The EU has failed the Polish LGBTQ community


For too long the EU has turned a blind eye to human rights abuses in Eastern Europe. Lacking are the measures needed to curb the rise in homophobic political movements.

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By Ruby Brown

FOR YEARS, THE EU has faced growing scrutiny and concern over its democratic principles and response to human rights violations. Current trends across Poland and Hungary are indicative of rising antagonism towards LGBTQ+ rights and the impending erosion of minority rights and egalitarianism. With Poland now having been ranked as the worst country in the EU for LGBTQ+ rights, over 100 regions declaring themselves LGBT free-zones’, and Hungarian lawmakers voting to end legal gender recognition, the state of political affairs across the continent must now be treated as symptomatic of a series of breaches against both the institution’ sown ethos and basic human rights.

With health care, hate crime, and hate speech also omitted from both states’ anti-discrimination laws, it is evident that the current homophobic and transphobic climate has been fostered by the respective governments, alongside a pattern of democratic downturn and an overarching shift towards authoritarianism. In Hungary, a survey conducted by the European Union Agency for fundamental rights has highlighted the blatantly neglectful nature of the government, with 95 percent of respondents stating they did not think the government was effective in preventing the rise of anti-LGBT bias. Paired with statements from the likes of the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, suggesting that the LGBT movement is to be seen as “more destructive” than communist regimes, it is not far-fetched to theorise that a culture war is brewing rapidly across populist governments in Europe and that there needs to be more decisive action taken by the EU.

Although the EU has this year denied grants to six Polish towns in correspondence with their negative attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community - with Helena Dalli, European Commissioner, stating that Polish municipalities adopting “family rights” resolutions were not to be tolerated by the institution and to be rejected from any grant schemes - many activists have expressed dissatisfaction with the EU response thus far, and the even more-so with the lax reaction to erosion of gender autonomy and freedom of expression in Hungary.

With no further specific threats being posed to the future of Poland or Hungary's funding or, more drastically, their membership as a whole, the EU has been accused of both failing to act altogether or acting too softly, and thus complicit, in the gradual transgression of freedom and infringements on minority rights. With violence and hate speech against LGBTQ+ people in both states growing, and media coverage on the matter losing momentum with the continental second wave of COVID-19, the growing call from LGBTQ+ individuals and activists alike for the imposition of tougher sanctions, and ultimately a shift away from the repeated dispassionate statements made by EU officials, must be acknowledged.

It is, however, still unclear whether more action is to be taken on the matter, and thus perhaps too soon to cast the EU as a complete failure in protecting minority rights across central and Eastern parts of Europe. In September, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, put forth her understanding of the flaws in the EU’s strategy in combating the rise of anti-LGBTQ + politics in the Union. By describing the majority of statements made thus far as “delayed” and “watered down”, the President signaled that there is some level of disapproval and a strong desire for change from within the institution, which could signal change is on the horizon. Furthermore, with the promise of a “Magnitsky Act” to impose faster and tougher sanctions on states that violate human rights, in addition to the diplomats from over 50 countries calling for an end to sexual discrimination in the region, the following months could just be witness to a breakthrough in EU politics, and the destruction of those barriers currently posing a real threat to the freedom of Polish and Hungarian citizens. Nevertheless, we can only wait and see whether improvements are to actually come to fruition, or whether this is just another empty promise.

One certainty that remains in the current climate is that we can only go forward in resisting
and challenging such blasé discourses employed by the political elite, and more importantly
from the homophobic and transphobic politicians, parties, and authorities across the
continent. Even with the UK's now looser ties to the EU, the LGBTQ community is demanding that the British government must take action by increasing discussions and raising awareness of the vicious assaults that are being inflicted on LGBTQ+ individuals outside of our own sphere.

Additionally, I personally urge you to start demanding the increased representation and inclusion of LGBTQ+ folks within your schools and universities, in your local and national media outlets, and within your government. with growing incompetence and lack of action from the establishment, we must start holding our
politicians and institutions to account from the ground roots if we want to tackle this issue
both domestically and internationally.