Gay rights and homophobia are likely to be major issues in Poland’s delayed presidential election after the frontrunner pledged to “defend children from LGBT ideology.”
Andrzej Duda, Poland’s incumbent president, who is allied with the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), made the pledge while launching a so-called “family charter,” in what appears to be a move to energize the party’s conservative base as polls showed his lead narrowing.
After the vote was moved from May 10 to June 28 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, a liberal, entered the race, and polls suggest that in a runoff against Duda the vote could be split almost evenly.
Trzaskowski, of the center-right Civic Platform, has been a supporter of LGBT rights, including attending the Warsaw pride parade, the first time a mayor of the capital has done so.
PiS has been accused of democratic backsliding and erosion of the rule of law since winning a parliamentary majority in 2015.
It has often hit out at gay rights and what it calls “LGBT ideology,” in rhetoric that is popular with parts of its base and the Catholic church.
Among other things, Duda’s new charter pledges no support for gay marriage or adoption by gay couples, with Duda describing the latter as part of “a foreign ideology.”
It also seeks to “ban the propagation of LGBT ideology” in schools and public institutions — language reminiscent of a notorious Russian law targeting so-called “gay propaganda.”
There has been a concerted effort to portray the centrist Trzaskowski as an anti-Polish radical. Last week the pro-government weekly Sieci featured Trzaskowski on its cover wearing a rainbow armband and black hoodie, with the caption “the extremist candidate.”
Sieci editor-in-chief Jacek Karnowski said that the magazine had chosen the cover because the politician was presenting himself as moderate when, during his time as mayor of Warsaw, “he was trying to introduce LGBT ideology into schools and public life.”
Karnowski said that PiS was focusing on the LGBT issue because it “resonates on an emotional level” with a large part of the Polish population.
Government and church leaders have on occasions compared “LGBT ideology” to communism, Nazism and the plague.
The messaging does have an effect. In a survey last year, when asked to name the biggest threat to Poland, the most popular answer among men under 40 was “the LGBT movement and gender ideology.”
In a statement addressed to Duda this week, Poland’s Campaign Against Homophobia said: “Mr President, let us say it out loudly and clearly once again: there is no such thing as ‘LGBT ideology,’ it’s just a homophobic construct. LGBTs are lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender persons who personally experience the consequences of homophobic and transphobic hate which you also fuel.”
On Thursday evening, dozens of LGBT people and supporters gathered outside the presidential palace in Warsaw for a “silent disco” in protest at Duda’s charter.
A number of opposition politicians called on people not to attend the protest, saying images of it would be used as propaganda and could help PiS win the election.
Those present were angry at Duda’s messaging and also at the lack of support from other candidates.
“We need solidarity, but almost all the candidates in the presidential election are scared to be associated with the LGBT community, and that’s scary,” said Jvlia Swiech, who was involved in creating the event.
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