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

Karolina Duzniak and her fiancee Ola Głowacka drive away from Kozy.


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Kozy, Poland (CNN) — Karolina Duzniak has lived within the drowsy, tree-dotted Polish village of Kozy for 26 years. But she doesn’t really feel herself till she will get into her automobile every morning, shuts the door and drives away.

“I choose large cities,” she says, reflecting on her day by day journey to work in close by Bielsko-Biala, an industrial city sprawl close to the border with the Czech Republic. “I come again dwelling and I really feel unhealthy. It’s not me.

“All the time I conceal one thing.”

Duzniak is a assured, amicable profession coach with a associate of 10 years, however she has good motive to cover one necessary facet of her persona. She is homosexual, and homosexual individuals are not welcome in Kozy. An official doc reminds them of that.

Last yr, the encompassing Bielsko county — which incorporates Kozy and dozens of different cities and villages, however not Bielsko-Biala — handed a decision supporting “conventional household values” and rejecting the LGBT neighborhood for “undermining the idea of a household mannequin.”

“We encourage younger folks to begin households that are by their essence a pure surroundings for self-realization,” the textual content reads. Families “formed by the centuries-old heritage of Christianity,” and that are “so necessary for the great improvement of our homeland.”

The area will not be an exception. In little over a yr, a whole bunch of areas throughout Poland — overlaying a couple of third of the nation, and greater than 10 million residents — have remodeled themselves, in a single day, into so-called “LGBT-free zones.”

Duzniak, left, and Głowacka hope to marry in Poland, however the nation at present prohibits any type of formal same-sex unions.

These areas, the place opposition to LGBT “ideology” is symbolically written into regulation at state and native ranges, have put Poland on a collision course with the European Union and compelled sister cities, allies and watchdogs throughout the continent to recoil in condemnation. Local legal guidelines have been contested, and a few communities that launched such laws have seen their EU funding blocked.

But the affect is felt most painfully — and day by day — by the homosexual, lesbian and transgender Poles who reside in cities that would favor they merely weren’t there.

“I’m extra burdened. For the primary time in my life I’m very, very scared,” Duzniak says, reflecting on the decision as she walks CNN round her hometown along with her girlfriend Ola Głowacka.

Kozy — which interprets as “Goats” — claims to be Poland’s most populous village. It is a slumbering place with a neat, well-maintained park, a number of church buildings and an 18th century palace that after welcomed native the Aristocracy and now serves as a cultural middle and library.

But Duzniak tries to not speak about her associate when she’s in her hometown. “People would speak behind our again,” she says. “It’s unusual for them. It’s one thing horrible. It’s unnormal, unnatural. They say that, typically.” Things are simpler in Bielsko-Biala, the place Głowacka lives, and the place anti-LGBT intolerance has not been adopted in regulation.

Instead, the love between the 2 is noticeable solely of their glances, half-smiles and the engagement that they maintain well-hidden when strolling by means of Kozy. While they briefly hug once they meet one another, they’d by no means — ever — maintain arms.

“Of course not!” Duzniak says with a dismissive chuckle, as if the idea have been so outlandish as to not warrant a thought. “It’s not doable right here,” provides Głowacka.

Poland is a rustic nonetheless steeped in Catholic customized and fiercely, reflexively defensive of its nationwide custom. Around nine in 10 Poles determine as Roman Catholics, and about 40% attend Sunday mass weekly.

A household arrives to Sunday mass at a Catholic church in Istebna. Poland is staunchly Catholic, and almost half of Poles attend church weekly.

Parts of its significantly conservative, rural areas to the southeast have by no means embraced LGBT folks; however now, homophobic rhetoric is uttered by the state and preached in church buildings, and hostility on the streets is boiling over.

During a reelection marketing campaign partially dominated by the problem earlier this yr, incumbent President Andrzej Duda — a staunch ally of US President Donald Trump — warned of an LGBT “ideology” extra harmful to Poland than communism. The governing social gathering’s highly effective chief, Jarosław Kaczyński, has claimed LGBT folks “threaten the Polish state.” Its new schooling minister stated final yr that “these individuals are not equal to regular folks.” And final yr, Krakow’s archbishop bemoaned that the nation was under siege from a “rainbow plague.”

“The church tells (worshippers) we’re harmful,” says Głowacka. The couple say that a couple of years in the past, “folks would simply ignore us.” But not anymore; the surge of anti-LGBT rhetoric from governing officers has been met by a lot of high-profile acts of violence at LGBT occasions, pro-government media regularly parrots the populist authorities, and Poland has now develop into the worst EU country for LGBT people in Europe in keeping with continental watchdog ILGA-Europe.

When a massive EU study earlier this yr discovered that LGBT+ folks on the continent typically really feel safer than they did 5 years in the past, Poland was the obvious exception; two-thirds of homosexual, lesbian and transgender Poles stated intolerance and acts of violence in opposition to them had elevated, whereas 4 in 5 stated they keep away from sure locations for worry of being assaulted — the best price in Europe.

And final yr, a pro-government journal was met with an indignant backlash after handing out “LGBT-free” stickers to readers — permitting them to imitate their lawmakers by proclaiming that their properties, automobiles or companies welcome solely heterosexual folks.

“My mum on a regular basis asks me, are you OK? Are you with Ola?” Duzniak says. “All the time, she rings or texts,” fearful about her daughter’s security.

“I really like this nation. I used to be born right here,” Duzniak says as she wears her engagement ring round Kozy. “It’s essential to me that if we have now a marriage, if we get married and she or he is my spouse, that it’s revered by the regulation of this nation.”

The couple have prevented the worst, for now. But neither Duzniak or Głowacka, who put on engagement rings even if same-sex marriage and civil partnerships are unlawful in Poland, can keep away from the day by day stress of being who they’re.

“It’s like I’m simply much less human than the opposite folks,” says Głowacka. “They can maintain arms, they’ve kids. Just as a result of they’re like they’re, they’re higher. But why?”

“Lots of people know me,” provides Duzniak, referring to her neighbors within the village of 12,000 folks. “I’ll by no means inform them (that I’m homosexual),” she says. “But I do know that they know.”

‘John Paul II wouldn’t approve’

Homophobia exists not simply on a lot of Poland’s streets, however within the closed-door council conferences the place the liberty of LGBT folks is debated; and the place a visceral, deep-rooted and alarmingly informal sentiment is laid naked.

In Swidnik, a small city close to the Ukrainian border, councilors painted gays and lesbians as “radical folks striving for a cultural revolution,” accusing them of wishing to “assault freedom of speech (and) the innocence of kids.” In Nowa Sarzyna, one other jap city, homosexuality was labelled “opposite to the legal guidelines of nature” and a violation of “human dignity.” And within the Lublin province, a sprawling space of jap Poland dwelling to greater than 2 million residents, LGBT rights campaigners have been condemned by native lawmakers for searching for “the annihilation of values formed by the Catholic church.”

It is from these debates, and amid a relentless eruption of anti-LGBT rhetoric from the nation’s populist authorities and spiritual leaders, that the native legal guidelines emerge.

The nation’s pursuit of illiberal, anti-LGBT laws adorned as a protection of conventional values has additionally spurred comparisons with Russia, a usually unwelcome connection to attract in Poland; Moscow’s 2013 regulation banning LGBT “propaganda” relied on most of the similar arguments, and fostered an analogous world outcry.

But not like Russia, the place the worldwide neighborhood has little sway, Poland has been thrust right into a battle with Brussels over the laws. At least six cities have misplaced EU funding over their adoption of “LGBT-free” payments. In the face of such world condemnation, the ruling Law and Justice Party has furiously rejected the “LGBT-free” characterization; when US presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned the areas final month, one Polish lawmaker retorted angrily that it was an LGBT activist who had used the label, and that he would stand trial for doing so.

The Polish authorities didn’t reply to CNN’s requests for remark for this story.

“Nationalism and Catholicism are very linked in Poland,” explains Tomek Zuber, a younger homosexual man dwelling in Czechowice-Dziedzice — a bigger city just some miles from Kozy that additionally lies inside the wider “LGBT-free zone” of Bielsko.

Tomek Zuber sits within the middle of Czechowice-Dziedzice. In the previous yr, he has come out, attended his first Pride parade, and suffered his first expertise with homophobia.

At a sq. within the city middle, a statue of Pope John Paul II seems upon the church Zuber used to attend as a schoolboy. The late Pope, an icon who evokes nearly sacred adoration amongst many older Poles, wears a shy smile on his face, his arms outstretched as if he have been about to embrace passersby in a hug. The pontiff was born just some cities to the east, and is revered for giving Poles hope throughout the period of martial regulation — however his staunch opposition to homosexuality widened the chasm between many LGBT folks and the church.

“His phrases are used for not giving LGBT folks rights,” Zuber says. “‘John Paul II wouldn’t approve,’” he provides, imitating the admonitions of conservative Poles.

Those classes are discovered from an early age. At faculty in close by Katowice, Zuber stated his principal issued a warning to all college students earlier than their final-year promenade: “No consuming, no smoking (and) no same-sex dancing.” He and his classmates rallied in opposition to the rule and, with the assistance of a few of their dad and mom, acquired it overturned.

“I had a section the place I used to be a very Catholic and religious individual,” Zuber says. “But ultimately … the Catholic church doesn’t appear to me prefer it’s true to a lot of the teachings they declare to comply with.”

A statue of Pope John Paul II greets passersby in Czechowice-Dziedzice.

Zuber’s former church, which he attended as a toddler and a teen.

The “LGBT-free zone” he lives in is a daily reminder. “The zones themselves don’t have any authorized energy, they’re principally symbolic,” he notes. No indicators go up in a single day; no companies develop into instantly empowered to refuse customized. “(But) it encourages the opposite-minded folks to talk out in opposition to us, and be extra lively.”

Just two weeks earlier than assembly with CNN, Zuber stated he overheard an aged girl say she was disgusted by his rainbow tote bag.

“It will increase the worry,” he says.

What drives so many areas to undertake a invoice that sends worry by means of a lot of their residents? “The curiosity of communities (is) to not defend romantic, emotional relationships, however the relationships which are fruitful,” Nikodem Bernaciak, an legal professional whose agency wrote a template for an “LGBT-free” decision that has since been adopted by dozens of Polish cities, tells CNN in a telephone interview. His group, the Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, is despised amongst many Polish LGBT activists for its outstanding position in driving the nationwide backlash in opposition to LGBT rights.

A baby on a scooter rides previous the Bielsko council constructing, the place the decision to create an “LGBT-free zone” was drawn up.

“Informal relationships are usually not as sturdy as marriage, so the state chooses the type of relationship that’s extra useful.”

“The household must be protected in opposition to all types of threats,” Bernaciak says, explaining the premise of his group’s decision. He argues that its wording is “constructive” and doesn’t point out LGBT folks particularly, which critics say is merely an try and evade authorized challenges.

Others, just like the Bielsko area, select as a substitute to jot down their very own resolutions that extra immediately single out these campaigning for equal rights for LGBT folks. The Bielsko council refused a number of requests to touch upon their reasoning for passing the invoice, telling CNN they don’t focus on the resolutions they enact.

But the message to LGBT folks in Poland has been clear. “The Polish authorities used to make use of immigrants and the migration disaster as their scapegoat,” says Mathias Wasik, director of packages on the New York and London-based LGBT+ monitoring group All Out — certainly one of many human rights teams watching Poland from overseas. “Now, they’ve discovered the LGBT+ neighborhood as the subsequent scapegoat.”

“The rhetoric they’re listening to from the federal government, from the pro-government media, from the church — all of that exhibits them, you don’t belong right here.”

People collect on the Katowice Pride occasion on September 5.

‘He informed us we have been pedophiles’

For a couple of hours on one gloriously sunny current Saturday, the scene in Katowice resembles some other European metropolis.

In the bustling and extra liberal southern location, rainbow flags flutter beneath a baby-blue sky. Revelers from the area, together with Zuber, have gathered for town’s third annual Pride parade.

The occasion hardly rivals occasions in London, Madrid or Berlin. Authorities estimate 200 individuals are current — and the group is dwarfed by 700 cops, some in riot gear, who tightly encompass the festivities.

But the parade gives consolation. “It offers this sense of dwelling in a traditional metropolis, in a traditional nation, the place we don’t have nationalists wanting us to be gone,” Zuber says, after marching previous the varsity through which he got here to phrases along with his sexuality — and which tried to ban him from dancing with one other man.

Zuber marches previous his former faculty, the place he says his principal tried to ban same-sex dancing throughout promenade.

Dominika Danska got here to the occasion along with her mom, younger sister and 11-year-old brother. “We need to present him that LGBT individuals are regular,” she explains.

Hours earlier, she was on a prepare with a dozen others, travelling to Pride from “LGBT-free zones” round Bielsko-Biala. As the prepare approached Katowice, many turned into their Pride apparel. Their rainbow socks, flags and T-shirts with slogans emerged from plain baggage. Pins have been connected. One younger couple went to the toilet to place make-up on, a transfer that might be unthinkable again at dwelling. Few attendees needed to danger boarding the carriage in rainbow colours.

But even earlier than arriving on the parade’s place to begin, the group was reminded of the day by day risks they face. A automobile pulled over, and the motive force shouted “F**ok faggots” out of the window.

It’s the primary insult of many. “He informed us we have been pedophiles. He informed me to not smile or he’d take my flag,” Danska says. Moments later, a person walks previous, shouting and theatrically pulling his kids in the wrong way as if to guard them from the group. An aged girl weighs in, telling the group to go away.

From left: Dominika Danska rides the prepare dwelling from the Pride parade along with her mom, Agata; brother, Szymon; and sister, Gosia.

“Two folks love one another they usually name them pedophiles simply because they’re totally different,” Danska’s mom says. “This is tough. It’s arduous.”

Pride parades have taken on a tangible rigidity in Poland since violence at Bialystok final yr, the place an occasion was overrun by nationalists throwing rocks and bottles.

“I really feel unhealthy in Poland,” says David Kufel, an 18-year-old attendee on the occasion. “The President says I’m not human.

“I’ve one pal who was kicked out of his dwelling as a result of he was homosexual. I don’t need to reside on this nation,” he says. “I simply don’t need to need to combat on a regular basis, simply after I exit of my home.”

People watch from balconies because the Pride parade strikes by means of Katowice.

David Kufel wears his rainbow socks to the Katowice Pride march.

Even in Poland’s bigger cities, the antipathy is rarely distant. At one counter-protest close to the parade, anti-LGBT activists arrange a makeshift stall to assemble signatures for a petition in opposition to LGBT occasions. They introduced an enormous speaker that performs lengthy homophobic monologues denouncing the LGBT neighborhood as “deviant” and “harmful.” Many of these passing by cease to signal the petition. At instances, a line types.

“In Poland, we have now a civil warfare between LGBT and regular, conservative folks,” says Grzegorz Frejno, the 23-year-old who co-organized the protest along with his spouse. “We need to cease Pride parades.”

“We don’t need our youngsters to see that, to see the bare folks on the road,” his spouse Anna provides, gesturing in direction of a small group of clothed revelers doing the macarena close by. She refers to LGBT activists as coming from “the darkish facet,” and says their petition has garnered 5,000 signatures in a single afternoon, far outnumbering these celebrating on the occasion.

Anna Frejno and her husband Grzegorz Frejno, proper, collect signatures for his or her petition.

Patryk Grabowiecki signed the petition to ban Pride marches.

Marchers are mirrored in a police defend throughout the Pride parade. An estimated 700 officers packed Katowice throughout the occasion.

Several of those that got here to help the anti-LGBT gathering informed CNN they determine as Polish nationalists. Some put on excessive black boots and T-shirts adorned with slogans written in Fraktur, the previous German typeface favored by Eastern European far-right teams. A number of complained about “Antifa” infiltrating Poland’s streets among the many protesters.

“I’m disturbed. For them, anti-conception and abortion are the identical factor. They are speaking about murdering folks,” says Patryk Grabowiecki, a tall man with a shaven head, carrying suspenders and black boots with white laces — traditional identifiers of Eastern European far-right nationalism.

The gaggle of petitioners briefly and bitterly interact with Pride marchers, earlier than police intervene. Danska wearily says that partaking with the opposition is “pointless.”

“Of course I wouldn’t like for somebody to attempt to damage me, to beat me. But I’m ready for that — I’ve this pepper spray,” she says, displaying an merchandise she retains as a final resort. “I don’t need to use it.”

Anti- and pro-LGBT demonstrators confront each other following the Pride march in Katowice. Violence at earlier occasions throughout Poland have made Pride parades tense encounters within the nation.

‘We are the general public enemy’

A day later, beneath a colorless gray sky, locals within the southern village of Istebna filter into Sunday mass.

The village, surrounded by mountains and strolling distance from each the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is dwelling to simply over 5,000 folks. But since its “LGBT-free” standing was deemed unconstitutional and annulled by an area courtroom in July, the dozy city has been thrust into the center of Poland’s battle over homosexual rights.

The courtroom discovered that claims the zones goal an LGBT “ideology” — and never LGBT folks themselves — flip “a blind eye to actuality.” The designation “harms LGBT folks and strengthens their sense of menace,” it said.

Campaigners have been overjoyed by the ruling. But activists in Istebna are already working to regain the “LGBT-free” label, and Sunday morning is a perfect time to rally help.

A household of parishioners make their technique to Sunday mass in Istebna.

Jan Legierski stands exterior the church, the place he collects petitions to show Istebna again into an “LGBT-free zone.”

“People listed here are in opposition to the (LGBT) ideology,” says Jan Legierski. He spends hours standing within the drizzle exterior the church gathering signatures, lobbying for the courtroom’s choice to be reversed.

“I don’t need this to have an effect on my grandchildren,” he says, insisting that “kids and future generations are usually not indoctrinated, and that they don’t seem to be wicked.”

The church hosted 4 back-to-back packed plenty that morning. Nearly everybody attending — older folks, children, kids — signed the paperwork. Legierski began the small-scale motion with round a dozen buddies, impressed by the resolutions being handed throughout the nation.

Parishioners crowd round a desk exterior the church to signal Legierski’s petition.

The battle ongoing in Istebna, and numerous cities prefer it, is quickly pushing Poland right into a geopolitical quagmire.

“There isn’t any place for LGBTI-free zones within the EU or wherever else,” Helena Dalli, the European Commissioner for Equality, tells CNN. Dalli has rejected town-twinning functions and pulled EU funding for a lot of areas that pursued the designation, whereas Poland has been publicly condemned by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“The claimed ‘LGBTI ideology’ that these charters supposedly deal with is just a veil to masks the underlying discrimination,” Dalli says. “Poland joined the European Union on a voluntary foundation and should now respect the EU treaties and elementary rights.”

“I’m in favor of regular households,” says Jerzy, a 71-year-old worshipper who signed the petition, arguing that the “LGBT-free” designation makes him really feel safer. He declined to present his final title.

But contained in the Istebna clergy home, deputy priest Grzegorz Strządała defends his city’s sentiment. “There are sure communities, societies, teams on this planet who attempt to impose a distinct mind-set, which is in battle with pure regulation,” he says, telling CNN he’s comfy along with his parishioners supporting the petition exterior. He says the organizers can rely on his help.

“Jesus beloved all people, and this has not modified,” he provides. “However, typically folks use sure phrases for sure supposedly Christian ideas, however actually they’re speaking about one thing fully totally different.

“The phrases love, acceptance, dignity, freedom — these phrases within the context of scripture have a specific that means. In dialogue with LGBT folks, we used the identical phrases, however we imply one thing completely totally different.”

Deputy priest Grzegorz Strządała within the clergy home in Istebna.

Strządała’s feedback reveal the obvious chasm between LGBT Poles and lots of of their staunchly Catholic compatriots — an abyss so extensive, it could possibly really feel as in the event that they’re talking totally different languages.

Activists, together with Bartosz Staszewski — arguably Poland’s most outstanding LGBT rights campaigner — are decided to bridge that hole. Staszewski’s long-running try to focus on “LGBT-free zones” by plastering warning indicators round each relevant area has drawn nationwide consideration, and made him the goal of anti-LGBT organizations. Staszewski, together with different LGBT activists in Poland, is dealing with authorized motion over his demonstrations.

“This is a witch hunt, the place we’re the victims,” Staszewski tells CNN. “We are second-category residents. It’s by no means occurred earlier than — we have been merely not the topic. And now we’re the topic, we’re the general public enemy.

“They all are in opposition to us.”

Istebna’s rolling hills and homes lie draped in fog.

Homophobic laws and resolutions have pressured many Poles to choose: go away city or keep quiet.

But the wave of resolutions has impressed many extra to affix Staszewski and discover their voices. Zuber, Duzniak and Głowacka rely themselves amongst these newfound activists, unusual Poles for whom merely present is an act of defiance.

“To be trustworthy, I can transfer to a much bigger city,” Głowacka says. “But there are lots of people who find themselves youthful, and can’t simply transfer out from their households, and fogeys, and faculty.

“I feel we have now a job to do right here.”

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Story editor: Nick Thompson

Photo editor: Brett Roegiers

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