Landscape of Disgrace: Poland's ultranationalists target LGBT people

Ultranationalism requires an enemy. In Poland, that means sexual minorities. Municipalities across the country are passing anti-LGBT measures. But activists are fighting back, despite the legal odds and the physical violence.

Municipalities across Poland are passing anti-LGBT measures but activists are fighting back

Polish ultra-nationalists protesting against LGBT 'ideology' in Gdansk, Poland, Sept. 12, 2020. Their banner says: 'Gdansk against rainbow aggression.' (Agencja Gazeta/Bartosz Banka via Reuters)

Ultranationalism always requires an enemy. For Nazi Germany, it was Jews and the Roma, among others. For Poland today, it's sexual minorities. Since 2019, over 100 local governments in villages, towns, sometimes entire regions, have adopted resolutions and declarations against what they call "LGBT ideology."

One small village in the Podkarpacie region of eastern Poland adopted an anti-LGBT resolution, part of which says:

"We declare our support for the family based on traditional values, as well as our defence of the education system against LGBT propaganda that endangers the proper development of the young generation."

Two women, Monika and Nelly, have felt the impact of such declarations. They've been living together for four years and have three children from previous relationships. They also share a medical practice in the nearby town of Nowa Deba, where an anti-LGBT declaration was adopted.

Protesters gathered to fight for LGBT rights in Krakow as Polish President Andrzej Duda held a campaign rally at the same location, June 21, 2020. Earlier in June, Duda signed a 'Family Charter' of election proposals, pledging to prevent gay couples from marrying or adopting children. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)

So now the two women refrain from acting openly as a couple. The reason: Nelly has been in a custody battle with her ex-husband that has been dragging on for over four years. Psychologists describe her as a wonderful mother, but because she is partnered with a woman, they claim she's "unable to control her sexual instincts." They've concluded that rather than live with their mother in a stable family, it's better if the child stays with his problematic father.

But LGBT communities are pushing back. One prominent group of activists called Atlas of Hate has been documenting discriminatory regions on its website, in effect openly challenging the Polish establishment when it comes to the rights of sexual minorities. Some members have been beaten up. And the organization itself currently faces six court cases with a seventh ongoing. They're accused of "defaming" local authorities.

Poland's left-wing lawmakers dressed in rainbow coluors to show support for the LGBT community outside the parliament building ahead of the swearing-in ceremony of President Andrzej Duda for a second term, in Warsaw, Poland, Aug. 6, 2020. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

The church, anti-abortion groups, as well as conservative politicians and supporters often see the issue as one of sovereignty: that the push for sexual minority rights is a Western import, or even an imposition by the European Union. Some communities which adopted homophobic declarations stood in danger of losing their subsidies from the European organization. So they've withdrawn their resolutions in at least 15 cases. 

In Holy Cross province alone, the withdrawal of the "anti-LGBT" declaration unblocked 16 million euros.

Still, the homophobic measures continue. Sometimes with statutes and laws, sometimes with public gestures and symbols, such as buses and vans — dubbed "homophobusses" by Atlas of Hate — which drive through Polish cities with loudspeakers blaring announcements that 80 per cent of gays and lesbians are pedophiles. 

An anti-LGBT sticker which says: 'This is an LGBT-free zone' was distributed with the July 2019 magazine Gazeta Polska, a news magazine close to Poland's right-wing government. (Janek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty Images)

Critics both inside and outside Poland have compared ultranationalist targeting of sexual minorities to those of fascist regimes, notably Nazi Germany. But hard right organizations like the Life and Family Foundation and its "Stop LGBT" campaign, try to flip the historical analogy on its back.

"If we were looking for historical analogies, we would have to refer to the 1930s, when the Nazi Party began its march to power in Germany, just as the LGBT lobby is doing today," argued Life and Family Foundation member, Krzysztof Kasprzak in parliament. 

"A significant part of the Nazi leadership, as well as the first SA militia led by Ernst Röhm, were homosexual…. This is where you can find the origins of today's LGBT movement."

A majority of parliamentarians voted to further examine these claims with the view of possibly creating new national anti-LGBT laws. 

And the fight continues for organizations like Atlas of Hate. 

Landscape of Disgrace was produced by David Zane Mairowitz and Malgorzata Zerwe

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