Polish homophobia reminiscent of Thatcher years, MEP says
British labour MEP Michael Cashman says he moved into politics after Margaret Thatcher's government in the 1980s expressed similar views on homosexuality as the current political leaders in Poland.
While enjoying equality as a gay citizen in his own country, he argues that pressure from Europe can help Polish gays and lesbians to achieve the same.
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Mr Cashman heads the European Parliament's inter-party group on gay and lesbian rights, which gathers around 60 deputies from all groups except the far-right ITS and monitors European developments in the area.
It has been involved in the most recent calls for a statement on homophobia from the European Commission and EU presidency to be presented on Wednesday (25 April), along with a parliamentary debate and resolution on the issue.
MEPs adopted two resolutions on homophobia over the past year - in June and January 2006, with Poland being highlighted as a country sparking most serious concern.
Mr Cashman told EUobserver he thinks the main goal of such resolutions is "to signal not only to Poland but also other countries that we will keep up the pressure" until the EU institutions take legal action against national measures that go contrary to European anti-discrimination rules.
"Sadly, it is not only statements on the part of the Polish government but also concrete moves," he said, referring to previous attempts to ban gay parades, the education ministry's plan to punish 'homosexual propaganda' and the intention of the Polish Ombudsman for Children to list jobs for which homosexuals are unfit.
The parliament's legal services have confirmed that Poland is currently not in breach of any EU laws on anti-discrimination, but the new Vienna-based fundamental rights agency has been tasked by MEPs to continue research.
Mr Cashman says that hateful statements from leading politicians are harmful to the everyday life of homosexuals as they are echoed on the ground and create a feeling that it is alright to attack gays and lesbians.
"What Poland should know better than other countries - as it had lived under the oppression of the Soviet domination - is that if you deny with hate speak somebody else's right, eventually someone will come and take away your right."
"I know Poland is a very conservative country. But Poland also stood next to the UK fighting for peace during WWII. I now ask for the same principles to be given to men and women - the peace to live their lives offending none, imposing upon none. Is that such a hard and difficult thing for a national government to deliver? I don't think so."
Proud to be in gay lobby
Some deputies argue the issue of discrimination against homosexuals in Europe has been overblown by their strong lobby in the EU legislature.
Mr Cashman says "if we are a lobby standing up for people despised and discriminated against, I'm proud to be part of that lobby."
"The defence of human rights you can either choose or it chooses you. I went into politics because in my own country, in 1987, the conservative government of Margaret Thatcher attempted do exactly what Giertych [Polish education minister] and his mates are attempting now."
"They were using virtually the same words as the Poles now about ending 'the promotion of homosexuality' even though they never defined what 'promote' means."
"At the moment in the UK as a gay man I have absolute equality. But in politics I have to imagine that when there's discrimination allowed against another person, then it could be me."
Mr Cashman argues that EU human rights legislation is not complete and left-leaning groups in the European Parliament are still pressing for broadening the scope of the so called 'race directive' so as to protect citizens against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
"This would in practice mean that you couldn't be discriminated against when applying for public housing with your partner, or in other services where we can experience barriers in everyday life."
However, he is pessimistic about such progress soon as these provisions would require unanimous agreement by all member states.
"But what I'd like from all these initiatives is that we wouldn't have to take them. That we would have achieved the equality and we can trust politicians to respect the rights of others. That day is a long way away so the work goes on."