The first thread of Poland’s patchwork of so-called “LGBT-free zones” was undone Thursday (28 January) as town councillors voted to withdraw its hateful legislation, activists said.
As women’s rights advocates, LGBT+ activists, among other allies, poured onto the streets of Warsaw to battle the country’s near-total ban on abortion, a small town made a hugely symbolic decision.
Councillors in Nowa Dęba, a town with some 11,000 residents in the south-eastern county of Tarnobrzeg, voted to withdraw its anti-LGBT+ resolution, according to activists on the ground.
Bartosz Staszewski, an LGBT+ campaigner who has sought to highlight the division caused by the LGBT-free zones by placing signs outside municipalities that have passed the declaration, took to Twitter to share the “great” news.
Radni Nowej Dęby na Podkarpaciu uchylili obrzydliwą uchwałę tworzącą strefę wolną od LGBT. Tak trzymać! To trzecie stanowisko uchylone przez radnych.
Council members of Nowa Dęba decided to withdraw the LGBT-free zone bill they declared in late 2019. That is great! pic.twitter.com/rari1BXtTR
— Bart Staszewski ᴸᴳᴮᵀ 🏳️🌈🇵🇱 (@BartStaszewski) January 28, 2021
Of Nowa Dęba town council’s 15 members, 10 voted in favour of the declaration’s withdrawal, Notes from Poland reported. One councillor abstained, while four did not participate.
Around 100 local and regional authorities – many under the control of the ruling right-wing Law and Justice Party, otherwise known as PiS, and tied to EU funding programs – have adopted hostile resolutions that declare the areas “free from LGBT+ ideology”.
Decision-makers in these regions have often pledged to refrain from acts that encourage tolerance while throttling vital financial funds to pro-LGBT+ NGOs.
Indeed, Nowa Dęba was among the Polish towns part of the EU’s twinning arrangement, where towns are partnered to promote cultural ties and receiving funding from the bloc. At least, it was.
Nowa Dęba found itself severed from Fermoy, Ireland, in 2020 for “discriminating against the LGBT+ community,” local Irish councillors explained.
Now, Nowa Dęba leaders have backtracked on the anti-LGBT+ policy – it was all a misunderstanding, they claimed.
PiS member and head of council Damian Diektiarenko told the outlet: “It seems that the council’s intentions have been misunderstood.
“We cannot allow anyone to use this [issue] against our municipality. We cannot allow anyone to tarnish [our] image by exploiting this declaration.”
In LGBT+ people, Poland picked its new top enemy
Many EU leaders have grappled with how to handle Poland’s dizzying spiral into homophobia, where Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the governing Law and Justice, has repeatedly positioned LGBT+ people as a corrosive threat to so-called traditional values.
Such attacks have been amplified further by a state media which has been twisted into a propaganda arm of the government, as well as by Catholic clergy leaders and the country’s president, Andrzej Duda.
Indeed, Duda and Kaczynski’s party election campaigns were both bitter displays in which support was sought by stirring disgust among voters, emboldening an increasing amount to commit acts of violence against LGBT+ people.
This new impunity felt by homophobes has seen Pride-goers at parades in far-flung towns have bottles, eggs and firecrackers lobbed at them.
While Poland has become fractured into “LGBT-free zones” across more than one-third of the country – larger than Hungary, which itself is hurtling into homophobia.
As much as Poland’s ruling lawmakers have denied or downplayed these zones, European officials have imposed financial sanctions on “LGBT-free” towns by denying them funds for its town twinning programme.
MEPs and community leaders have urged EU leaders to safeguard the rights of LGBT+ community in Poland, with gay Polish politician Robert Biedron likening the “dehumanisation” of the LGBT+ community to the treatment of Jewish people before World War Two — echoing a similar warning from the country’s Jewish leaders.