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European lawmakers debate declaring entire EU an LGBTQ ‘freedom zone’

A masked crowd waves rainbow flags at a rally
Supporters of LGBTQ rights protest in Warsaw last August against rising homophobia in Poland.
(Czarek Sokolowski / Associated Press)

European lawmakers are scheduled to debate a resolution Wednesday that would declare the entire 27-member European Union a “freedom zone” for LGBTQ people.

The proposed resolution comes largely in reaction to developments over the past two years in Poland, where many local communities have adopted largely symbolic resolutions declaring themselves to be free of what Polish conservative authorities have been calling “LGBT ideology.”

The towns say they are seeking only to defend their traditional Roman Catholic values, but LGBTQ rights activists say they are discriminatory and make gays and lesbians feel unwelcome. The areas have come to be colloquially known as “LGBT-free zones.”

The European Parliament’s resolution stresses that it wants to address problems faced by gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, intersex and queer people across the entire EU.

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The resolution says that the fundamental rights of LGBTQ people have been “severely hindered” recently in Hungary by a de facto ban on legal gender recognition for trans and intersex people. It cites problems in Latvia, and notes that only two member states, Malta and Germany, have banned “conversion therapy,” a controversial and potentially harmful attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation.

The resolution is the work of a cross-party group in the European Parliament, the LGBTI Intergroup, which says it has the support to pass the largely symbolic resolution.

Some lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are leaving Poland following the anti-LGBTQ campaign rhetoric the president used to get reelected.

Liesje Schreinemacher, the vice chair of the group and a Dutch lawmaker with Renew Europe, a liberal political group, said the resolution was timed roughly to coincide with the second anniversary of the passage of an anti-LGBT resolution by Swidnik County, the first Polish community to take that step.

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Schreinemacher also referred to problems elsewhere, including the killing of a man in Belgium in what authorities suspect was a homophobic attack.

“We wanted to send a strong signal in Poland that we consider all of Europe to be an LGBTI freedom zone,” Schreinemacher told the Associated Press. “But every European country has work to do.”

Dozens of local governments across conservative eastern and southern Poland began in March 2019 to pass resolutions either declaring themselves to be free from “LGBT ideology” or promulgating family charters that defend “traditional” families.

The European Union has unveiled its first strategy for improving the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, non-binary, intersex and queer people.

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The moves have proven costly to Poland’s international image and to the finances of local communities. The EU and Norway — a non-EU member that funds some development in EU nations — have cut off funds to policies they view as discriminatory.

Bart Staszewski, a Polish activist who created an art project on the “LGBT-free zones” that drew the ire of the government and conservatives, said he sees the EU resolution as “important and necessary.”

But he also notes that local governments stopped passing such resolutions months ago, and some communities have already withdrawn theirs. Others have passed resolutions declaring support for all types of families.

“There is some very good change,” Staszewski said. “I see this as a very good sign for the future.”


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