In an apparent attempt to boost its popularity ahead of upcoming elections, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party is once again scapegoating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people and sexual and reproductive health.
After Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, a member of opposition party Civic Platform, pledged to support LGBT people and ensure the city’s sex education curriculum includes teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity, Law and Justice Party leader Jaraslow Kaczyński called this an attack on families and warned it would cause “sexualization of kids.”
His party’s use of such false rhetoric is nothing new – it has often misrepresented efforts to advance gender equality and end discrimination as attacks on ‘traditional’ family values, and used such arguments to undermine women’s and LGBT rights groups.
The ruling party’s poisonous language has emboldened others. For example, in September 2018, a campaign called “Stop Sexualization of Children and Youth” accused groups conducting sex education workshops of promoting “depravity.” The campaign claimed that following World Health Organization sex education standards for Europe would cause “sex addiction” and “confusion about gender identity.”
These are pure and simple scare tactics with no basis in science, and far less in human rights. Comprehensive sexuality education benefits everyone.
And the Polish government has failed to counter such campaigns – and in some cases appeared to support them – while hindering quality sexuality education. To advise on recent sex education curriculum changes, the government appointed a Catholic theology professor who has claimed that contraception can cause “hedonism, sex addiction and a tendency to be unfaithful.” It’s no surprise that new curriculum guidelines reinforce discriminatory attitudes and gender stereotypes and spread misinformation, like stating that masturbation can lead to pornography and sex addiction.
Human rights bodies including the Council of Europe stress the importance of accurate and inclusive sex education, which helps reduce maternal mortality, adolescent pregnancy, and HIV. And undermining equality for LGBT youth in sex education classes can cause them long-term harm.
Trzaskowski was right to commit to embracing LGBT people and recognizing and including them in sex education – not as a political tactic, but as a necessary stance against discrimination. Poland’s national government should follow suit.