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As a new government in Poland brings to power officials with long records of opposing gay and lesbian rights, it is more important than ever for the country’s leadership to affirm all citizens’ equality, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Polish President Lech Kaczynski.

On January 18 the European Parliament, motivated by rising homophobia in Poland and other eastern European states, overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on all EU member countries “firmly to condemn homophobic hate speech or incitement to hatred and violence.”

“As mayor of Warsaw, President Kaczynski opposed the right of lesbian and gay people to basic freedoms and equal respect,” said Scott Long, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. “As president, he will determine whether Poland protects rights or chips away at them. Europe is waiting for the answer.”

In 2004 and 2005, while mayor of Warsaw, Kaczynski banned gay pride parades planned for the city, accusing them of “propagating gay orientation.” He refused to meet with the parade organizers, saying, "I am not willing to meet perverts." When marchers defied the ban and peacefully demonstrated in 2004, skinheads associated with the far-right All-Polish Youth violently attacked them. Kaczynski condemned police for interfering with the skinheads, but not the marchers.

Since Lech Kaczynski was elected president in November 2005, homophobic rhetoric from members of his Law and Justice Party has escalated. The party’s leader (and president’s brother), Jaroslaw Kaczynski, recently warned that in Poland “gay people are allowed to conduct perverse demonstrations in the streets, but it is forbidden to discuss the issue of moral censorship.” Prime Minister Kasimierz Marcinkiewicz, also of Law and Justice Party, has stated that if a homosexual “tries to 'infect' others with their homosexuality, then the state must intervene in this violation of freedom." On January 26, the Sejm (or Polish parliament) elected as Ombudsman for Human Rights the lawyer Janusz Kochanowski, who has claimed that pedophilia and homosexuality are linked.

“Equality and respect for all are central to Europe’s democratic tradition,” said Long. “Bans on gay pride marches and thinly veiled calls for censorship send a message that minority rights are at the mercy of the majority. They violate Poland’s European and international obligations.”

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