By Eleonore Buffet-Heuser
On Wednesday 28 October 2020 the Queeropeans, the college’s LGBT+ student society, held a panel discussion on “Safeguarding LGBTQI+ rights: How should the EU respond to LG
BTQI+ free zones?”. It was joined online by 100 students, both from Bruges and the Natolin campus. The discussion pertinently followed a demonstration at the Garenmarkt canteen of students reacting against the Polish government’s legislation criminalisation of abortion in certain circumstances. The talk concentrated on the current situation of LGBTQI+ rights in Poland. Since 2019, circa 100 Polish municipalities (covering a third of the country), as well as multiple Polish institutions, have declared themselves free of “LGBT-ideology”. These declarations have led to the social ostracisation and exclusion of (as well as discrimination against and expressions of hate towards) members of the LGBTQI+ community.
Bastian Brauns, Economics Editor of the political journal Cicero, moderated the discussion, and started off by asking the panellists about the current situation in Poland. Kamil Maczuga; a Polish activist and co-founder of Atlas of Hate, explained that the poisonous atmosphere was seeping especially into schools where there is a profound lack of anti-discrimination education. Bartosz Staszewski, a Polish activist, filmmaker and co-organiser of the Equality March in Lublin and organiser of LGBT-free zones project, added that the notion of homophobia had been turned into an ideology in Poland in order to legitimize it. Bart explained that feelings have been very tense and intolerant, especially in the countryside and small cities. This situation has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, as LGBTQI+ can no longer meet up or hold events. This has contributed further to the isolation of individuals, especially in rural areas. Kamil stated that over 60% of members of the LGBTQI+ community suffer from suicidal thoughts.
Tackling the more political and legal aspects Terry Reintke, a German G/EFA MEP and Co-President of the LGBTI Intergroup, explained that whilst of course this hate was targeting LGBTQI+ people, it also fell under the general categories of defiance of the rule of law and democracy. From the perspective of fundamental human rights, the situation is clearly unacceptable. But sadly, any legislation that is supported by the European Parliament is always blocked at the European Council level by Poland and Hungary. Though Terry criticised the regressive nature of certain EU institutions, she also expressed the view that this battle against hate needs to be fought in Poland as conditionality can only have an effect up to an extent. Emphasising the legal aspects, Terry illustrated that the ECJ declared these LGBTQI+ free statements to be discrimination. Terry stressed the European Parliament’s support, but ultimately agreed with Dr Piotr Godzisz. The latter, a lecturer in Criminology at Birmingham City University and previously Head of the Policy, Research and Advocacy programme at Lambda Warsaw (the national LGBT support organisation in Poland), explained that funding local organisations was very important. Dr. Godzisz also criticised the lack of unity on the appropriate response to hate crimes at the EU level. He elaborated that we have a mosaic of response legislation and recommended that it would be pertinent to add all hate crime to a bill such as the 2008 Framework and then get member states to act on this. Terry Reintke explained that there is a European discourse area in which populists are actually internationally very well-connected, meaning international debates (such as this conference) are crucial to raise awareness.
On a more positive note, following questions from students, the activists from the panel confirmed that the “youth is the future” and that they are crucial in this fight against hate. Social media and platforms like Netflix have helped in the normalisation of LGBTQI+ people as well as their acceptance.