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Polish Court Rejects Case Against ‘LGBT-Free Zones’ Activist

Ruling Highlights Absurdity of Local Anti-LGBT Resolutions Across Poland

Bartosz Staszewski, LGBT activist and creator of the photography LGBT Free Zones Project, poses for a photo inside his home on August 6, 2020, in Warsaw, Poland.  © 2020 Omar Marques/Getty Images

A court in the Polish city of Rzeszów has thrown out a case against Bartosz Staszewski, an LGBT rights activist who was being sued by the Niebylec commune for defamation.

Niebylec, a village in southeastern Poland, is home to about 10,000 people. In 2019, along with dozens of communities across Poland, it passed a resolution to “stop LGBT ideology.”

In response to this onslaught of bigoted policies, Staszewski designed a campaign in which he photographed himself and other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people with signs reading “LGBT-Free Zone” at the entrance to places that had enacted anti-LGBT resolutions or similarly discriminatory “family charters.” Three of the nearly 100 localities with these policies, including Niebylec, sued Staszewski for defamation and demanded he apologize for calling their community an “LGBT-Free Zone” in the media.

In March, a provincial administrative court in Rzeszów overturned Niebylec’s anti-LGBT resolution, ruling that “there is no LGBT ideology, just as there is no heterosexual ideology.” The case was one of several filed by the Polish Ombudsman challenging the anti-LGBT resolutions. Now, just two months later, Niebylec’s attempt to intimidate Staszewski and other LGBT activists has also been thrown out. The commune may still appeal the ruling.

In recent years, Poland’s ruling party has fueled anti-LGBT discrimination across the country and launched an unrelenting crackdown on women’s rights and human rights defenders. The dismissal of Staszewski’s case is critical for the dignity of LGBT people and freedom of expression.

In a 2020 report, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights found that certain areas’ anti-LGBT policies were having a “chilling effect” on people who lived there, and that “Activists working to denounce such declarations have also been subjected to specious lawsuits filed by local governments or conservative organizations.” The European Commission has taken legal action against Poland for these zones.

The Rzeszów court wrote in its decision posted in an English translation on Staszewski’s website: “[M]unicipalities cannot ‘after the fact’ be ashamed of the resolutions they have adopted in the past.” Indeed, authorities cannot claim they’re “ashamed” in order to bring disingenuous defamation charges. But they should absolutely be ashamed of their discriminatory and harmful policies.

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