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LGBT rights: New threat for Poland's 'rainbow families'

Adam Easton / BBC News, Warsaw

Poland appeared to be becoming more open towards LGBT+ people, but that trend stopped in 2019 [© Getty Images]

Thirteen-year-old Pola is one of an estimated 50,000 children in Poland being raised by same-sex couples. Like most of those children, Pola is growing up with her biological mother, Anna Adamowicz, together with her wife, Agnieszka. Pola was born during Anna's previous relationship with a man and her father continues to play an active role in her upbringing.

Together for more than a decade, Anna and Agnieszka married in Copenhagen three years ago, but their marriage is not legally recognised in Poland, whose constitution stipulates that marriage is a union of a man and a woman.

Move to bar all LGBT+ adoptions

Now the rules for LGBT+ Poles in this Catholic country are tightening further. They are already barred from adopting children as couples, but some local authorities look favourably on applicants adopting as single parents. Poland's justice ministry has proposed that a legal loophole should be closed to prevent LGBT+ people from adopting children completely.

The government appears to have public opinion on its side. According to a 2019 CBOS opinion poll, 66% of respondents said same sex couples should not have the right to marry, 67% said they should not be open about their way of life in public and 84% said they should not be able to adopt children.

No civil unions are legally recognised in Poland, and many couples experience difficulties gaining access to visit their partners in hospital should they fall ill. Anna, an activist dealing with family issues for Grupa Stonewall in Poznan, says she cannot even collect registered mail on behalf of Agnieszka at the post office.

She complains of feeling like a second-class citizen and that after after six years of being an activist their rights are no better, and perhaps worse.

With the arrival of coronavirus, she worries what will happen to her daughter. "I thought, with Covid, it is possible that both Pola's father and I will die and then my wife would be unable to adopt Pola and take care of her, despite the fact she has been involved in her life for almost 11 years. She would not be able to stay with the person who helped raise her."

Anna has told Pola's form teacher about what she calls her "patchwork family" but her daughter has only confided in those classmates she trusts. Pola initially attended school religion classes, which in practice are Catholic catechism lessons, but she quit after the teacher told the pupils that Jesus cried when children were born using IVF treatment.

Warnings of a 'rainbow plague'

Some Church leaders have been vociferous in their condemnation of "LGBT ideology". The Archbishop of Krakow Marek Jedraszewski has condemned it as a rainbow plague, worse than Bolshevism. Last summer he warned that "attempts are being made to take away our Poland and for over 1,050 years, our Christian land".

And the nationalist-conservative government echoes such sentiments.

"We will not allow the legalisation of homosexual relationships and their adoption of children in our country. We protect Polish identity and culture from LGBT+ ideology, which is alien to us," deputy justice minister Marcin Romanowski told government-friendly Nasz Dziennik newspaper on Tuesday.

It all adds up to a hostile atmosphere in a country where about 100 municipalities covering one third of Poland have adopted resolutions declaring themselves "LGBT ideology-free".

In 2017, Anna and her family attended a picnic for LGBT+ families in the Polish seaside town of Sopot when they were confronted by a pro-life group with banners reading "Ban paedophiles" and "You will never be a real family".

The group then turned on their loudspeakers and played an anti-LGBT+ song over and over for three hours. "We tried to talk to them saying there are children here, they are scared, they are crying. We asked the police to help us but they didn't react," Anna said.

Anna said she and Agnieszka would calmly hold hands in the street, but they have felt less safe since last summer's presidential election campaign that saw almost daily attacks on LGBT+ rights on Polish public television.

During a stump speech, the incumbent Andrzej Duda, who went on to be re-elected, also compared LGBT+"ideology" with communism. "People are trying to convince us that they are people and this is just an ideology," he said.

'In Berlin no-one will punch us'

Anna complains of a concerted campaign that makes her feel unsafe. "My grandmother watches public television and she is told that we are discriminating against Catholics. We feel dehumanised. It's only a short distance from this to saying that we are not people."

She and her family are seriously considering moving to Berlin, a two and a half hour drive away from their Poznan home, so her daughter can feel more secure.

"My daughter always says she feels at home in Berlin because of the diversity, she feels accepted there. We feel the same. No-one will come and punch us because we are holding hands or kissing. We feel included," she said.

According to pollster CBOS, Poles were slowly becoming more open towards LGBT+ people, but that trend stopped in 2019.

Anna believes things will change in Poland but not for some time: "I'm very optimistic about young people in Poland. They do really care and they are open and they really want to change something."


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