On Thursday September 17th at 10 a.m. EST I will host a conversation with private sector representatives and activists on the LGBTQ situation in Poland (you can register to attend here) and the way the private sector can support Polish LGBTQ organizations, such as the Campaign Against Homophobia, to counter hate speech.
The viral anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in Poland has been best described by our friends at Outright Action International in a recent blog post: “Under Duda’s rule, nearly 80 Polish municipalities declared themselves “LGBT-free zones” last year. These zones promote intolerance and create hostile and violent environments for LGBTIQ people, undermining basic human rights, and yet an ever-growing number of places around Poland continue to declare themselves as such, empowered by the PiS party’s growing anti-LGBTIQ hate speech.” In addition, to hate speech, Human Rights Watch reported in early August that “the police have arrested LGBT rights activists for peaceful protest actions on the basis of an overly broad blasphemy law, violating freedom of expression and signaling the further deterioration of the rule of law in Poland.”
As a result, two weeks ago, the European Parliament members referred Poland to European Commission over LGBT arrests. (see Reuters article). The EU did react by rejecting small amounts of funding to six communities that had declared themselves to be “LGBT-free zones”.
It is however important to place these recent developments in Poland in a wider context of human rights degradation in the country. As an example, the efforts of the ruling party to threaten Gazeta Wyborcza, the country’s most important independent media outlet are equally worrisome. Similarly, the Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro has announced that Poland will withdraw from the European treaty on violence against women. It would be misguided to denounce anti-LGBTQ rhetoric without calling out the Governments on these other violations.
In that sense, the visible manipulation by Duda of anti-LGBTQ sentiments for political purposes is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Like coal miners used caged canary birds, whose death was a warning sign of toxic gases in the mine tunnels, LGBTQ people in Poland are a warning sign of the rise of populism and scapegoating in a difficult global context. These are the symptoms of the post human rights world the current US administration and other countries have been promoting.
Finally, anti-LGBTQ sentiments preceded Duda’s instrumentalization of LGBTQ people. The Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH) reported previously that 70% of Poles identifying as LGBTA experienced violence based on their identity in the last two years and similar numbers of teens declare having suicidal thoughts. The results of the ILGA survey also showed that only 42% of Poles believe that people who are homosexual should not be treated as criminals placing Poland below the level of acceptance in Russia. With or without Duda, additional efforts are needed to tackle cultural prejudice against sexual minorities in Poland.
Out Leadership, where I am leading Global Equality Initiatives, believes we can leverage the power of the private sector to respond to anti-LGBT rhetoric in Poland. This means enrolling the power of our 80+ member companies but also the signatories to the UN Global LGBTI Standards for Business in a sustained coalition effort. This means joining similar efforts by We Are Open in Poland and the Rainbow Business Network. We encourage the private sector to join efforts to urge the Polish Government and the members of the Parliament (Sejm) to consider carefully the potential impact of this backsliding on human rights on business and the economy at a time where the global economic context is fragile.
While the Polish economy is faring well (Poland is now the sixth-largest economy in the EU), it is worth reiterating that Poland is incredibly dependent on foreign investment. We also believe the private sector can demand from the European Union to do more to promote societal change on LGBTQ issues across Europe. Finally, we are convinced the private sector can find various ways to support grassroot movements and contribute to social change with locally based solutions.
We will discuss some concrete mechanisms during our September 17th session with Carla-Maria Tiburtini who has been gathering private sector representatives on the topic and Nancy Kelley of Stonewall which is closely following developments in the region.
September 17 – Global Pulse on Equality – Poland – Register Here
Where to look for help in Poland?