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

October 14, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

Hundreds of regions across Poland have declared themselves “LGBT-free” — and those inside the zones fear for their safety.

Last year, the surrounding Bielsko county — which includes Kozy and dozens of other towns and villages, but not Bielsko-Biala — passed a resolution supporting “traditional family values” and rejecting the LGBT community for “undermining the concept of a family model. ”

In little over a year, hundreds of regions across Poland — covering about a third of the country, and more than 10 million citizens — have transformed themselves, overnight, into so-called “LGBT-free zones. ”

For the first time in my life I’m very, very scared,” Duzniak says, reflecting on the resolution as she walks CNN around her hometown with her girlfriend Ola Głowacka.

They say that, sometimes. ” Things are easier in Bielsko-Biala, where Głowacka lives, and where anti-LGBT intolerance has not been adopted in law.

The governing party’s powerful leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has claimed LGBT people “threaten the Polish state. ” Its new education minister said last year that “these people are not equal to normal people. ” And last year, Krakow’s archbishop bemoaned that the country was under siege from a “rainbow plague. ”

“The church tells (worshippers) we are dangerous,” says Głowacka.

The couple say that a few years ago, “people would just ignore us. ” But not anymore; the surge of anti-LGBT rhetoric from governing officials has been met by a number of high-profile acts of violence at LGBT events, pro-government media frequently parrots the populist government, and Poland has now become the worst EU country for LGBT people in Europe according to continental watchdog ILGA-Europe.

When a massive EU study earlier this year found that LGBT+ people on the continent generally feel safer than they did five years ago, Poland was the glaring exception; two-thirds of gay, lesbian and transgender Poles said intolerance and acts of violence against them had increased, while four in five said they avoid certain places for fear of being assaulted — the highest rate in Europe.

Are you with Ola?” Duzniak says.

I was born here,” Duzniak says as she wears her engagement ring around Kozy.

“It’s like I'm just less human than the other people,” says Głowacka.

But why?”

In Swidnik, a small town near the Ukrainian border, councilors painted gays and lesbians as “radical people striving for a cultural revolution,” accusing them of wishing to “attack freedom of speech (and) the innocence of children. ” In Nowa Sarzyna, another eastern town, homosexuality was labelled “contrary to the laws of nature” and a violation of “human dignity. ” And in the Lublin province, a sprawling area of eastern Poland home to more than 2 million citizens, LGBT rights campaigners were condemned by local lawmakers for seeking “the annihilation of values shaped by the Catholic church. ”

“Nationalism and Catholicism are very connected in Poland,” explains Tomek Zuber, a young gay man living in Czechowice-Dziedzice — a larger town just a few miles from Kozy that also lies within the wider “LGBT-free zone” of Bielsko.

“His words are used for not giving LGBT people rights,” Zuber says.

“I had a phase where I was a really Catholic and spiritual person,” Zuber says.

“The family needs to be protected against all kinds of threats,” Bernaciak says, explaining the basis of his group’s resolution.

“The Polish government used to use immigrants and the migration crisis as their scapegoat,” says Mathias Wasik, director of programs at the New York and London-based LGBT+ monitoring organization All Out — one of many human rights groups watching Poland from abroad.

“It gives this feeling of living in a normal city, in a normal country, where we don’t have nationalists wanting us to be gone,” Zuber says, after marching past the school in which he came to terms with his sexuality — and which tried to ban him from dancing with another man.

“We want to show him that LGBT people are normal,” she explains.

“Two people love each other and they call them pedophiles just because they are different,” Danska’s mother says.

“I feel bad in Poland,” says David Kufel, an 18-year-old attendee at the event.

I don’t want to live in this country,” he says.

“In Poland, we have a civil war between LGBT and normal, conservative people,” says Grzegorz Frejno, the 23-year-old who co-organized the protest with his wife.

She refers to LGBT activists as coming from “the dark side,” and says their petition has garnered 5,000 signatures in one afternoon, far outnumbering those celebrating at the event.

They are talking about murdering people,” says Patryk Grabowiecki, a tall man with a shaven head, wearing suspenders and black boots with white laces — classic identifiers of Eastern European far-right nationalism.

The court found that claims the zones target an LGBT “ideology” — and not LGBT people themselves — turn “a blind eye to reality. ” The designation “harms LGBT people and strengthens their sense of threat,” it said.

“People here are against the (LGBT) ideology,” says Jan Legierski.

“I’m in favor of normal families,” says Jerzy, a 71-year-old worshipper who signed the petition, arguing that the “LGBT-free” designation makes him feel safer.

“There are certain communities, societies, groups on this planet who try to impose a different way of thinking, which is in conflict with natural law,” he says, telling CNN he is comfortable with his parishioners supporting the petition outside.

In dialogue with LGBT people, we used the same words, but we mean something totally different. ”

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