rights protections.

Bondings 2.0 has previously reported on the Polish government’s targeted political campaign against its LGBTQ population. These calculated efforts continue to gain traction, galvanized by the institutional church as well as by Polish society, a large majority of which identifies as Catholic. A report by ILGA-Europe released this year placed Poland at the bottom of European Union nations when it comes to LGBTQ equality.

During a homily last year, Krakow’s Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski stated that “Poland was under siege from a ‘rainbow plague’ of gay rights campaigners.” In a pastoral letter, the archbishop equated Polish LGBTQ activists with the oppressive totalitarian regime that ruled Poland in the late 20th century.

Tokarczuk declined the award because of the growing cultural divide in her country. She told the Assiniboia Times:

“‘Instead of being a joyous celebration of a sense of community, it is a vivid illustration of the painful rift in our society.’”

According to a wire service story in the StarTribune, 50 ambassadors to Poland wrote an open letter stating that the nation needs to work for “non-discrimination, tolerance and mutual respect.” They emphasized that “Human rights are universal and everyone, including LGBTI persons, are entitled to their full enjoyment.”

Approximately one-third of Poland’s cities have now enacted legislation that mirror Russia’s anti-LGBTQ discriminatory laws, which penalize people for expressing their LGBTQ identity in public spaces. These Polish cities have declared themselves to be “LGBT-free” zones, which contravenes the European Union’s equality principles. The increasing hostile cultural climate has caused many Polish LGBTQ people to emigrate from their homeland.

Poland’s newly appointed cabinet member as chief of education Przemyslaw Czarnek, a professor at a Catholic university, has stated that LGBTQ persons are “not equal to normal people,” reported Reuters. The StarTribune shared further:

“‘We will not allow for children to be exposed to an ideology …that’s contrary to values that have been the foundation of the Polish society for centuries,’ Czarnek told public TVP broadcaster.’”

Czarnek’s homophobic comments mirror those beliefs recently published by the Polish bishops in an August 2020 document, characterizing LGBTQ identity as a harmful “ideology,” claiming that church teaching on homosexuality is “infallible,” and seemingly endorsing conversion therapy. A Polish church official has refuted claims that the document offers support for forced conversion therapy, though LGBTQ advocates remain skeptical.

Tokarczuk’s refusal of the honorary citizenship award is an act of courage in the struggle to protect the Polish LGBTQ community. Her decision, coupled with the open letter from the international community, serve as a stark warning to Poland’s political as well as its religious leadership that denigrating LGBTQ persons on the basis of their identity is the very definition of a human rights violation.

The use of vile language by senior church leadership and political officials in reference to the Polish LGBTQ community renders Poland unrecognizable as a Catholic nation because it fails to uphold the principles of Catholic Social Teaching: lovingly caring for one’s neighbor, the dignity of all God’s creation, and compassion for the vulnerable.

Brian William Kaufman, New Ways Ministry, October 8, 2020

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