Polish town backtracks on anti-LGBTQ+ stance over threats of EU funding loss

Orders from courts and the Council of Europe have caused towns such as Świdnik and Nowa Dęba to relinquish their anti-LGBTQ+ declarations.

A Polish sticker with the slogan ‘STREFA WOLNA OD LGBT’ translating to ‘LGBT FREE ZONE’.
Image: Via Twitter: @Openly

Świdnik, an eastern Polish town, is discarding its anti-LGBTQ+ stance over fears of losing funding from the European Union. In March 2019, the town’s local council adopted a policy to have the district be “free from LGBTQ+ ideology”, as well as disallowing so-called ‘homo-propaganda’. The change follows concern that Świdnik could lose millions of euros in funding from the EU after the town reportedly lost funding from Norway in 2021 on the same grounds.

Around a third of the country made similar anti-LGBTQ+ declarations since 2019, with the situation escalated by an increase in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from the Law and Justice (PiS) party. The national-conservative and Christian democratic political party holds 237 seats in the Sejm (Poland’s lower house of parliament) and 66 in the Senate. That makes the faction the largest in the Polish government.

According to a Polish blog, Notes from Poland, the town amended the resolution in November 2021, removing outright mention of ‘LGBTQ+ ideology’. However, with funding lines still under threat, Świdnik in December 2022 approved a new declaration “on the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms”.

The new code states that “the dignity of every human being is an inalienable value subject to special protection”. It maintains “opposition to all forms of discrimination based on sex, race, ethnic origin, nationality, religion, denomination, belief, disability, age or sexual orientation”.

Mariusz Wilk, head of the opposition on the council, stated that “Pecunia non olet – money does not stink – as the ancient Romans used to say… Without EU funds, Świdnik’s budget will be at risk. In my opinion, this is the only reason that [this change] prevailed.” As per Onet, a Polish online news platform.

This is reportedly not the first time that a Polish region has enacted amendments to secure funding. Nowa Dęba, another eastern Polish town, changed its policy in January 2021, with the town’s leaders maintaining that “the council’s intentions have been misunderstood”.

A report conducted by Amnesty International in July 2022 revealed that concerns for LGBTQ+ rights in Poland aren’t unfounded. Focusing on the state of human rights in the country from 2017 to 2021, the study found deliberate attempts to force queer people out of civic spaces had become a consistent trend.

With responses to LGBTQ+ activism being so hostile, implementations of ‘LGBTQ+ free zones,’ are areas of Poland that have officially proclaimed themselves as unwelcoming of the queer community. In 2021,  the Council of Europe told the nation to annul the establishment of these regions.

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