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Poland: The situation of homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals, including the availability of state protection (March 2003 - July 2004)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Author Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board, Canada
Publication Date 4 August 2004
Citation / Document Symbol POL42814.E
Reference 7
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Poland: The situation of homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals, including the availability of state protection (March 2003 - July 2004), 4 August 2004, POL42814.E, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/41501c4f23.html [accessed 29 November 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

The Law

Homosexuality and lesbianism is legal in Poland and has been since 1932 (KPH 3 Aug. 2004), with the legal age of consent set at 15 years, which is the same for heterosexuals (gaytimes 14 May 2003; ILGA 31 July 2000). However, same-sex marriage is illegal (gaytimes 14 May 2003).

In October 2003, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported that the law in Poland makes no mention of homosexual relationships and homosexual and lesbian rights (21 Oct. 2003).

A proposal for a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Poland was introduced into parliament in October 2003 (KPH 21 Oct. 2003). Although scheduled for parliamentary debate in November or December 2003 (ibid.), as at May 2004, the bill had not yet been considered by parliament (DPA International Services 7 May 2004). It should be noted that the Roman Catholic church in Poland strongly opposes the passage of this bill (AFP 14 Apr. 2004; DPA International Services 11 June 2004). The bill provides for the same tax, property, inheritance and insurance rights for homosexuals as those enjoyed by heterosexuals, although it does not make any provisions concerning adoption (KPH 21Oct. 2003; ibid. 3 Aug. 2004). According to a legal representative of KPH, the chances that the bill will be passed are slim (ibid.).

Societal Attitudes

Since Poland is a strongly Roman Catholic country, the behaviour of its population is guided by a strict code of morality (gaytimes 14 May 2003). Against this background, Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (KPH) (Campaign Against Homophobia) indicates on its Website that "homosexuality is very frequently subject to repression. Homosexuals are ignored, rejected, condemned, stigmatized as 'perverts', 'sick', 'immoral', etc. Also they are victims of violence" (KPH n.d.). KPH is a non-governmental organization that was founded in 2001 and operates throughout Poland (ibid.). It has been called "Poland's biggest gay and lesbian civil-rights organisation" (ILGA 23 June 2004).

In correspondence to the Research Directorate, a legal representative of KPH indicated that according to the Report on Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation in Poland for the Year 2002 that was prepared by Warsaw Lambda Association and KPH,

... physical violence was experienced by 12.2% of those surveyed and mostly took the form of beatings, assaults and kicking. The assailants were more often unknown or family members. In 75% of the incidents of physical violence, the victims refrained from informing the police. Psychological violence was experienced by 31.5% of those surveyed and mostly took the form of verbal attacks and threats. Similarly to the cases of physical violence, these incidents were carried out by unknown individuals, and 85% of the victims refrained from informing the police. Eight percent of those surveyed experienced discrimination at the work place; 3.5% had difficulties with their living situation because of sexual orientation and another 3.5% experienced discrimination in the health care system. Almost 10% claimed to have experienced discrimination within the Catholic Church (3 Aug. 2004).

A March 2003 AFP article reported that homosexuals in Poland routinely hide their sexual orientation and that they "'face discrimination at work, in the street or in their own families'" (26 Mar. 2003). In addition, organizations advocating homosexual rights have alleged that verbal or physical attacks, and dismissal from employment on the basis of sexual orientation are common in Poland (AFP 26 Mar. 2003). One difficulty identified by the article is that homosexuals are "often mistaken for paedophiles" (ibid.).

To counter the negative societal attitudes towards same-sex relationships, a poster campaign was launched in March 2003 involving billboard-sized pictures of same sex couples smiling and holding hands (ibid.). The poster campaign was financed by Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, the minister responsible for sexual equality, even though it was met with opposition and protest from politicians and political parties (ibid.). The mayors of Warsaw and Krakow did not allow the posters to be displayed in their cities (ibid.).

In February 2004, a computer hacker allegedly broke into an email account of KPH and acquired the organization's membership list, including names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses (KPH 19 Apr. 2004). This information was then posted on "two of the country's most popular commercial websites" and was also used to send hate messages to the organization's activists and supporters (ibid.). The organization reported this incident to the police and had the lists removed from the two Websites (ibid.). Investigations by the prosecutor's office in Warsaw had, as at April 2004, not determined the identity of the hacker(s) (ibid.).

The KPH organized a festival entitled "Culture for Tolerance" between 6 and 9 May 2004 in Krakow (KPH 23 May 2004). During the four months of planning for the festival, there was ongoing opposition and pressure "mainly from the political party 'The League of Polish Families' and its aggressive youth group 'The All Polish Youth'" (ibid.). This opposition led to the need for changes of various planned venues and dates (ibid.). On 7 May 2004, members of the gay and lesbian community laid flowers in front of the Wall of Death in the Auschwitz concentration camp, while others marched through Krakow expressing support for the legalization of same sex marriage (DPA International Services 7 May 2004). Although no violence was reported, members of All Poland Youth, identified as ultra-nationalist sympathizers, allegedly distributed leaflets that called for "homosexuals to be 'kicked out' of Krakow" (ibid.). On the last day of the festival, the KPH planned a march of tolerance which was supposed to be a small "demonstration in support of rights of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual] people. No dressing up, no platforms" (KPH 9 May 2004). However, at the end of the march, in which approximately 1,500 people took part, the participants were attacked by skinheads and other young opponents of homosexuality (ibid.; ILGA 30 June 2004). The attackers threw eggs, stones, glass and bottles at the participants of the march (ibid.; KPH 9 May 2004). The police intervened and were engaged in fights with the attackers until late in the evening (ibid). The altercation resulted in the arrest of 20 people (ibid.). KPH noted that the "most appalling was the fact that the youth aggressors were encouraged and coordinated by local politicians" (ibid.). Information on the outcome of these arrests could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

In June 2004, the mayor of Warsaw, Lech Kaczynski, banned the annual gay parade reportedly because of his concerns for security (AFP 11 June 2004; The Mercury 28 June 2004). According to the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), the parade was "said to be 'sexually obscene' and a 'danger to the public morality'" (23 June 2004). To protest this decision, approximately 1,000 members of the gay community held a rally in Warsaw (AFP 11 June 2004; PAP 10 June 2002; DPA International Services 11 June 2004). According to one news report, the rally was held under "heavy police surveillance [and] was peaceful" (ibid.). Tomasz Baczkowski, a member of KPH, noted that the violent incident in May in Krakow and the ban of the parade by the mayor "make clear the enormous institutional, political and social homophobia in Poland" (ILGA 23 June 2004).

Other references to attacks against homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals in Poland could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Despite the aforementioned incidents, several sources have indicated that the situation of homosexuals, lesbians and bisexuals is improving in Poland (AFP 26 Mar. 2003; gaytimes 14 May 2003; The Warsaw Voice 21 Jan. 2004). Particularly in Warsaw, "[t]here are now many gay bars, clubs, saunas, hotels, organisations and even 'beaches' ... making Warsaw a definite possibility for a fun city break for gay and lesbian visitors" (gaytimes 14 May 2003). More recently, The Warsaw Voice reported that "[t]he network of gay clubs and places described as 'gay friendly' keeps expanding" in Poland (21 Jan. 2004).

Protection Available

In February 2004, citing budget restrictions, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Poland failed to create "'a government office for counteracting discrimination [on the basis of] race, ethnicity, religion, ... beliefs, age and sexual orientation ... '" (KPH 24 Feb. 2004). The office was supposed to be created to put into effect a constitutional provision that promotes equal treatment by public authorities and prohibits discrimination (ibid.). According to KPH, that Poland is not meeting the expectations of the European Union (EU) in the prevention of discrimination and promotion of equality is evident in "everyday practice" (ibid.). The organization adds that "[n]early two million ... gay and lesbian Poles, being often discriminated against, cannot seek any institutional protection" (ibid.).

A legal representative of KPH stated that there are no mechanisms for legal redress or protection available specifically to lesbian, gay, transsexual or bisexual (LGTB) individuals, who may, like any other citizen, approach the police, prosecutor's office or judiciary to report any crime that may have been committed against them (3 Aug. 2004). The representative added that The Government Plenipotentiary for Equal Status for Women and Men, a government body, was created in June 2002 to combat "all kinds of discriminate," but pointed out that it will probably be dismantled in the event that right wing parties win the upcoming elections scheduled to take place in 2005 (KPH 3 Aug. 2004).

Additional information on the protection available to LGTB individuals, as well as information on the legal redress available in practice, could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

A search of the Lambda Warszawa and KPH Websites revealed that these organizations are involved mainly in public awareness, public education and advocacy to promote equality in the law (Lambda Warszawa 15 June 2003; KPH n.d.). According to the KPH legal representative, LGTB organizations in Poland are "too small, too weak and to poor to help everyone seeking ... help" (ibid. 3 Aug. 2004). Additional information on the assistance provided by LGTB organizations in Poland could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Agence France Presse (AFP). 11 June 2004. "Polish Gays Protest Against Parade Ban." (Dialog)

_____. 14 April 2004. "'Vote Christian' During European Vote, Polish Bishops Say." (Dialog)

_____. 21 October 2003. "Poland's Catholic Primate Offended by Gays." (Dialog)

_____. 26 March 2003. Bernard Osser. "Out of the Closet, onto the Billboards for Poland's Homosexuals." (Dialog)

DPA International Services. 11 June 2004. "Warsaw 'Gay Pride' Rally Protests City Parade Ban." (Dialog)

_____. 7 May 2004. "Roundup: Lesbians, Gays Visit Auschwitz, March in Krakow." (Dialog)

gaytimes. n.d. "Lesbian and Gay Poland." [Accesssed 28 July 2004]

International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA). 30 June 2004. "Campaign Against Homophobia/Poland: March for Tolerance Results in Violence." [Accessed 12 July 2004]

_____. 23 June 2004. "Warsaw's Mayor Bans Christopher-Street-Day Parade: Maneo Initiates Protest Campaign at Poland's Embassy." [Accessed 12 July 2004]

_____. 31 July 2000. "World Legal Survey: Poland." [Accessed 28 July 2004]

Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (KPH). 3 August 2004. Correspondence from a legal representative.

_____. 23 May 2004. Monica Collins, Agnes Malmgren & Martin Kraft. "Homphobia in Poland." [Accessed 26 July 2004]

_____. 9 May 2004. "Riots in Krakow." [Accessed 26 July 2004]

_____. 19 April 2004. Tomek Kitlinski. "The Case of the Stolen Gay Files - Neo-Nazi Hacker Suspected." [Accessed 26 July 2004]

_____. 24 February 2004. "The Council of Ministers of the Republic of Poland Refused to Create a Central Government Body in Charge of Promoting Equal Status of Women and Men, and Working Against Discrimination." [Accessed 26 July 2004]

_____. 21 October 2003. "Proposal For a Registered Same-Sex Partnership Law in Polish Parliament." [Accessed 26 July 2004]

_____. n.d. "Homophobia." [Accessed 26 July 2004]

Lambda Warszawa. 15 June 2003. "Summary in English." [Accessed 29 July 2004]

The Mercury [Hobart, Australia]. 28 June 2004. "Gays Celebrate, Vow to Fight On." (Dialog)

Polish Press Agency (PAP). 10 June 2004. "Gay Rights Rally Held in Polish Capital, Despite Ban on Parade." (FBIS-EEU-2004-0611 14 June 2004/WNC)

The Warsaw Voice. 21 January 2004. "Gay Friendly ... " [Accessed 28 July 2004]

Additional Sources Consulted

An editor of a magazine for homosexuals, in Poland, did not respond to a letter requesting information.

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Warsaw.

The International Lesbian and Gay Association did not respond to a letter requesting information.

The Polish Gay and Lesbian Association did not respond to a letter requesting information.

Lambda Warszawa did not respond to a letter requesting information.

Internet sites, including: Amnesty International (AI), BBC, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2003, European Country of Origin Information Network (ECOI), Freedom in the World 2003, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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