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UK twinned towns urged to lobby Polish counterparts against ‘LGBT-free zones’

Liberal Democrat campaign calls for British councils with links to Poland to show support for marginalised communities

Tom Batchelor
Wednesday 10 March 2021 13:43 GMT
Growing hostility towards the LGBT+ community in Poland has driven a wave of protests from both sides, including in Warsaw last August
Growing hostility towards the LGBT+ community in Poland has driven a wave of protests from both sides, including in Warsaw last August (Getty Images)

UK councils are being urged to lobby their Polish counterparts to stop the spread of “LGBT-free zones” which have sprung up across the country, as part of a new campaign led by the Liberal Democrats.

Half a dozen local authorities in the UK have official or informal twinning arrangements with towns in Poland that are considered by equality campaigners to be under significant pressure to implement resolutions targeting LGBT+ people.

Polish authorities have already passed resolutions in more than 100 districts declaring them “free of LGBT ideology” – moves which activists say are discriminatory and have led to a rise in hate crime.

Although they appear not to have been followed by legislation to discriminate against gay residents, anti-LGBT+ resolutions have fuelled concern across Europe about a drift in Poland towards illiberalism led by the Law and Justice government under president Andrzej Duda.

Lib Dem MP Layla Moran, who is leading the campaign, is urging councils in the UK with links to the country to write to the mayors of their Polish “twins” to show support for the local LGBT+ community.

One such area is Radomsko, one of the oldest cities in Poland, which has been twinned with Lincoln since 2007.

Polish ultra-conservative group Ordo Iuris held a meeting there under the guise of “protecting family rights and children against demoralisation”, but which campaigners say amounted to efforts to establish another “LGBT-free zone”.

Ordo Iuris was also behind a meeting titled “How to protect the family against the threats of the modern world” in Szczecin – a sister city of Hull.

Other parts of the UK, including Antrim and Newtownabbey near Belfast and Heywood near Rochdale, are twinned with Polish districts which campaigners say are facing pressure to adopt anti-LGBT+ resolutions.

The Independent has contacted the councils named, and Ordo Iuris, for comment.

Police remove a protester wearing a shirt saying ‘love’ with rainbow colours as he protests during the swearing-in ceremony for President Andrzej Duda (Getty Images)

Calling on UK towns to “protect our twins”, Ms Moran said: “Events in Poland should concern the whole international community. Labelling LGBTQ+ as an ‘ideology’ and suppressing LGBTQ+ people is outrageous. 

“Many of these towns are twinned with those here in the UK. We cannot stand by. We must protect our twins and the communities who live there.”

The spread of such zones is tracked by activists in a project called Atlas of Hate, which details parts of the country which have already established the areas or are thought to be under pressure to do so.

In October, the Irish town of Fermoy announced it was ending a twinning arrangement with the Polish town of Nowa Dęba over a 2019 resolution declaring the region “free from LGBT+ ideology”.

Twinned towns in France and the Netherlands have also cut ties with their Polish counterparts in protest at the zones.

As part of the campaign, councils in the UK will be asked to pass motions beginning a “formal period of diplomacy” with their Polish counterparts.

Regions considering creating “LGBT-free zones” will be asked to stop and areas that have rejected such proposals will be thanked for upholding human rights.

Anna Grodzka, a human rights campaigner, former Polish MP and the first openly trans MP in Poland, said the current situation was “too hard for many people to bear”.

She said: “Your gesture of solidarity and willingness to help is very valuable to us. This is all the more valuable as LGBT people and women have found themselves in a particularly difficult situation in recent months in Poland.”

Monika Rosa, a member of the Sejm (Polish Parliament) on behalf of the Nowoczesna Party, the Lib Dems’ sister party in Poland, which is endorsing the campaign, said: “We welcome your initiative to engage constructively with the towns and cities of Poland to reflect on human rights, particularly on LGBT+ rights.

“This is crucially important to take action against the systematic discrimination of minorities in Poland and promote European values in all levels of government.”

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