Polish Towns That Declared Themselves ‘L.G.B.T. Free’ Are Denied E.U. Funds
|A demonstration in Warsaw in June in support of the L.G.B.T. community. In the recent presidential election, divisive rhetoric polarized Polish society even further.
The governing party in Poland has attacked L.G.B.T. people, using homophobic rhetoric that European officials say has led to unequal treatment.
he European Union will not provide funding to six Polish towns that have declared themselves “L.G.B.T.-free zones,” a rare financial sanction of a member nation for issues related to the equal treatment of its citizens.
While the amounts of money being withheld are modest — from $6,000 to $29,000 — the exclusion of the towns from funding for a program that connects local communities across Europe was intended to have a deeper symbolic resonance.
“E.U. values and fundamental rights must be respected by Member States and state authorities,” Helena Dalli, the European Union commissioner for equality, wrote on Twitter. The Polish authorities that adopted “L.G.B.T.-free zones” or “family rights” resolutions failed to protect those rights, she wrote, and their funding applications had therefore been rejected.
The decision comes just days after the leaders of the 27-nation European Union bowed to pressure from Poland and Hungary and relaxed a framework devised to tie long-term budget spending by the bloc to issues related to rule of law.
Both countries, to different degrees, have steadily chipped away at some of the bedrock institutions that allow for a healthy democracy, including a free press and a judicial system free of political influence.
But even as Poland and Hungary have caused increasing consternation in Brussels — both countries have been threatened with having their voting rights in the bloc suspended — they have faced little in the way of concrete punishments.
Even by the often brutal standards of Polish politics, however, the demonization of gay men and lesbians by government officialsover the past two years has been ferocious.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the governing party, has repeatedly told supporters that Poles will not be forced “to stand under the rainbow flag.” He has said that homosexuality represents a “threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence and thus to the Polish state.”
It has been a campaign amplified by state television, which has been turned into a propaganda arm of the government, and by prominent members of the Catholic clergy.
Nearly 100 local governments, representing a third of Poland’s territory, declared themselves “free from L.G.B.T. ideology.”
Although the declarations do not have legal force, they are viewed by many as menacing. And the heated rhetoric has been blamed for violence against gay men and lesbians.
When marchers tried to take part in a gay pride parade in the conservative city of Bialystok last summer, opponents threw bricks, stones and fireworks at them. Some protesters were attacked and as the violent clashes escalated, with dozens wounded, the police had to deploy tear gas.
A few months later, in December, the European Parliament condemned discrimination against the L.G.B.T.Q. community and called on the government to take action to revoke the declarations by local authorities. Nothing was done.
During Poland’s recent presidential election in July, the governing party once again targeted gay men, lesbians and transsexuals. President Andrzej Duda said “L.G.B.T. ideology” was more dangerous than communist doctrine and he made it the central issue of his campaign.
He narrowly won a second term, but the close fight and divisive rhetoric polarized Polish society even further.
Some Western European municipalities, such as St.-Jean-de-Braye in the north-central French region of Loiret, have already suspended cooperation with towns they were twinned with in Poland that declared themselves “L.G.B.T. free.”
The Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro said on Wednesday that the funding decision was “unfounded and unlawful,” arguing that European institutions should respect the national identities of all member countries.
Mr. Ziobro denounced the European Commission, saying that some of its members were “ideologically obstinate” and wanted to impose “the agenda of homosexual activists” on others.
But Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, which distributes European Union funding, defended the decision to reject sending money to the Polish towns.
“Our treaties ensure that every person in Europe is free to be who they are, live where they like, love who they want, and aim as high as they want,” she said in a statement on Thursday. “I will continue to push for a union of equality.”