Poland's anti-LGBT+ tirade similar to pre-war 'dehumanising' of Jews, MEP says

by Hugo Greenhalgh | @hugo_greenhalgh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 14 September 2020 11:55 GMT

Counter protesters march as Polish nationalists gather for demonstration "Gdansk against rainbow aggression" to protest against LGBT+ "ideology" in Gdansk, Poland, September 12, 2020. Agencja Gazeta/Bartosz Banka via REUTERS

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Gay Polish former presidential candidate sees parallels between treatment of LGBT+ people today and Jewish community before war

By Hugo Greenhalgh

LONDON, Sept 14 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A prominent gay politician in Poland has compared the government's repeated attacks on the LGBT+ community to the way Jewish people were "dehumanised" in the run-up to World War Two.

LGBT+ rights are increasingly contested in Poland, where President Andrzej Duda was re-elected in July after an acrimonious campaign in which he proposed a constitutional ban on same-sex adoption and LGBT+ education in schools.

"The president of the republic dehumanises LGBTI people and calls them 'not humans'," said Robert Biedron, a former Polish presidential candidate who now sits in the European Parliament.

"I remember from the schoolbooks that Jewish people (before World War Two) were dehumanised, they were called 'not humans', and to me these resemble those times," Biedron told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

Biedron, 44, was speaking in advance of a European Parliament meeting due on Monday to debate possible action against Poland in protest at the treatment of its LGBT+ community.

Members of the ruling Law & Justice (PiS) party have been joined by some Roman Catholic bishops in denouncing LGBT+ rights as a foreign "ideology" that threatens traditional values.

The Polish government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Last month, a spokesman said there was "no public policy or regulation restricting the civil rights of people with different sexual orientation in Poland".

Biedron said, however, that the Polish government should pay the price for "not respecting the rule of law" within the European Union.

"Because what is the European community? It is about the respect for equality, for freedom and for the respect of minorities," he said.

'THE PERFECT SCAPEGOAT'

Biedron, a former mayor of the northwestern city of Slupsk, ran as a candidate in this year's presidential election, winning 2.2% of the vote after being the target of homophobic rhetoric during campaigning.

"To be honest, I expected (the homophobia)," he said. "But I was an activist for many years, fighting for LGBTI rights when it was really taboo. So to be a candidate and have the support of so many people is a sign of progress."

In parliamentary elections in October 2019, PiS made LGBT+ rights a major focus of its campaign, and critics say the nationalist party has fomented anti-gay and anti-trans sentiment in the country.

"This government won't change its (anti-LGBT+ policies) in coming years," Biedron said.

"They see it works. They are winning elections because they are being homophobic and transphobic, and we are the perfect scapegoat."

Biedron's partner, Krzysztof Smiszek, is a member of the lower chamber of Poland's bicameral parliament.

Both he and Biedron have been active in supporting a new generation of activists, including Margot Szutowicz, whose arrest last month for damaging an anti-LGBT protester's van sparked a wave of demonstrations.

"I keep fingers crossed for this generation," Biedron said, adding that he supports Szutowicz's sometimes-controversial campaigning tactics.

Biedron warned that the Polish government's stance could eventually pose a risk to the country's EU membership.

"There is a danger that one day Poland will make a mistake and be out of the European Union," he said.

"But that would be catastrophic not only for LGBTI people but Polish society as a whole... That's why we need solidarity."

Related stories:

'They are not alone': LGBT+ march against fear on German-Polish border

LGBT+ activist behind 'Polish Stonewall' not afraid to die

Polish 'LGBT-free' town gets state financing after EU funds cut

(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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