* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The mental health of LGBT+ young people in Poland was already worsening before Andrzej Duda compared ‘LGBT ideology’ to Communism during the presidential election campaign
Bartosz Stasewski is an LGBT+ activist with the Love Does Not Exclude campaign, based in Warsaw, Poland. He is also a board member of Lublin Equality Pride Association.
The incumbent Andrzej Duda has won Poland’s presidential election by 2%, according to official results on Monday morning, when almost all votes had been counted. His victory is a failure to respect rule of law and human rights in Poland.
There is now no hope of improving the situation of minorities. Further violations of LGBT+ rights and the legal system will become Polish people’s ‘daily bread’.
Duda's daughter, who had so far avoided the media, took to the floor on election evening on Sunday, stating, “Regardless of what we believe in ... and whom we love, we are all equal, and we all deserve respect.”
But the truth is different – Duda’s victory will only strengthen homophobia in Poland.
Duda won in the countryside and Poland’s east, while his opponent Rafał Trzaskowski had the advantage in cities and the west. Poland has never been as divided as it is now, after the higher voter turnout since 1995.
Duda's victory in Sunday’s election paves the way for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to pass a number of projects announced by Duda during his election campaign. There will be room for the government to ban what it calls ‘LGBT ideology’ from public places and to make adoption by same-sex couples illegal.
Homophobia and transphobia are becoming part of everyday life for many people. People with rainbow flags protesting at Duda's presidential rallies were attacked by Duda followers. This is only a taste of what LGBT+ people living in smaller towns can feel if they dare to live openly.
There are currently about 100 different ‘LGBT-free zones’ in Poland - towns and cities which have declared themselves free of ‘LGBT ideology’ or adopted a so-called ‘family charter’.
This number had recently stopped growing. But it will start to rise again. Duda’s statement during the election campaign that ‘LGBT ideology’ is more harmful than Communism will mean local governments feel even more supported to exclude LGBT+ people from their communities
The Polish government is interested not in combating homophobia, but in using it as political tool. And this has the greatest impact on young people.
Recent research into the mental health of LGBT+ young people is terrifying, showing an increase in mental health problems.
In 2016 as many as 70% of young LGBT+ people had suicidal thoughts, according to a study by Kosma Kołodziej, a medical researcher at Nicolaus Copernicus University. Now it is 84%.
This increase is also visible in suicide attempts among LGBT+ teenagers. In 2016 it was one in three; this year it is 45%, according to Kołodziej.
But there is hope.
At the end of 2019 the European Commission passed a resolution against the ‘LGBT-free zones’, giving a clear signal to Poland: homophobia will not pay off. Poland either needs to stop discriminating against LGBT+ people or it will stop receiving European funding. Now Poland is on a collision course with the European Union.
And, despite everything, the Polish Stonewall continues. In 2019, for example, over 100 ‘equality marches’ were held throughout Poland.
Government homophobia does not discourage young people, who are fighting back, organising themselves and living openly in their communities, despite how dangerous it can be.
This is the new face of Poland, where young people take matters into their own hands.