Reports have been flooding the media lately regarding Poland’s unethical LGBT-Free zones – areas within the country where strong anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiment is maintained by local authorities.
A small group of activists in Poland have begun identifying counties and regions where these LGBT-free zones manifest. The group, Atlas Of Hate, have created a map that collates public data to identify the municipalities, counties and voivodeships (translates roughly provinces) that have designated themselves LGBT-Free zones.
Two government resolutions are mentioned as having negatively effected the LGBTQIA+ community. One was introduced by the PiS (Law And Justice Party) that includes drafts to prevent LGBTQIA+ organisations from having any cooperation with local governments. The second, the Regional Charter Of Family Rights, would prevent LGBTQIA+ groups having access to spaces where activists could gather to exercise their right to protest for equal treatment, and it also removes comprehensive education in schools regarding LGBTQIA+ identity.
Atlas Of Hate told DNA that their work is difficult due to the scale and proportion of the issue. The group says, “By what right do you give yourselves the right to relegate these people to second-class status? Because your church and party say so? About 350-700 homosexual, bisexual, non-binary, transgender and intersex people study in schools in the Przasnysz county… What would you say to them if you faced them? That they are just an ideology?”
Now the four activists at the core of Atlas Of Hate, Kuba Gawron, Kamil Maczuga, Paulina Pająk and Paweł Preneta, are being sued by seven local governments who are claiming financial compensation for the negative press these regions have attracted because of Atlas Of Hate’s activities.
The counties of Łowicz, Przasnysz, Opoczno, Tarnów, Przysucha, Tatra and Gromadka commune demand in their law suit that the group publishes an apology on their website, reads the apology in front of the European Parliament building in Brussels, reads the apology in the conference room of the Polish Press Agency (PAP) rented at their own expense, and pays compensation to local organisations amounting to PLN 20,000 ($USD7,000) each.
If successful, the law suit would cripple Atlas Of Hate financially.
In a statement to DNA, Atlas Of Hate said, “We did not expect the Polish authorities to sue us for publishing public official documents in one place. And that they will want to ruin us financially for it. To deprive us of our savings, take our assets and make us pay debts for many years. And what for? For publicising the documents they were so proud to pass.
“We are convinced that this is a typical SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) lawsuit. These numerous lawsuits aim to intimidate and silence our team by engaging us in lengthy and costly legal defence..
If successful, the legal action would have ominous implications for freedom of speech in Poland. Atlas Of Hate used public records and information to create their map. They have not broken any laws in gathering the data, nor have they broken laws in distributing their research.
“We make use of the freedom of speech provided by the constitution. We have the right to use our own reason and imagination when reading draft legislation. We have the right to warn against discriminatory laws using harsh and vivid phrases”.
On July 15, 2021, the European Commission launched an investigation against Poland regarding the anti-LGBT zones. Many Western nations have ceased cooperation with Poland including European Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, who suspended the micro-grants program for six partnerships with Polish citiesThe fight for Kuba Gawron, Kamil Maczuga, Paulina Pająk and Paweł Preneta continues as they face further legal battles and pushback from the government. Atlas writes that there are meaningful things that the public can do to support them.
The non-profit organisation All Out has a campaign that you can contribute to by following the link to their page. The group also encourages writing letters to local governments, creating social media awareness, establishing contact with Polish activists and participating in individual activist campaigns.
Atlas Of Hate says, “A county which takes a part in a homophobic hate campaign and denies LGBTQ youth access to reliable scientific knowledge and the right to live in a supportive school environment, gives up its good name itself. And for us, the safety of these LGBTQ people is more important.”
“That is why we shout loudly in defence of them. This is all we can do.” .