In February 2019, liberal Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski signs an avowal document. Two years later, almost a third of Polish cities and towns have declared themselves LGBT-free or even LGBT ideology-free zones. What happened? How did this unspeakable label, this nationally proud slogan that sounds more like 1933 than 2021, come about?
So first of all, what abomination did Rafał Trzaskowski declare with his signature on February 18, 2019, that “justified” this large-scale persecution against queer life? Let's take a quiz! With his signature he supported...
- ... the eradication of heterosexual cis people by LGBTIQ* people?
- ... a 100 % quota of LGBTIQ* people in leadership positions?
- ... an exclusive right to LGBTIQ*'s on streaming services?
- ... inclusion and non-discrimination of LGBTIQ* in civil and working life, i.e. the bare minimum.
(Hint: It's the 4)
The so-called "Warsaw LGBT Declaration," which calls for the inclusion and non-discrimination of LGBTIQ*, comes from the queer advocacy group Miłość Nie Wyklucza (Love Does Not Exclude). Members are still celebrating the signing as a "historic success." Shortly thereafter, hatred follows. This is, unfortunately, not entirely surprising for conservative Catholic Poland, but still striking in its severity. There are protests from Christian and conservative organisations, even the conservative PiS government (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, in English Law and Justice) is furious in the media ("attack on family and children"). Online, a shitstorm against Trzaskowski begins. It gets so intense that Love does not exclude calls on its community to share a letter of support.
In terms of realpolitik, these incidents are a cause for celebration for the PiS government. Migration is losing much of its impact as an enemy image in Poland at the time, and the incidents are contributing to the consolidation of another enemy image: the LGBTIQ* community. The LGBTIQ* community is framed as an evil, anti-state ideology imported from the West. Subtle war vocabulary that reinforces a nationalist worldview. Poland hereby copies Russian queer hatred for political purposes in a picture-perfect way. The government receives strong and almost ecstatic support from the Catholic Church, which also declared homosexuality as a curable disease at a bishops' conference in 2020, and which still has great influence in Poland; church and state are not separated.
Here is a small taste of the rhetorical agitation of the PiS government, and the Church, in the year of the incidents:
- April 2019: PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski refers to homosexuals as a "threat" at a conference titled "Being Polish - honour and duty" in Wloclawek. A threat to "the Polish identity, the nation, its existence and therefore the Polish state." He goes on to say, "These ideologies, these philosophies, all of this is imported."
- August 2019: Krakow-based Bishop Marek Jedraszewski, in a sermon commemorating the Warsaw Uprising, stresses that "LGBT ideology" is like a "rainbow plague." The new threat was "not Marxist, Bolshevik, but born of the same spirit: neo-Marxist," it was "not red, but rainbow." He spoke these words not even two weeks after there were brutal attacks at the first CSD in the Polish city Bialystok.
Quick note: Polish anti-queer propaganda does not pay attention to conceptual accuracy. What is meant by rainbow seems to be subjective and situational. Gender(theory) is not distinguished from sexual orientation. Gay is occasionally used as an umbrella term for the entire LGBTIQ* community. Just as LGBT (here also only these four letters are used) at times seems to be used as an umbrella term for homosexuals. (The focus is on homosexuality, other queer life tends to be denied existence altogether). The rhetorical ambiguity is due to imperious ignorance and contempt. It also serves to mix, blur, and thus unify a mass that is supposed to represent a homogeneous ideology, and thus can be homogeneously feared and hated.
Instead of bowing to the aggression of the media (and non-media) that followed Trzaskowski's signature, Warsaw's mayor, seemingly tired of life, ventures even further into the offensive. In the midst of the heated atmosphere, he publishes a next avowal document of his own. Not just any document. In this document, he endorses the World Health Organization's (WHO) sexuality education standards. These include LGBTIQ* topics in sex education. Already heteronormative sex education is highly controversial in Poland, there is a widespread opinion that it promotes early sexualization of children. So it is deeply contradictory to even advocate for sex education in Polish schools, but: LGBTIQ* sex in the classroom? The church, the government and parts of the population are enraged.
Various cities and municipalities now no longer want to stand by and watch and are starting to take political steps to act against the "Warsaw LGBT Declaration". They want to manifest rainbow hatred; even if they cannot make it official: legally, enforcing "LGBT ideology-free zones" is not possible. LGBTIQ* people cannot be legally evicted from these areas.
Nevertheless, parliaments cannot act fast enough.
At the end of March 2019, the southeastern Polish city of Świdnik became the first Polish territory to pass a resolution against "LGBT ideology." Other towns and villages promptly follow with their own or imitated resolutions.
At the end of April 2019, Łowicz County (Lodz Voivodeship) adopted the first Municipal Charter of Family Rights. So, these are two documents used as measures against "LGBT* ideology": Resolutions and a Charter. The resolutions (political decisions) are plural, so they differ from place to place. Most of them are based on the Świdnik resolution, or at least have a similar core message: we must protect our society from LGBT* ideology, and most importantly: marriage and our children in the schools. However, some resolutions are formulated more mildly, for example, they state that minorities must be respected, but that Polish values are still more important.
The municipal charter of family rights, on the other hand, is a legal document. It was written by the ultraconservative organisation Ordo luris in March 2019. In it, reference is made to Polish law by stating that marriage is a partnership between a man and a woman, family life is protected by the state, and the children should be protected from degradation.
So again, there is a clear fixation on same-sex marriage and LGBTIQ* school content.
While more and more areas adopt a resolution or charter, reporters from the right-wing conservative magazine Gazeta Polska are already working on their own manifestation, a campaign against LGBTIQ* life. At the end of July, there's something new attached to an issue that's going around the world.
It's important to note, Gazeta Polska is one of the main pillars of the PiS party. The magazine has lost a lot of readers in recent years, and its circulation figures are falling steadily. The magazine, too, can be accused of creating a strategic enemy image along PiS lines.
Back to the attachment. They are the stickers we all know by now. Which look like this: A rainbow flag, crossed out by two thick bars, around it like two garlands in black letters are the words "LGBT-free zone" - "LGBT-free zone". It is these very real stickers that refer to the much more abstract, metaphorical, and dangerous label, spreading it further and sticking it in people's minds. It is a label of a Catholic conservative nationalist worldview that rejects everything outside of radical heteronormativity. So the stickers are about a symbolic effect, just as the resolutions and the charter are about a symbolic effect.
Gazeta responds to criticism from various diplomats, the opposition and parts of society with a victim strategy, the editor-in-chief portrayed himself as a victim of LGBTIQ*'s and LGBTIQ*-friendly people: "What is happening here is the best proof that LGBT is a totalitarian ideology".
The queer advocacy group Love Does Not Exclude is appalled by the campaign, saying, "We have no words, but we cannot be silent." Indifference to hate is consent to violence." The Warsaw District Court wanted to stop the distribution of the stickers temporarily, at least until the conclusion of a court case. Gazeta's editor calls the ruling nothing more than "fake news" and "censorship," and stresses that the newspaper will continue to distribute stickers. The new decal now reads "LGBT ideology-free zone," it's a sticker that more and more Polish territories are adding to their flags.
Real LGBT-free zones may not be legally enforceable in Poland, LGBTIQ*'s may not be legally driven out of the areas with fire and pitchforks just because the area calls itself LGBT-free or even LGBT-ideology-free. Nevertheless, and this is the point, the label symbolically justifies a fire-pitchfork agitation, leads to shameless intimidation via violence, until final banishment. Symbolic effects should not be underestimated; they can end in real acts of violence and even dictatorships.
Even if two-thirds of Poland's regional governments rejected a resolution or the Charter, or didn't even consider it in the first place, that clearly must not be forgotten. Almost a third of the governments did not reject this, and because of that almost a third of a European country, in 2021, is covered with a sticker that is clearly condemning and marginalizing LGBTIQ* people, and promoting, if not demanding, any kind of hatred and violence against them, not to mention inspiring and infecting other countries as well. This is unacceptable. We have to fight against this.
Some of the sources: