Police in Lublin, Poland took action to protect participants in a pride march last Saturday from anti-LGBT protesters, who, according to a media report, tried to stop the march and attack the marchers with eggs. Such action should stand as an example of how Polish authorities need to defend free and assembly rights as anti-LGBT rhetoric reaches a fever pitch ahead of national elections.
Much of the vitriol in recent months has been driven by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has a history of scapegoating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, and sexual and reproductive health activists, under the rubric of “gender ideology.” The party made countering “LGBT ideology” part of its platform for the October 13 elections. Senior party members have 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.
But “centering the election campaign on LGBT issues has resulted in the mobilization of both hate and solidarity,” wrote Lukasz Szulc, a lecturer in Digital Media and Society at the University of Sheffield. Indeed hundreds of thousands of #JestemLGBT (#IamLGBT) tweets have been sent out in recent months – many in domestic and international solidarity with queer and trans people in Poland. The police behavior in Lublin over the weekend illustrates a clear message as well: basic rights should triumph over bigotry – and the state is obligated to side with the rule of law.
In a 2016 report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association specified that governments have “a positive duty to protect those exercising their right to peaceful assembly, even if they are promoting unpopular positions (e.g., rights for LGBTI persons or those of a minority religion).”
The police in Lublin appear to have upheld this duty. And as the election approaches and PiS supporters try to attack LGBT people as a cynical rallying cry, all Polish authorities have an obligation under the country’s constitution, human rights law, and EU law to ensure equality for everyone in society.