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8th Aug 2020

Polish 'LGBTI-free zones' not OK, says EU commission

  • A town in Poland, among 80 others, that has declared itself 'LGBT-free' (Photo: Bart Staszewski)

The European Commission has spoken out against towns in Poland that have labelled themselves "free" from lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex communities (LGBTI).

"We cannot allow the distribution of LGBTI free zone stickers, or the adoption of anti-LGBTI resolutions and not feel responsible for the next phase where physical attacks that take place, even if they are then carried out by other people," said EU commissioner for equality, Helena Dalli.

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  • Most of the zones are in the south-east of Poland (Photo: Kuba Gawron)

Speaking on Tuesday (4 February) at the European Parliament in Brussels, Dalli said the commission would make advancing LGBTI rights a priority for the next five years, noting that six EU states provide no recognition for same sex couples.

Her comments follow some 80 towns in Poland that have declared themselves "LGBTI-free zones" or "free from LGBTI ideology".

Activists in Poland are tracking the so-called zones via online maps, with most concentrated in the south-east of the country.

One town, Lublin, last year presented awards to local officials who opposed LGBTI 'ideology'.

Elsewhere, mayors in Lublin, Gniezno and Rzeszow had also banned equality marches.

The moves fit a pattern of anti-LGBTI rhetoric espoused by the ruling right-wing party Law and Justice (PiS), as well as Krakow's archbishop, who had last year described the LGBTI movement as a "rainbow plague".

Asked to comment, a spokesperson at the European Commission said the institution clearly condemns any discrimination or violence on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

"This is the first commission that actually has a dedicated commissioner for equality also covering these subjects," said the spokesperson, in a nod to commissioner Dalli.

MEPs in the European Parliament last December condemned Poland's 'LGBTI-free zones' in a resolution, demanding that EU ministers unblock an EU directive on non-discrimination. The directive has been stuck for eleven years.

But the backlash against LGBTI communities is not limited to Poland.

Post-Brexit UK, for instance, registered a 147-percent spike in homophobic and transphobic hate crimes, says ILGA-Europe, an NGO.

The NGO found a 41-percent increase in the number of racially or religiously aggravated crimes post-Brexit.

An annual report published by the NGO on Tuesday also revealed a sharp rise of hate speech across the region, often carried out by public figures.

Aside from Poland, it identified growing official hate speech from political and religious leaders in countries including Albania, Andorra, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Kosovo, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, and Turkey.

However, the same report also noted some improvements, including the expansion of family rights in Andorra, Austria, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Malta, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland.

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