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For victims of state oppression in Poland, Duda’s election victory is an undeniable sign of darker times to come

As a Polish citizen and LGBT+ activist, it’s becoming increasingly important to remain vigilant under the rising climate of hate speech in my country

Bartosz Staszewski
Monday 13 July 2020 16:55 BST
Andrzej Duda giving a statement after first exit polls in Polish Presidential elections. Pultusk, Poland, 12 July 2020
Andrzej Duda giving a statement after first exit polls in Polish Presidential elections. Pultusk, Poland, 12 July 2020 (EPA-EFE)

Andrzej Duda has won Poland’s presidential election after results released on Monday morning gave the incumbent 51.2 per cent of votes with almost all the ballots counted. His liberal challenger, Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw, trailed with 48.8 per cent.

Duda's populist campaign was built on a number of favoured policies, such as vowing to defend the generous and well-received social welfare program introduced under the Law and Justice party; pledging to improve Poland's stability and prosperty through upholding "tradition"; and, notably, anti-LGBT+ bigotry.

Despite his victory in the Polish presidential elections however, which reportedly had the highest turnout since the fall of communism in 1989, the narrow results of yesterday’s election show at least 50 per cent of voters don’t want to live in a society based on hate. It’s time to act accordingly. Without action, homophobia and transphobia will increasingly become normalised parts of life for many people, starting with the space allotted for projects Duda announced during his election campaign.

There's the ban on same-sex couples adopting kids; the so-called "homopropaganda" ban in public spaces mentioned in many of Duda's public statements, an idea based on the president's belief in protecting children from LGBT+ ideology, which he sees as harmful for young people. Both ridiculous ideas which suggests anything other than an anti-LGBT+ stance will encourage perversion, or lead to corrupting children with unsavoury ideas. The Law and Justice party together with right-wing NGOs often connect homosexuality with paedophilia and use such ideas to undermine LGBT+ rights.

That's not all. In May, the ministry of the environment started work on a plan to declare the financing of NGOs. Under this plan, NGOs will be obliged to state that they are being financed from abroad. Laws like this in Hungry and Russia, which label NGOs "foreign agents", could now be introduced in Poland against LGBT+ NGOs and their fight towards equality. But the LGBT+ community are not foreign agents we are Poles fighting for human rights and a better place to live for everybody.

In my documentary Article 18, released in 2017, I highlighted the struggle of the Polish LGBT+ community which has been fighting for equality for years. The previous liberal government did nothing to protect us. There was no push for civil unions nor marriages or anti-hate-speech laws. Subjects concerning LGBT+ topics were usually labelled by liberal politicians as “substitute subjects (red herring) in public debate”; the economy, taxes and highways seened far more important to them. And so in Poland, we remain not only unprotected but doomed to be used as hate campaign tools.

During Pride month and election time in Poland, president Duda and politicians among him attacked LGBT+ minorities many times. He made a campaign pledge to “defend children from LGBT+ ideology”, which he has claimed could be “even more destructive” than communist ideology. As LGBT+ people navigating this discriminatory system, we are losing hope.

The climate of hate speech is rising and we need to be aware of the signs. Under Duda's leadership, this could very well end up in bloodshed. And it already has, with the murder of pro-LGBT+ Gdańsk mayor Paweł Adamowicz and the Bialystok Pride hooligans who threw stones at participants.

We have observed as the high number of places designated as LGBT+-free zones increase, as pushed under the 101 anti-LGBT+ resolutions created and implemented by local governments. Among other things, these abhorrent declarations include protecting families from LGBT+ ideology, kids from "perverts" who want to introduce sex education in schools, and to protect people from “soliders of political correctness”. A number of these bills have been sent to court by Polish Ombudsman Adam Bodnar and still await a court decision on the practice of excluding LGBT+ people from local communities in Poland. With Duda's new mandate, the issue will only grow, leading to the further exclusion of LGBT+ citizens from Polish society.

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After years of leadership under Duda, Poland’s rank has plummeted to the bottom of the list in terms of LGBT+-friendly countries in the European Union, according to the latest ILGA-Europe index, cooming in at 41 out of 49. Still, the European Union resolution against “LGBT-free zones'' in Poland from last year has been ignored by the Polish government. Even when the EU commission issued warnings to cut funds to regions declared LGBT+-free, local governments largely remained silent. Clearly, the EU needs to go further to show Polish government that homophobia will not be tolerated as official government policy.

Who is most vulnerable to homophobic hate-speech? Young LGBT+-teenagers. The latest statistics show an increase in mental health problems among young LGBT+ people. In 2016, as many as 70 per cent of young LGBT+ people had suicidal thoughts. Currently, it is 84 per cent. The increase is also visible in suicide attempts among LGBT+ teenagers. In 2016 it was 30 per cent and just four years later, it has climbed to 45 per cent. All this while politicians and the Polish Catholic Church remain indifferent and cynically use homophobia to further their aims.

The LGBT+ struggle in Poland will continue but we won't give up. Last year we saw the largest number of Pride marches across Poland. Young people do not believe in the primitive propaganda of the Law and Justice party. The youth climate strikes, Pride parades and rainbow protests in small and big cities give us hope that young Poles will be the change we desperately need to see.

Bartosz Staszewski is an LGBT+ activist from Poland and director of documentary Article 18

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