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Poland Targets LGBTQ Rights Ahead of Elections

Sex education has become main subject of debate in Eastern Europe worldwide

The crowd at an equality march in Warsaw in June of 2018.
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With elections looming, Poland’s ruling nationalist party is campaigning on a platform of homophobia amid an international wave of anti-gay nationalism in Eastern Europe.

The Law and Justice Party, which faces key European Parliament elections in May, has aggressively opposed Warsaw’s new LGBTQ education program focused on teaching students about sexual orientation, discrimination, and gender issues, according to NBC News. More than three-quarters of Poland’s population is Catholic, and the party appears to be making strong efforts to court those voters by branding the LGBTQ-based education as an “attack on families, on children.” Catholic leaders and conservatives alike have argued that the inclusive education program infringes on traditional family norms.

“The whole social mechanism of preparing a young person, first a child and then a youth, for future roles as women and men, to start a family, for the role of mother and father, is being questioned. It could be destroyed,” the party’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, a former prime minister, said recently, according to NBC News.

LGBTQ rights are a mixed bag in Poland, where employers are banned from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, businesses cannot refuse service to gay folks, and transgender folks are able to legally change their gender marker, but major caveats remain: Trans people enjoy no nondiscrimination protections and must undergo hormone replacement therapy as a prerequisite to being legally recognized, while marriage equality is in legal limbo.

Critics say Kaczynski is trying to distract voters from negative publicity about his construction business and the party as a whole wants to cover up allegations of corruption. The party is also pushing to increase support after it has lost ground in recent years, according to NBC News.

Conservative causes enjoy strong support in rural areas, but the party has lost an edge in urban regions like Warsaw, where the education programs were implemented. It is not clear at this point whether the education program in Warsaw will be removed as a result of pressure from conservatives.

Other parts of Eastern Europe are also engulfed in anti-LGBTQ climates laced with right-wing nationalism, and it’s not just in Russia. Far-right protestors in Ukraine’s capital of Kiev last year quickly disrupted a Pride march in the summer and a transgender rights rally in the fall.

LGBTQ education in particular has increasingly become a hot topic in various corners of the globe and in several US states. The United Kingdom is the latest nation to become embroiled in the controversy after parents at a school in Birmingham recently removed children from classes focused on LGBTQ, gender, and racial diversity, prompting the classes to be pulled for the time being.

In the US, seven US states currently have “No Promo Homo” laws, according to GLSEN, an organization dedicated to protecting LGBTQ students. Those laws ban teachers from discussing LGBTQ people or topics, leading to major problems for students coming to terms with their sexuality and gender identity.

An LGBTQ education program could soon be implemented in New York City schools. Queens City Councilmember Daniel Dromm put forth a resolution in November of last year calling on the Department of Education to create curriculum based on key moments in LGBTQ history and to portray contributions of LGBTQ people in US history.

Updated 11:53 am, March 22, 2019
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