This week’s Plenary of the European Parliament in Strasbourg was eventful, with important highlights such as the approval of the new European Commission headed by Ursula von der Leyen, the Resolution on the climate and environment emergency, and the Resolution on the EU accession to the Istanbul Convention and other measures to combat gender-based violence, which was approved by a very large majority. On Tuesday, a statement was made on Public discrimination and hate speech against LGBTI people, including LGBTI free zones, followed by a debate.

The statement was triggered by the increasingly frequent use of anti-LGBTI rhetoric in the Polish political scene. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is targeting the LGBTI community as its new scapegoat and has adopted a discourse whereby the “LGBTI ideology” threatens the traditional values of family and religion. This narrative resonates with a burgeoning right-wing and the conservative movement. Since this Spring, Polish regional party officials have pushed to declare cities and even entire provinces in the country’s conservative southeast “LGBTI-ideology free”. Activists have counted around 30 such declarations so far. Even though these declarations do not have direct legal implications, they send a clear message that LGBTI people and allies are not welcome. When this summer a conservative magazine in Poland distributed “LGBTI-free zone” stickers, this initiative was defended by the Law and Justice government and even though a Polish court declared the stickers illegal, this decision has been ignored. This news came shortly after unrest started at the first pride parade in Bialystok in July when far-right clashed with marchers and police, including burning LGBTI flags and physically assaulting marchers. Furthermore, on the 28th of September far-right protesters tried to disrupt another pride parade, this time in Lublin, with police firing tear gas.

Poland ranks second to last out of the 28 EU Member States when it comes to equality and non-discrimination of LGBTI people, according to Rainbow Europe (ILGA-Europe). Same-sex marriage is illegal in Poland and homosexual partnerships are not legally recognized. Burgeoning hate speech against the queer community, which is frequently depicted as a threat to social stability and peace, can very easily turn into hate crimes and violence. Therefore, this dangerous rhetoric is not only outrageous in itself, but puts in physical danger those who belong to the LGBTI community.

These attacks on the LGBTI community are part of a general climate of backlash and conservative rhetorics, which find another target in women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights. This autumn, a draft law was proposed in Poland to amend the existing laws on preventing and tackling paedophilia. According to this draft law, anyone who publicly promotes or approves minors engaging in sexual intercourse would be subject to a penalty of up to two years in prison. The provisions also apply in the context of occupations related to the education, treatment or care or guardianship of minors. Such law would criminalise the provision of comprehensive sexuality education to minors. This measure sparked debate in the European Parliament, which adopted on the 14th of November a Resolution on the criminalisation of sexual education in Poland, thereby calling on all the EU Member States to introduce comprehensive age-appropriate sexuality and relationship education for young people in schools. Comprehensive sexual education, that includes wide range of topics like sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual expression, relationships and affirmative consent and is same-sex inclusive, contributes to increasing acceptance and understanding in society among other things also towards the LGBTI community.

According to the UNESCO, comprehensive sexuality education is a curriculum-based process of teaching and learning about the cognitive, emotional, physical and social aspects of sexuality. Currently, youth is exposed to confusing and conflicting information about relationships and sex when they make the transition from childhood to adulthood. It is crucial to empower youth to make informed decisions about relationships and sexuality to successfully navigate the world where gender-based violence, gender inequality, early and unintended pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) still pose serious risks to their health and well-being. Comprehensive sexuality education provides an opportunity to create a positive approach to sexuality, emphasizing values such as respect, inclusion, non-discrimination, equality, empathy, responsibility and reciprocity. According to the European Parliament, sexuality education is deemed fundamental to safeguard the rights, health, wellbeing and dignity of young people, to progress towards equality between women and men and to prevent violence against women.

It is worth noting that the EP Resolution was challenged by MEPs of the European Conservatives and Reformists (of which PiS is a member) and Identity and Democracy political groups, who argued that children should be protected from inappropriate content and sexuality education should happen within the family, as it is very strongly linked to religious beliefs and ideological conviction.

By criminalising the provision of sexuality education in the name of family and Christian values, and by challenging the very right of existence of the LGBTI community, politicians are deliberately stripping young people, women and queer people of their fundamental rights and making them more vulnerable to violence and abuse. Even though the most recent events connected to this backlash against LGBTI and women’s rights have happened in Poland, it needs to be underlined that similar rhetorics and narratives are widespread all over Europe, such as in Hungary, where the government ruled by the far-right Fidesz pulled out of the Eurovision song contest on the basis that it is “too gay”.

In this political climate, it is of fundamental importance to stand together, to recognise the link between women’s rights, LGBTI rights and minority rights, and to take a strong position for equality, inclusion and justice.

Therefore, AEGEE-Europe demands that:

  • EU Member States implement the recommendations expressed in the European Parliament Resolution of 14 November 2019 on the criminalisation of sexual education in Poland
  • The EU and its Member States take a clear stance against hate speech towards LGBT+ people both within their borders and beyond