Polish president Andrzej Duda, who has doubled down on themes of homophobia and has been propped up by anti-Semitic right-wingers, eked out a narrow victory in a tight re-election campaign that highlighted political divisions in the central European nation and raised fears about his pledges to impose bigoted policies in his next term.
Election officials in Poland reported that Duda earned 51.2 percent of the vote, while Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski yielded 48.88 percent, in results that have not yet been finalized. Opposition party Civil Platform, which supported Trzaskowski, claimed there were voting “irregularities,” including concerns that some voters could not vote in time because they did not get their “voting packages” in the mail, according to Reuters. Reports also suggest that a court challenge could be in the works.
Duda, an ally of President Donald Trump, has trashed LGBTQ people, saying queer ideology is worse than communism, and he emboldened his homophobic policy platform during the presidential campaign with pledges to ban adoption rights for queer couples. He further led an effort to dehumanize LGBTQ Poles, saying that “LGBT are not people, they are an ideology.” Conservatives in Poland have recently advocated for “LGBT-free zones,” where certain towns and municipalities have passed symbolic resolutions rejecting queer rights.
Duda is also opposed to abortion rights and was backed by right-wing forces that appeared to make coordinated anti-Semitic attacks on Trzaskowski during the campaign. Jarosław Kaczyński, who heads up the ruling Law and Justice party, attacked Trzaskowski, saying the Warsaw mayor supports restitution payments to Jewish folks for the property that was lost during World War II.
“Only someone without a Polish soul, a Polish heart and a Polish mind could say something like that,” Kaczyński said, according to Politico. “Mr. Trzaskowski clearly doesn’t have them, seeing as he says that this is open to discussion.”
Polish state television also favored the incumbent president and at one point asked if Trzaskowski “will fulfill Jewish demands,” Politico also reported.
LGBTQ issues in Poland have re-emerged on multiple occasions in recent years, including in Warsaw, where Trzaskowski faced criticism from the right for putting forth an LGBTQ education program in the city.
The Law and Justice Party smeared the educational effort as an “attack on families, on children,” and Catholic leaders and conservatives came out in full force arguing that such education interferes with traditional family values and gender norms.
Trzaskowski, however, is reluctant to go too far in support queer rights. He said he agrees with Duda on the issue of banning adoption rights for same-sex couples.
Poles enjoy some limited LGBTQ protections, such as a ban on employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and businesses are banned from refusing to service gay individuals. Trans folks lack many of those protections, and although they have the option of changing their gender marker, they must receive hormone replacement therapy first.
Religious conservative ideology is prevalent in Poland, where the vast majority of the population is Catholic. Just nine percent of people support LGBTQ adoption rights and only 29 percent back same-sex marriage.
New York-based LGBTQ activist Brendan Fay provided a glimpse into the atmosphere in Poland last year when he told Gay City News about his journey to Bialystok in northeastern Poland. He traveled there to attend the area’s first-ever Pride march, where antii-LGBTQ people were physically attacked and hit with anti-LGBTQ slurs.
Fay also attended a rally in Warsaw, where he heard folks speak about horrifying incidents during which Rainbow Flags were burned and stones, bricks, and cans were tossed at people. Some even started urinating in bottles and throwing them at LGBTQ folks, according to those accounts.
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