The New Threat to Poland’s Sexual Minorities

How Liberals Left LGBTQ People Unprotected

At a protest against violence against LGBTQ people in Warsaw, Poland, July 2019 Kacper Pempel / Reuters

Since the mid-1990s, things had seemed to be changing for the better for sexual minorities in Poland. The first openly gay and transgender politicians were elected to office; mainstream films and novels began to represent LGBTQ characters in a positive light; and in 2001, the country’s first pride march was held in Warsaw, after which these marches spread into provincial cities. In an opinion poll conducted in February 2019, more than 50 percent of Poles expressed support for same-sex civil unions. When I left Poland 15 years ago, such developments had still been unthinkable. As an émigré, I watched my country from across the Atlantic with surprised appreciation.

But even as the Polish LGBTQ community was celebrating the February 2019 poll results, the tide was turning back against them. Their situation had been worsening, with increasing inevitability, since Poland’s current right-wing government came into power in 2015. Since this spring, anti-LGBTQ sentiments have become especially virulent and exceptional political energy has gone into fomenting them. In March, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), publicly opposed the World Health Organization’s sexual education guidelines, accusing them of “sexualizing” children and “altering children’s natural identity.” And since March, 31 right-leaning local governments (and counting) have declared their counties and cities “LGBTQ-free.” Churches have been distributing leaflets accusing gays of pedophilia. Prominent pro-life activist Kaja Godek accused gay people of “adopting children to rape and molest them.” In late July, Gazeta Polska, a right-wing daily, planned to include “LGBT-free zone” stickers with its Sunday edition, and a court order was needed to cancel their printing. Last week, Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski described LGBTQ communities as a “rainbow plague.”

This constellation of anti-LGBTQ forces, including the Catholic Church, right-wing activists and media, and the national and local governments, has riled up its constituencies and is apparently persuading some swing voters. The campaign has already had frightening and even tragic consequences. At the end of July, another opinion poll showed Poles’ support for same-sex

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