Poland could join countries like Russia and Lithuania, as well as several American states, in blocking recognition of LGBTQ people in schools, according to a new interview with Polish President Andrzej Duda.
“I think that this kind of propaganda should not take place in schools. It has to be calmly and consistently opposed,” Duda told radio show Radio Maryja. “If such a law was created and would be well written, I do not exclude that I would approach it seriously.”
Duda’s interview comes as national leaders attempt to crack down on statements of support for queer youth.
Last month, more than 200 schools were scheduled to celebrate the Campaign Against Homophobia’s “Rainbow Friday” to show solidarity with queer youth. But Anna Zalewska, a minister for national education, told principals that they needed to block participation. Though many complied, the Ministry of Education now says that they’ll investigate whether schools violated the country’s Education Act by allowing the event to go forward.
Earlier this year, the Polish Scouting Association released a statement expressing solidarity with LGBTQ members.
“Dignity and human value are not dependent on one’s sexual orientation,” the statement read. “As scouts, we have a duty to respect persons who are homosexual or bisexual, and such people are also involved in the scout movement. We should oppose hatred and contempt for them because our task is to see the neighbour in everybody.”
Duda’s statements echo those of other politicians who have sought to suppress queer citizens. Russia passed a ban on what they called “propaganda” in 2013, censoring a wide range of media and blocking vital services for queer populations. Though the Russian law’s purported purpose is to “protect families,” it blocks all discussion of non-heterosexual relationships in the presence of minors.
Just hours after the Russian law passed, arrests of LGBTQ activists began, starting with organizer Dmitry Isakov, who was fined 4,000 rubles — a little over a hundred US dollars. Arrests have continued over the intervening years, with various fines amounting to hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Lithuania, which borders Poland, has suffered under a “gay propaganda” ban since 2013. Despite complaints about the law from members of European Parliament, the law has endured, with impacts that include a block on TV stations airing public service messages about diverse families.
Similar legislation was considered in Kyrgyzstan in 2014, and in 2016 the most recent proposal stalled in committee after international outcry.
China also banned “abnormal sexual relationships including homosexuality” in 2015, resulting in censorship of the film Call Me By Your Name, among many others. Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like service popular in China, attempted to eliminate LGBTQ content earlier this year but backed down after widespread backlash from users.
In the United States, “no promo homo” laws have passed in seven states, including Oklahoma, Arizona, Texas, and South Carolina. Though Utah repealed its law last year, millions of American students are affected by laws preventing them from accessing information about health, relationships, and support.
Over the last decade, laws preventing the acknowledgement of queer people have experienced overwhelming support in states and countries where public opinion is harshest.
There has been a gradual softening of attitudes towards queer people in Poland, with a survey last year showing 56 percent opposed to civil unions — down from 76 percent in 2002. But public opinion remains hostile to queer people having contact with children. Another 2017 survey shows that just 16 percent believe LGBTQ parents should be allowed to adopt, and 75 percent said they would not accept a lesbian as a teacher.
Elected leaders and local authorities remain generally hostile as well. Though some left-leaning parties have expressed support for equality, right-wing religious groups have dominated Polish politics.
In recent years, one of the country’s main equality organizations, KPH, saw its windows smashed on multiple occasions, with little more than a shrug in response by police.
In 2015, a rainbow display made of flowers was burned by attackers in a town square in Warsaw. This year, the Love Does Not Exclude Association installed an “unbreakable” replacement: Sprinklers disperse a fine mist in the square, with a rainbow projected through it.
Earlier this year, Poland’s supreme court ruled that businesses could not refuse service to customers on the basis of sexual orientation. That was a setback to Justice Minister and Attorney General Zbigniew Ziobro, who had attempted to defend a printing company that refused to produce a banner for an LGBTQ group.
It remains to be seen whether the country will pursue Duda’s interest in a ban on discussing homosexuality. But such a proposal would likely have strong support from other politicians. Even Nobel prize winner Lech Wałęsa expressed animosity towards queer citizens, declaring several years ago that gay politicians should not be allowed to sit with colleagues.
In response, Wałęsa’s son Jaroslaw Wałęsa distanced himself from his father’s remarks, calling them “typical of the older generation.”
Jaroslaw is a member of European Parliament — a body that could apply pressure to Poland to prevent punitive laws from passing.
But the European Commission has been slow to respond to bans in countries like Lithuania, casting doubt on whether the international community can be counted on to shield Poland’s queer community.
Photo by Krystian Dobuszynski/NurPhoto via Getty Images