As communities across the world come together to celebrate LGBT+ history month and call for greater freedoms, Natalia Phillips reports on the challenges facing LGBT+ people in Poland.
The stigmatisation of the LGBT+ community in Poland has framed them as outsiders and immorally inadequate. The creation of ‘LGBT-Free Zones’ in some Polish towns, and the suppression of Pride marches and attacks on women’s rights as threats to social order, suggests that Poland remains a hostile environment for LGBT+ identities.
Numerous acts of social unrest, including (pro-choice Women’s Strikes and LGBT+ movement demonstrations) indicate the societal desire for equality of rights, and change to a more progressive society which does not prevent any of its members from active participation. Yet wishes, rights and dreams of equal treatment and acceptance are being crushed by an increasingly negative attitude on behalf of the Polish government, and from many members of Polish society.
The LGBT+ community are marginalised across all spheres of life. They are seen as ‘criminals’, unwanted and unnecessary to the Polish homogenous society – not because they did something wrong, but because their approach to life and most importantly, sexual identities, differs from the so-called ‘norm’.
The role and status of the Catholic church in Poland and the oppressive rule of the Law and Justice Party (PiS) has largely dictated the way of life in Poland (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-49904849). The church dictates the nation’s moral compass, leaving little space for openness to different sexualities and identities.
Together with a controlling government that largely influences public opinion by distorting the news in the state media, it continues to impose its ultra-conservative agenda on the country and its people.
Meanwhile, an established welfare system supporting multi-child families, together with the strong emphasis on national unity and Catholic traditions, also constrains possibilities for difference. Indeed, it limits it by marginalising the human rights of those who might be seen or thought to be different. The right to free expression and openness of relationships are frowned upon, framing the LGBT+ community as dehumanised, worthless, and invisible.
The stigmatisation of these communities inexorably emphasises the value given to heteronormativity in the Polish society. Goffman’s definition of stigma – as disqualification from full social acceptance – highlights the feeling of inferiority of marginalised people. The fear of both physical and emotional attack and the anxiety associated purely with their existence questions the fundaments of (relatively new-found) Polish freedoms and democracy.
Hate crimes and abuse
Stigma manifests itself in many different forms on both macro and micro levels. Alongside the ‘LGBT-free zones’ mentioned earlier, acts of discrimination such as: name-calling, belittling LGBT+ persons and referring to them as ‘an ideology’, amplifies the atmosphere of stress and pressure on the LGBT+ communities.
These hostilities, ranging from hate crimes involving the verbal and physical abuse as well as more routine called micro-aggressions in everyday interaction, (as explained by Pierce in 1970s), are brief and common indignities, both verbal and non-verbal. They permeate Polish society and are widely spread in conversation, media, politics, and education, in both religious and secular teachings.
They have become a pervasive social and political rhetoric, leaving the targeted individuals feeling exposed, fragile, and vulnerable. The high level of stigma and the presence of infinite hostility penetrate human interactions amongst the LGBT and other communities. (https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/lgbti-survey-country-data_poland.pdf) This has affected some in the LGBT+ community to such an extent that they choose to migrate to more liberal countries.
The conservative, right wing government has thrived on the moral panics that infiltrate the society and continue to expand generational and societal division, feeding into further oppression of the LGBT+ community. They use them to distract the public from their further attempts to the juridical changes that would tighten their power over the country’s court’s ruling and policy making.
These culture wars – dominated by government’s oppressive attitude and the group’s resistance to a conformist and narrow-minded rhetoric – persevere and manifest themselves in aggressive behaviours from both sides. (https://www.euronews.com/2020/10/06/poland-s-culture-war-lgbt-people-cornered-by-toxic-politics-are-turning-to-civil-disobedie) Highlighted by the Polish media, these moral panics, together with the government’s lack of engagement in dialogue with the community creates frustration and had led to demonstrations and protests. Manifestations of Pride across the country result in violent clashes with the police, Neo-Nazis, and socially conservative citizens.
A wake-up call to Europe
Together with strict anti-abortion rights, Poland maintains its status as an ultra-conservative country. Its determination to undermine the LGBT+ community’s efforts to establish freedoms of expression and the right of choice for women continue to concern the European Union.
Pressure from the EU on Poland is mounting, yet the church and the ruling party’s rhetoric on this matter remains unbroken. As a result, the continuing hostile discourse on LGBT+ rights impact everyday lives as they endure apparent resentment across all spheres of society.
The stigmatisation of the LGBT+ in Poland and other eastern European countries is a wake- up call for whole of Europe. The oppression ignited by the ruling party and its allies contrasts with the democratic values, integrity and social inclusion which constitute the main principles of the E.U.
This never-ending marginalisation needs to be addressed at the highest level. No European state that prides itself for religious values based on ‘love for one’s neighbour’ should be allowed to inflict such mistreatment on its citizens.
What this act of stigmatisation teaches the LGBT+ community is to persevere in their aims for equality and freedom of expression, against all obstacles thrown their way, all marginalised communities must stand in solidarity against this rule.
Educate and enable
The only way to make changes in a country that is utterly poisoned by this damaging, inhuman rhetoric is to educate the nation. A change of government in the next election would mark a turning point in this process.
In the meantime, the country needs the loudest voices both ‘at home’ and abroad to shout out what Poland claims to stand for: freedom and democracy. In the past, so many Poles died for these values.
Now it is time to resurrect these values once again, and educate the nation to see the bigger picture. A country where the church does not dictate whom to love. A country where all are welcome and equally valued, irrespective of their gender and their sexualities.
Natalia Phillips is a qualified teacher and is currently studying for a MA in Social Work at Brunel University London.