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 huge cities,” she says, reflecting on her day by 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 dangerous. It’s not me.

“On a regular basis I cover one thing.”

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

Final yr, the encompassing 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 individuals to begin households that are by their essence a pure atmosphere for self-realization,” the textual content reads. Households “formed by the centuries-old heritage of Christianity,” and that are “so vital for the great growth of our homeland.”

The area is just not an exception. In little over a yr, a whole lot of areas throughout Poland — protecting a couple of third of the nation, and greater than 10 million residents — have reworked themselves, in a single day, into so-called “LGBT-free zones.”

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

These areas, the place opposition to LGBT “ideology” is symbolically written into regulation 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 impression is felt most painfully — and day by 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 when welcomed native the Aristocracy and now serves as a cultural heart and library.

However Duzniak tries to not discuss her associate when she’s in her hometown. “Folks 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 regulation.

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

“After all not!” Duzniak says with a dismissive snort, as if the idea had been so outlandish as to not warrant a thought. “It’s not potential 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 establish 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 almost half of Poles attend church weekly.

Elements of its significantly conservative, rural areas to the southeast have by no means embraced LGBT individuals; 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 problem earlier this yr, 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 get together’s highly effective chief, Jarosław Kaczyński, has claimed LGBT individuals “threaten the Polish state.” Its new schooling minister stated final yr that “these persons are not equal to regular individuals.” And final yr, Krakow’s archbishop bemoaned that the nation was underneath siege from a “rainbow plague.”

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

When an enormous EU examine earlier this yr discovered that LGBT+ individuals on the continent usually really feel safer than they did 5 years in the past, Poland was the evident exception; two-thirds of homosexual, lesbian and transgender Poles stated intolerance and acts of violence towards them had elevated, whereas 4 in 5 stated they keep away from sure locations for concern of being assaulted — the best charge in Europe.

And final yr, 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 properties, automobiles or companies welcome solely heterosexual individuals.

“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,” anxious about her daughter’s security.

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

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

“It’s like I am simply much less human than the opposite individuals,” says Głowacka. “They’ll maintain palms, they’ve youngsters. 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 individuals. “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 lots of Poland’s streets, however within the closed-door council conferences the place the liberty of LGBT individuals 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 individuals striving for a cultural revolution,” accusing them of wishing to “assault freedom of speech (and) the innocence of kids.” In Nowa Sarzyna, one other jap 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 jap 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 usually unwelcome connection to attract in Poland; Moscow’s 2013 regulation banning LGBT “propaganda” relied on lots of the similar 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 Regulation and Justice Social gathering 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 dwelling in Czechowice-Dziedzice — a bigger city only a few miles from Kozy that additionally lies inside the wider “LGBT-free zone” of Bielsko.

Tomek Zuber sits within the heart of Czechowice-Dziedzice. Prior to now yr, he has come out, attended his first Delight parade, and suffered his first expertise with homophobia.

At a sq. within the city heart, a statue of Pope John Paul II seems 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 only a few cities to the east, and is revered for giving Poles hope throughout the period of martial regulation — however his staunch opposition to homosexuality widened the chasm between many LGBT individuals and the church.

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

These classes are realized from an early age. In school in close by Katowice, Zuber stated 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 dad and mom, received it overturned.

“I had a part the place I used to be a very Catholic and religious particular person,” Zuber says. “However ultimately … the Catholic church doesn’t appear to me prefer it’s true to a lot of the teachings they declare to observe.”

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

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

The “LGBT-free zone” he lives in is a daily reminder. “The zones themselves don’t have any authorized energy, they’re largely 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 individuals to talk out towards us, and be extra lively.”

Simply two weeks earlier than assembly with CNN, Zuber stated he overheard an aged woman 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 lots of their residents? “The curiosity of communities (is) to not shield romantic, emotional relationships, however the relationships which can 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 distinguished position in driving the nationwide backlash towards LGBT rights.

A baby 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 robust as marriage, so the state chooses the form 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 “constructive” and doesn’t point out LGBT individuals particularly, which critics say is merely an try to evade authorized challenges.

Others, just like the Bielsko area, select as an alternative to write down their very own resolutions that extra instantly single out these campaigning for equal rights for LGBT individuals. The Bielsko council refused a number of requests to touch upon their reasoning for passing the invoice, telling CNN they don’t talk about the resolutions they enact.

However the message to LGBT individuals 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 applications on the New York and London-based LGBT+ monitoring group All Out — considered one of many human rights teams watching Poland from overseas. “Now, they’ve discovered the LGBT+ group as the subsequent 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.”

Folks collect on the Katowice Delight occasion on September 5.

‘He informed us we had been pedophiles’

For just a few hours on one gloriously sunny current Saturday, the scene in Katowice resembles every other 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 Delight parade.

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

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

Zuber marches previous his former college, 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 need to present him that LGBT persons are regular,” she explains.

Hours earlier, she was on a practice with a dozen others, travelling to Delight from “LGBT-free zones” round Bielsko-Biala. Because the practice approached Katowice, many become their Delight apparel. Their rainbow socks, flags and T-shirts with slogans emerged from plain baggage. Pins had been connected. 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 day by day risks they face. A automotive pulled over, and the driving force shouted “F**ok faggots” out of the window.

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

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

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

Delight parades have taken on a tangible stress in Poland since violence at Bialystok final yr, the place an occasion was overrun by nationalists throwing rocks and bottles.

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

“I’ve one pal who was kicked out of his dwelling as a result of he was homosexual. I don’t need to dwell on this nation,” he says. “I simply don’t need to should combat on a regular basis, simply after I exit of my home.”

Folks watch from balconies because the Delight parade strikes via Katowice.

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

Even in Poland’s bigger cities, the antipathy isn’t 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 an enormous speaker that performs lengthy homophobic monologues denouncing the LGBT group as “deviant” and “harmful.” A lot of these passing by cease to signal the petition. At occasions, a line kinds.

“In Poland, now we have a civil struggle between LGBT and regular, conservative individuals,” says Grzegorz Frejno, the 23-year-old who co-organized the protest along with his spouse. “We need to cease Delight parades.”

“We don’t need our youngsters to see that, to see the bare individuals 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 Delight marches.

Marchers are mirrored in a police protect throughout the Delight parade. An estimated 700 officers packed Katowice throughout the occasion.

A number of of those that got here to help the anti-LGBT gathering informed CNN they establish 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. A couple of 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 individuals,” says Patryk Grabowiecki, a tall man with a shaven head, carrying suspenders and black boots with white laces — traditional identifiers of Japanese European far-right nationalism.

The gaggle of petitioners briefly and bitterly interact with Delight marchers, earlier than police intervene. Danska wearily says that participating with the opposition is “pointless.”

“After all I wouldn’t like for somebody to attempt to harm 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 need to use it.”

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

‘We’re the general public enemy’

A day later, underneath 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 individuals. 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 guts of Poland’s battle over homosexual rights.

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

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 help.

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

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

“Folks listed below are towards the (LGBT) ideology,” says Jan Legierski. He spends hours standing within the drizzle outdoors the church accumulating signatures, lobbying for the courtroom’s determination to be reversed.

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

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

Parishioners crowd round a desk outdoors 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 wherever else,” Helena Dalli, the European Commissioner for Equality, tells CNN. Dalli has rejected town-twinning functions and pulled EU funding for numerous 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 handle 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 provide his final title.

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

“Jesus liked everyone, and this has not modified,” he provides. “Nonetheless, generally individuals 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 which means. In dialogue with LGBT individuals, 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 evident chasm between LGBT Poles and lots of of their staunchly Catholic compatriots — an abyss so vast, it could really feel as in the event that they’re talking totally different languages.

Activists, together with Bartosz Staszewski — arguably Poland’s most distinguished LGBT rights campaigner — are decided to bridge that hole. Staszewski’s long-running try to spotlight “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 dealing with authorized motion over his demonstrations.

“This can be 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 choose: go away city or keep quiet.

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

“To be sincere, I can transfer to an even bigger city,” Głowacka says. “However there are various people who find themselves youthful, and can’t simply transfer out from their households, and oldsters, and faculty.

“I believe now we have a job to do right here.”

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