LGBTI equality and human rights in Europe and Central Asia

European institutions should unite as government-led anti-LGBTI hatred in Poland grows

hate crime
hate speech
freedom of assembly

Katrin Hugendubel, Advocacy Director at ILGA-Europe

As the Polish LGBTI community faces political demonisation and violent attacks, it’s time for our leaders to strategically put people first.

Over the last year, the Polish LGBTI community has been pulled into the middle of political confrontations that are stoking hatred, inciting violence and putting lives at risk. As Politico recently reported, in the run-up to the European elections and now Parliamentary elections in October, political actors from Poland’s leading Law and Justice (PiS) party - including government ministers -  are carrying out a demonisation campaign against the LGBTI community whilst closely siding with conservative religious leaders.

Local councillors in various cities adopted declarations against “LGBT ideology”, often claiming that promotion of human rights would harm children. The Mayors of Lublin, Gniezno and Rzeszow banned Equality marches, and in July the newspaper Gazeta Polska launched a sticker campaign, ‘LGBT-free Zone’, aiming to incite hatred throughout the country.

These verbal attacks and symbolic actions are not only dividing political actors and electorates, but also stoking up hatred and leading to real attacks against people, as most strongly witnessed at the Equality March in Bialystok, where participants were attacked by anti-LGBT demonstrators. After the violence erupted at the march, politicians blamed LGBT people for inciting it.

Sharp Global Rise in Hate and Divisiveness

The developments in Poland do not stand alone. In Europe and around the world, we have been seeing a sharp rise in hate and divisiveness, often targeting marginalised groups such as LGBTI people. Anti-LGBTI discourse is increasingly entering the global political stage and influencing societies, propagated by populist leaders stoking fear and breeding intolerance for the sake of political gain.

This harmful rhetoric normalises hate and discrimination against LGBTI people and encourages hate crimes and violence towards LGBTI people in action as well as speech. It increases the likelihood of people being attacked for no reason other than their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and/or sex characteristics and puts their health and lives at risk.

A 147% spike in homophobic and transphobic hate crimes and a 41% increase in the number of racially or religiously aggravated crimes following the Brexit referendum campaign are a stark example of this.

Strategy for Putting People First

At a time when hate speech and divisive rhetoric are causing a worrying backlash and backsliding for all human rights across Europe, it is crucial to unite with a broad and diverse alliance of organisations to take a clear stand against hate speech and divisive rhetoric targeting any community. Political leaders too need to call out hate rather than foster it.

The Equality March ban in Rzeszow was overturned by a court and the mayors in Warsaw, Krakow and Gdansk stood behind fundamental rights whilst letting the marches happen. We need political leadership that, at this time of populism and division, clearly stands for the fundamental rights for everyone and against discrimination and hate in our societies. We need political leadership to listen and respond to the concerns of citizens in Europe today face rather than scapegoating one group for political gain. Employment, education, housing, healthcare, social inclusion and human rights are the vital components underpinning the wellbeing of our societies and should be key priorities. As the recent attacks in the US illustrated very clearly, stoking up hate does not only harm the targeted group, but society as a whole.

It’s vital that the next European Commission puts people first and that it stands firmly on human rights, no- discrimination and democracy. Together with trade union federations and other NGO networks, ILGA-Europe ahead of the European elections launched the No Hate appeal, calling on MEP candidates, politicians, the media and those in the public eye to not only to avoid engaging in, or amplifying, rhetoric that may incite discrimination, prejudice or hatred on any grounds, but also to actively counter it. All European institutions need to strategically face the challenge populist movements across Europe pose and stand strong against any incitement of hatred for the wellbeing of our societies.

Katrin Hugendubel is Advocacy Director at ILGA-Europe. Follow her on Twitter @khugendubel.

Image: Agencja Gazeta