On behalf of Human Rights Watch, I write to you concerning proposed legislation that, if passed, would prevent free speech and access to information by and about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in schools and other institutions of learning in Poland—as well as legally sanctioning discrimination against them. The legislation—which Deputy Minister of Education Miroslaw Orzechowski has stated will be introduced within a month—would create a climate of intolerance and threaten the civil and political rights of Polish educators and of LGBT Poles in schools, especially youth.
Deputy Minister Orzechowski stated on March 13 that the goal of the proposed law is to “punish anyone who promotes homosexuality or any other deviance of a sexual nature in education establishments.” Teachers, school principals, visiting educators, and student human rights defenders who violate the law could face dismissal, fines, and imprisonment. The deputy minister also announced on March 15 that “teachers who reveal their homosexuality will be fired from work.” The Education Ministry has also announced that school administrators who allow members of gay rights organizations to speak with pupils would be sanctioned. The proposal would also prohibit health educators advocating safer sex practices for homosexuals from entering the schools; such health educators have already come under attack from Deputy Minister Orzechowsk,i who called their materials “negative propaganda.” Censorship would deprive students of potentially life-saving information. It could potentially be used to punish LGBT student activism and would increase the likelihood that LGBT youth would be expelled or drop-out of school.
This is not the first time that the Ministry of Education has publicly demonstrated homophobic views. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Roman Giertych, leader of the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin or LPR), previously stated, “There is no room, nor will there ever be any room, for homosexual activism within the school system in Poland on my watch.” On May 19, 2005, the Ministry of Education under Giertych’s control condemned the activities of the Polish non-governmental organization Campaign against Homophobia. In September 2005, the group had cosponsored (with LGBT groups from Bulgarian, Estonia, and Spain) an international youth exchange project called “Do We Need Gender,” training more than 20 participants in issues of gender stereotypes and gender-based discrimination. Deputy Minister Orzechowski then accused the project of “depraving young people,” and stated that the ministry would work to “prevent such organizations from getting money in the future.”
The current attack also follows a recent history of attacks on lesbian and gay Poles, and on their rights to free speech and assembly. In June 2006, the State Prosecutor’s office issued a letter to prosecutors in the municipalities of Legnica, Wroclaw, Walbrzych, Opole and Jelenia Gora ordering in sweeping terms investigations into the conduct of “homosexuals” on unsupported and defamatory allegations of “pedophilia.” Warsaw authorities tried to ban the June 10, 2006 LGBT Equality Parade there, and political figures threatened activists with violence: member of Parliament Wojciech Wierzejski of the LPR stated, “If deviants start to demonstrate, they should be bashed with a baton.” In 2004 and 2005, when mayor of Warsaw, President Kaczynski also intended to ban Gay Pride marches, though the parades were allowed to proceed after administrative courts held the ban unconstitutional.
This most recent attack on lesbian and gay rights comes at a time when homophobic policies and anti-Semitic rhetoric in Poland are under scrutiny. On March 15, the President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, officially reprimanded Polish MEP Maciej Giertych (father of the LPR leader) for publishing an anti-Semitic pamphlet--the first time the Parliament penalized an MEP for violations of the EU body’s principles of mutual respect. Poettering told the EU body that he “deeply regretted what is objectively a serious breach of the fundamental rights and in particular the dignity of human beings to which our institution so strongly adheres.'” In addition, the European Court of Human Rights is currently considering Baczowski & others v Poland in examination of the ban on the 2005 LGBT Equality Parade in Warsaw. On December 6, 2005, the European Commission condemned Poland’s Education Ministry for rejecting a European Voluntary Service project on the stated grounds that it would “propagate homosexual behavior and attitudes”; the European Commission held that “homophobia is not in accordance with the principles of the EU and is a severe violation of human rights.”
All persons, including children, have a right to free speech, freedom from discrimination, and to seek, receive and impart information. Poland is a long-standing party to the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. You will thus be aware that Poland is bound to prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity in relation to any of the rights enjoyed under the Convention. Similarly, the U.N. Human Rights Committee, charged with monitoring states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), held in 1994 in Toonen v Australia that sexual orientation should be understood as a status protected against discrimination by the treaty’s equality provisions. Furthermore, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Poland ratified in June 1991, states in Article 13, “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary.”
Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned that the proposed legislation and government statements against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights in Poland directly violate these international standards. Mere mention of homosexuality does not constitute “propaganda,” though suppression of such speech constitutes censorship. Youth in schools, along with all other Poles, have a fundamental right to information. Free expression in institutions of learning is a hallmark of democracy.
The legislation is spearheaded by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Roman Giertych, who has openly expressed his homophobic views. At a meeting with European Union education ministers on March 1, he expressed his belief that children are receiving “propaganda about homosexuality,” adding that “homosexual propaganda must also be limited so children will have the correct view of the family.”
The president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, has declared homosexuality a threat, stating, “If that kind of approach to sexual life were to be promoted on a grand scale, the human race would disappear.” Such attitudes reflect a basic misunderstanding of where the threat lies. Intolerance, not openness, endangers democracy. To declare a whole segment of the Polish population a public menace is to divide the polity and erode a culture of human rights. We urge your government to discard the proposed legislation and halt policy and regulatory initiatives with comparable homophobic goals. We urge you to condemn the statements of Minister Giertych and Deputy Minister Orzechowski and to publicly disavow threats and vilification directed against LGBT people and their allies, and we urge you to affirm that all people should enjoy their rights regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We urge you to cease affront to personal dignity that these accusations against LGBT people imply. Finally, we urge you to embrace the principles of equality and tolerance. With its history of struggles for democracy and freedom, Poland should be, within the European Union, a vital voice for justice.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Program
- President Lech Kaczynski
- Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education Roman Giertych
- Deputy Minister of Education Miroslaw Orzechowski
- Liga Polskich Rodzin
- Vladimir Špidla, Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, & Equal Opportunities, European Commission
- Thomas Hammarberg, Human Rights Commissioner, Council of Europe
- Michael Cashman, European Parliament Member