In Poland’s ‘LGBT-free zones,’ present is an act of defiance

In Poland’s ‘LGBT-free zones,’ present is an act of defiance

Karolina Duzniak and her fiancee Ola Głowacka drive away from Kozy.


Kozy, Poland (CNN) — Karolina Duzniak has lived within the drowsy, tree-dotted Polish village of Kozy for 26 years. However she doesn’t really feel herself till she will get into her automotive every morning, shuts the door and drives away.

“I want massive cities,” she says, reflecting on her each day journey to work in close by Bielsko-Biala, an industrial city sprawl close to the border with the Czech Republic. “I come again dwelling and I really feel unhealthy. It’s not me.

“On a regular basis I disguise one thing.”

Duzniak is a assured, amicable profession coach with a associate of 10 years, however she has good purpose to cover one essential side of her persona. She is homosexual, and homosexual individuals are not welcome in Kozy. An official doc reminds them of that.

Final 12 months, the encircling Bielsko county — which incorporates Kozy and dozens of different cities and villages, however not Bielsko-Biala — handed a decision supporting “conventional household values” and rejecting the LGBT group for “undermining the idea of a household mannequin.”

“We encourage younger folks to begin households that are by their essence a pure surroundings for self-realization,” the textual content reads. Households “formed by the centuries-old heritage of Christianity,” and that are “so essential for the excellent growth of our homeland.”

The area shouldn’t be an exception. In little over a 12 months, a whole lot of areas throughout Poland — masking a couple of third of the nation, and greater than 10 million residents — have remodeled themselves, in a single day, into so-called “LGBT-free zones.”

Duzniak, left, and Głowacka hope to marry in Poland, however the nation at the moment prohibits any type of formal same-sex unions.

These areas, the place opposition to LGBT “ideology” is symbolically written into legislation at state and native ranges, have put Poland on a collision course with the European Union and compelled sister cities, allies and watchdogs throughout the continent to recoil in condemnation. Native legal guidelines have been contested, and a few communities that launched such laws have seen their EU funding blocked.

However the affect is felt most painfully — and each day — by the homosexual, lesbian and transgender Poles who dwell in cities that would like they merely weren’t there.

“I’m extra pressured. For the primary time in my life I’m very, very scared,” Duzniak says, reflecting on the decision as she walks CNN round her hometown together with her girlfriend Ola Głowacka.

Kozy — which interprets as “Goats” — claims to be Poland’s most populous village. It’s a slumbering place with a neat, well-maintained park, a number of church buildings and an 18th century palace that after welcomed native the Aristocracy and now serves as a cultural middle and library.

However Duzniak tries to not discuss her associate when she’s in her hometown. “Individuals would speak behind our again,” she says. “It’s unusual for them. It’s one thing horrible. It’s unnormal, unnatural. They are saying that, generally.” Issues are simpler in Bielsko-Biala, the place Głowacka lives, and the place anti-LGBT intolerance has not been adopted in legislation.

As a substitute, the love between the 2 is noticeable solely of their glances, half-smiles and the engagement that they preserve well-hidden when strolling via Kozy. Whereas they briefly hug after they meet one another, they’d by no means — ever — maintain arms.

“In fact not!” Duzniak says with a dismissive chuckle, as if the idea had been so outlandish as to not warrant a thought. “It’s not attainable right here,” provides Głowacka.

Poland is a rustic nonetheless steeped in Catholic customized and fiercely, reflexively defensive of its nationwide custom. Round 9 in 10 Poles determine as Roman Catholics, and about 40% attend Sunday mass weekly.

A household arrives to Sunday mass at a Catholic church in Istebna. Poland is staunchly Catholic, and practically half of Poles attend church weekly.

Components of its notably conservative, rural areas to the southeast have by no means embraced LGBT folks; however now, homophobic rhetoric is uttered by the state and preached in church buildings, and hostility on the streets is boiling over.

Throughout a reelection marketing campaign partially dominated by the difficulty earlier this 12 months, incumbent President Andrzej Duda — a staunch ally of US President Donald Trump — warned of an LGBT “ideology” extra harmful to Poland than communism. The governing social gathering’s highly effective chief, Jarosław Kaczyński, has claimed LGBT folks “threaten the Polish state.” Its new schooling minister mentioned final 12 months that “these individuals are not equal to regular folks.” And final 12 months, Krakow’s archbishop bemoaned that the nation was beneath siege from a “rainbow plague.”

“The church tells (worshippers) we’re harmful,” says Głowacka. The couple say that a couple of years in the past, “folks would simply ignore us.” However not anymore; the surge of anti-LGBT rhetoric from governing officers has been met by a variety of high-profile acts of violence at LGBT occasions, pro-government media often parrots the populist authorities, and Poland has now turn into the worst EU nation for LGBT folks in Europe in line with continental watchdog ILGA-Europe.

When an enormous EU research earlier this 12 months discovered that LGBT+ folks on the continent typically really feel safer than they did 5 years in the past, Poland was the obvious exception; two-thirds of homosexual, lesbian and transgender Poles mentioned intolerance and acts of violence towards them had elevated, whereas 4 in 5 mentioned they keep away from sure locations for concern of being assaulted — the best fee in Europe.

And final 12 months, a pro-government journal was met with an offended backlash after handing out “LGBT-free” stickers to readers — permitting them to imitate their lawmakers by proclaiming that their houses, automobiles or companies welcome solely heterosexual folks.

“My mum on a regular basis asks me, are you OK? Are you with Ola?” Duzniak says. “On a regular basis, she rings or texts,” nervous about her daughter’s security.

“I like this nation. I used to be born right here,” Duzniak says as she wears her engagement ring round Kozy. “It’s essential to me that if we’ve a marriage, if we get married and she or he is my spouse, that it’s revered by the legislation of this nation.”

The couple have averted the worst, for now. However neither Duzniak or Głowacka, who put on engagement rings even though same-sex marriage and civil partnerships are unlawful in Poland, can keep away from the each day stress of being who they’re.

“It’s like I am simply much less human than the opposite folks,” says Głowacka. “They will maintain arms, they’ve kids. Simply because they’re like they’re, they’re higher. However why?”

“Lots of people know me,” provides Duzniak, referring to her neighbors within the village of 12,000 folks. “I’ll by no means inform them (that I’m homosexual),” she says. “However I do know that they know.”

‘John Paul II wouldn’t approve’

Homophobia exists not simply on a lot of Poland’s streets, however within the closed-door council conferences the place the liberty of LGBT folks is debated; and the place a visceral, deep-rooted and alarmingly informal sentiment is laid naked.

In Swidnik, a small city close to the Ukrainian border, councilors painted gays and lesbians as “radical folks striving for a cultural revolution,” accusing them of wishing to “assault freedom of speech (and) the innocence of kids.” In Nowa Sarzyna, one other japanese city, homosexuality was labelled “opposite to the legal guidelines of nature” and a violation of “human dignity.” And within the Lublin province, a sprawling space of japanese Poland dwelling to greater than 2 million residents, LGBT rights campaigners had been condemned by native lawmakers for looking for “the annihilation of values formed by the Catholic church.”

It’s from these debates, and amid a relentless eruption of anti-LGBT rhetoric from the nation’s populist authorities and non secular leaders, that the native legal guidelines emerge.

The nation’s pursuit of illiberal, anti-LGBT laws adorned as a protection of conventional values has additionally spurred comparisons with Russia, a sometimes unwelcome connection to attract in Poland; Moscow’s 2013 legislation banning LGBT “propaganda” relied on most of the identical arguments, and fostered the same world outcry.

However in contrast to Russia, the place the worldwide group has little sway, Poland has been thrust right into a battle with Brussels over the laws. No less than six cities have misplaced EU funding over their adoption of “LGBT-free” payments. Within the face of such world condemnation, the ruling Legislation and Justice Celebration has furiously rejected the “LGBT-free” characterization; when US presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned the areas final month, one Polish lawmaker retorted angrily that it was an LGBT activist who had used the label, and that he would stand trial for doing so.

The Polish authorities didn’t reply to CNN’s requests for remark for this story.

“Nationalism and Catholicism are very related in Poland,” explains Tomek Zuber, a younger homosexual man residing in Czechowice-Dziedzice — a bigger city just some miles from Kozy that additionally lies throughout the wider “LGBT-free zone” of Bielsko.

Tomek Zuber sits within the middle of Czechowice-Dziedzice. Prior to now 12 months, he has come out, attended his first Pleasure parade, and suffered his first expertise with homophobia.

At a sq. within the city middle, a statue of Pope John Paul II seems to be upon the church Zuber used to attend as a schoolboy. The late Pope, an icon who evokes virtually sacred adoration amongst many older Poles, wears a shy smile on his face, his arms outstretched as if he had been about to embrace passersby in a hug. The pontiff was born just some cities to the east, and is revered for giving Poles hope through the period of martial legislation — however his staunch opposition to homosexuality widened the chasm between many LGBT folks and the church.

“His phrases are used for not giving LGBT folks rights,” Zuber says. “‘John Paul II wouldn’t approve,’” he provides, imitating the admonitions of conservative Poles.

These classes are discovered from an early age. At college in close by Katowice, Zuber mentioned his principal issued a warning to all college students earlier than their final-year promenade: “No consuming, no smoking (and) no same-sex dancing.” He and his classmates rallied towards the rule and, with the assistance of a few of their mother and father, obtained it overturned.

“I had a part the place I used to be a extremely Catholic and religious individual,” Zuber says. “However in the long run … the Catholic church doesn’t appear to me prefer it’s true to many of the teachings they declare to comply with.”

A statue of Pope John Paul II greets passersby in Czechowice-Dziedzice.

Zuber’s former church, which he attended as a toddler and a youngster.

The “LGBT-free zone” he lives in is a daily reminder. “The zones themselves don’t have any authorized energy, they’re principally symbolic,” he notes. No indicators go up in a single day; no companies turn into instantly empowered to refuse customized. “(However) it encourages the opposite-minded folks to talk out towards us, and be extra energetic.”

Simply two weeks earlier than assembly with CNN, Zuber mentioned he overheard an aged girl say she was disgusted by his rainbow tote bag.

“It will increase the concern,” he says.

What drives so many areas to undertake a invoice that sends concern via a lot of their residents? “The curiosity of communities (is) to not defend romantic, emotional relationships, however the relationships which might be fruitful,” Nikodem Bernaciak, an legal professional whose agency wrote a template for an “LGBT-free” decision that has since been adopted by dozens of Polish cities, tells CNN in a telephone interview. His group, the Ordo Iuris Institute for Authorized Tradition, is despised amongst many Polish LGBT activists for its outstanding position in driving the nationwide backlash towards LGBT rights.

A toddler on a scooter rides previous the Bielsko council constructing, the place the decision to create an “LGBT-free zone” was drawn up.

“Casual relationships usually are not as sturdy as marriage, so the state chooses the type of relationship that’s extra useful.”

“The household must be protected towards every kind of threats,” Bernaciak says, explaining the premise of his group’s decision. He argues that its wording is “optimistic” and doesn’t point out LGBT folks particularly, which critics say is merely an try to evade authorized challenges.

Others, just like the Bielsko area, select as an alternative to put in writing their very own resolutions that extra straight single out these campaigning for equal rights for LGBT folks. The Bielsko council refused a number of requests to touch upon their reasoning for passing the invoice, telling CNN they don’t focus on the resolutions they enact.

However the message to LGBT folks in Poland has been clear. “The Polish authorities used to make use of immigrants and the migration disaster as their scapegoat,” says Mathias Wasik, director of packages on the New York and London-based LGBT+ monitoring group All Out — one among many human rights teams watching Poland from overseas. “Now, they’ve discovered the LGBT+ group as the following scapegoat.”

“The rhetoric they’re listening to from the federal government, from the pro-government media, from the church — all of that reveals them, you don’t belong right here.”

Individuals collect on the Katowice Pleasure occasion on September 5.

‘He advised us we had been pedophiles’

For a couple of hours on one gloriously sunny latest Saturday, the scene in Katowice resembles another European metropolis.

Within the bustling and extra liberal southern location, rainbow flags flutter beneath a baby-blue sky. Revelers from the area, together with Zuber, have gathered for town’s third annual Pleasure parade.

The occasion hardly rivals occasions in London, Madrid or Berlin. Authorities estimate 200 individuals are current — and the gang is dwarfed by 700 law enforcement officials, some in riot gear, who tightly encompass the festivities.

However the parade supplies consolation. “It provides this sense of residing in a traditional metropolis, in a traditional nation, the place we don’t have nationalists wanting us to be gone,” Zuber says, after marching previous the college during which he got here to phrases together with his sexuality — and which tried to ban him from dancing with one other man.

Zuber marches previous his former faculty, the place he says his principal tried to ban same-sex dancing throughout promenade.

Dominika Danska got here to the occasion together with her mom, younger sister and 11-year-old brother. “We wish to present him that LGBT individuals are regular,” she explains.

Hours earlier, she was on a practice with a dozen others, travelling to Pleasure from “LGBT-free zones” round Bielsko-Biala. Because the practice approached Katowice, many become their Pleasure apparel. Their rainbow socks, flags and T-shirts with slogans emerged from plain baggage. Pins had been hooked up. One younger couple went to the toilet to place make-up on, a transfer that may be unthinkable again at dwelling. Few attendees wished to danger boarding the carriage in rainbow colours.

However even earlier than arriving on the parade’s start line, the group was reminded of the each day risks they face. A automotive pulled over, and the driving force shouted “F**okay faggots” out of the window.

It’s the primary insult of many. “He advised us we had been pedophiles. He advised me to not smile or he’d take my flag,” Danska says. Moments later, a person walks previous, shouting and theatrically pulling his kids in the wrong way as if to guard them from the group. An aged girl weighs in, telling the group to go away.

From left: Dominika Danska rides the practice dwelling from the Pleasure parade together with her mom, Agata; brother, Szymon; and sister, Gosia.

“Two folks love one another they usually name them pedophiles simply because they’re totally different,” Danska’s mom says. “That is laborious. It’s laborious.”

Pleasure parades have taken on a tangible pressure in Poland since violence at Bialystok final 12 months, the place an occasion was overrun by nationalists throwing rocks and bottles.

“I really feel unhealthy in Poland,” says David Kufel, an 18-year-old attendee on the occasion. “The President says I’m not human.

“I’ve one good friend who was kicked out of his dwelling as a result of he was homosexual. I don’t wish to dwell on this nation,” he says. “I simply don’t wish to must struggle on a regular basis, simply once I exit of my home.”

Individuals watch from balconies because the Pleasure parade strikes via Katowice.

David Kufel wears his rainbow socks to the Katowice Pleasure march.

Even in Poland’s bigger cities, the antipathy is rarely distant. At one counter-protest close to the parade, anti-LGBT activists arrange a makeshift stall to assemble signatures for a petition towards LGBT occasions. They introduced a giant speaker that performs lengthy homophobic monologues denouncing the LGBT group as “deviant” and “harmful.” Lots of these passing by cease to signal the petition. At instances, a line types.

“In Poland, we’ve a civil battle between LGBT and regular, conservative folks,” says Grzegorz Frejno, the 23-year-old who co-organized the protest together with his spouse. “We wish to cease Pleasure parades.”

“We don’t need our children to see that, to see the bare folks on the road,” his spouse Anna provides, gesturing in direction of a small group of clothed revelers doing the macarena close by. She refers to LGBT activists as coming from “the darkish facet,” and says their petition has garnered 5,000 signatures in a single afternoon, far outnumbering these celebrating on the occasion.

Anna Frejno and her husband Grzegorz Frejno, proper, collect signatures for his or her petition.

Patryk Grabowiecki signed the petition to ban Pleasure marches.

Marchers are mirrored in a police defend through the Pleasure parade. An estimated 700 officers packed Katowice through the occasion.

A number of of those that got here to assist the anti-LGBT gathering advised CNN they determine as Polish nationalists. Some put on excessive black boots and T-shirts adorned with slogans written in Fraktur, the outdated German typeface favored by Japanese European far-right teams. Just a few complained about “Antifa” infiltrating Poland’s streets among the many protesters.

“I’m disturbed. For them, anti-conception and abortion are the identical factor. They’re speaking about murdering folks,” says Patryk Grabowiecki, a tall man with a shaven head, sporting suspenders and black boots with white laces — basic identifiers of Japanese European far-right nationalism.

The gaggle of petitioners briefly and bitterly have interaction with Pleasure marchers, earlier than police intervene. Danska wearily says that partaking with the opposition is “pointless.”

“In fact I wouldn’t like for somebody to attempt to damage me, to beat me. However I’m ready for that — I’ve this pepper spray,” she says, displaying an merchandise she retains as a final resort. “I don’t wish to use it.”

Anti- and pro-LGBT demonstrators confront each other following the Pleasure march in Katowice. Violence at earlier occasions throughout Poland have made Pleasure parades tense encounters within the nation.

‘We’re the general public enemy’

A day later, beneath a colorless gray sky, locals within the southern village of Istebna filter into Sunday mass.

The village, surrounded by mountains and strolling distance from each the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is dwelling to only over 5,000 folks. However since its “LGBT-free” standing was deemed unconstitutional and annulled by a neighborhood courtroom in July, the dozy city has been thrust into the center of Poland’s battle over homosexual rights.

The courtroom discovered that claims the zones goal an LGBT “ideology” — and never LGBT folks themselves — flip “a blind eye to actuality.” The designation “harms LGBT folks and strengthens their sense of menace,” it mentioned.

Campaigners had been overjoyed by the ruling. However activists in Istebna are already working to regain the “LGBT-free” label, and Sunday morning is a perfect time to rally assist.

A household of parishioners make their method to Sunday mass in Istebna.

Jan Legierski stands exterior the church, the place he collects petitions to show Istebna again into an “LGBT-free zone.”

“Individuals listed here are towards the (LGBT) ideology,” says Jan Legierski. He spends hours standing within the drizzle exterior the church amassing signatures, lobbying for the courtroom’s choice to be reversed.

“I don’t need this to have an effect on my grandchildren,” he says, insisting that “kids and future generations usually are not indoctrinated, and that they aren’t wicked.”

The church hosted 4 back-to-back packed lots that morning. Practically everybody attending — older folks, kids, kids — signed the paperwork. Legierski began the small-scale motion with round a dozen buddies, impressed by the resolutions being handed throughout the nation.

Parishioners crowd round a desk exterior the church to signal Legierski’s petition.

The battle ongoing in Istebna, and numerous cities prefer it, is quickly pushing Poland right into a geopolitical quagmire.

“There is no such thing as a place for LGBTI-free zones within the EU or anyplace else,” Helena Dalli, the European Commissioner for Equality, tells CNN. Dalli has rejected town-twinning functions and pulled EU funding for a variety of areas that pursued the designation, whereas Poland has been publicly condemned by EU Fee President Ursula von der Leyen.

“The claimed ‘LGBTI ideology’ that these charters supposedly tackle is just a veil to masks the underlying discrimination,” Dalli says. “Poland joined the European Union on a voluntary foundation and should now respect the EU treaties and elementary rights.”

“I’m in favor of regular households,” says Jerzy, a 71-year-old worshipper who signed the petition, arguing that the “LGBT-free” designation makes him really feel safer. He declined to offer his final identify.

However contained in the Istebna clergy home, deputy priest Grzegorz Strządała defends his city’s sentiment. “There are specific communities, societies, teams on this planet who attempt to impose a unique mind-set, which is in battle with pure legislation,” he says, telling CNN he’s comfy together with his parishioners supporting the petition exterior. He says the organizers can depend on his assist.

“Jesus cherished everyone, and this has not modified,” he provides. “Nevertheless, generally folks use sure phrases for sure supposedly Christian ideas, however actually they’re speaking about one thing utterly totally different.

“The phrases love, acceptance, dignity, freedom — these phrases within the context of scripture have a specific that means. In dialogue with LGBT folks, we used the identical phrases, however we imply one thing completely totally different.”

Deputy priest Grzegorz Strządała within the clergy home in Istebna.

Strządała’s feedback reveal the obvious chasm between LGBT Poles and plenty of of their staunchly Catholic compatriots — an abyss so broad, it may well really feel as in the event that they’re talking totally different languages.

Activists, together with Bartosz Staszewski — arguably Poland’s most outstanding LGBT rights campaigner — are decided to bridge that hole. Staszewski’s long-running try to focus on “LGBT-free zones” by plastering warning indicators round each relevant area has drawn nationwide consideration, and made him the goal of anti-LGBT organizations. Staszewski, together with different LGBT activists in Poland, is going through authorized motion over his demonstrations.

“It is a witch hunt, the place we’re the victims,” Staszewski tells CNN. “We’re second-category residents. It’s by no means occurred earlier than — we had been merely not the topic. And now we’re the topic, we’re the general public enemy.

“All of them are towards us.”

Istebna’s rolling hills and homes lie draped in fog.

Homophobic laws and resolutions have pressured many Poles to select: go away city or keep quiet.

However the wave of resolutions has impressed many extra to affix Staszewski and discover their voices. Zuber, Duzniak and Głowacka depend themselves amongst these newfound activists, odd Poles for whom merely present is an act of defiance.

“To be trustworthy, I can transfer to a much bigger city,” Głowacka says. “However there are a lot of people who find themselves youthful, and can’t simply transfer out from their households, and fogeys, and college.

“I believe we’ve a job to do right here.”

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