by Solomiya Kharchuk
This article is based on research presented at the UACES Graduate Forum Research Conference 2021 (17-18 June, online)
The clash over LGBTQ+ rights between Poland and the European Union has been particularly noticeable in recent years. From this clash, questioning around why Poland and the European Union disagree on the issue of LGBTQ+ rights arises.
I rely on a constructivist approach to social reality, which is based on the idea that the world we dwell in is socially constructed. Accordingly, I build upon the “interpretivist theory of knowledge”. That is to say that I assume interpretation plays a crucial role regarding human action because material items mean nothing on their own. We create meaning through the process of interpretation as well as by using linguistic signs. Hence, another question arises: how do decision-makers from the EU and Poland interpret the issue of LGBTQ+ rights?
As Ronald Holzhacker holds, framing LGBTQ+ rights as a human rights paradigm is necessary in order to achieve a “broader emancipation strategy”. The term “emancipation” is central to the discipline of security studies at Aberystwyth School, and, as stated by Ken Booth, refers to “the securing of people from those oppressions that stop them carrying out what they would freely choose to do, compatible with the freedom of others”. Many actors, including IGOs, NGOs, media and academics, have contributed to the process of framing LGBTQ+ rights in terms of human rights. Their efforts have proven fruitful because the principle of non-discrimination based on sexual orientation is now included in the general framework of human rights. This framework is in turn anchored in ideas of “universality”, “equality” and “non-discrimination”.
In regard to the European Union, with the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, the Charter of Fundamental Rights became an integral part of the EU’s legal framework. In accordance with Article 21 of the Charter, discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited. Furthermore, one of the purposes of the EU Agency for Fundamental Human Rights is to promote non-discrimination based on sexuality.
However, since 2019, more than 100 municipalities in Poland passed local regulations resulting in their becoming so-called “LGBT-ideology-free zones”. The IGLA Europe reported that in May 2021, Poland received the lowest EU ranking (13,22%) on how the laws and policies of each country impact the lives of LGBTIQ people. Furthermore, the most recent Human Rights Watch Report held that “[t]he government ramped up its attacks on women’s and LGBT rights, part of the government’s increasing hostile rhetoric against what it refers to as “gender ideology””. In 2020, the President of Poland stated the following: “this is just like the Neo-bolshevism (…) they are trying to convince us that these are people, albeit this is nothing else that the ideology (…) if someone has any doubts that it is actually the ideology, examine the pages of history, so you will see how the LGBT movement was being constructed, so you will see how this ideology was being constructed”. In 2021, the chairman of the ruling Law and Justice Party, said the following when asked about the LGBTQ+ community: “as long as we govern [this country], no one will be able to impose anything on us. All the [people] who want to live in a normal world, where a woman is a woman, and a man is a man (…) If we want to live in the society, which refers to obvious things, it is necessary to support our formation”.
In 2020, the President of the European Commission Ursula von den Leyen, stated that “LGBTI-free-zones are humanity-free zones and have no place in our union”. This statement also places an emphasis on a broader issue of human rights in relation to the EU’s external relations. The President of the European Commission also uttered important words about the LGBTQ+ community: “I will not rest when it comes to building a Union of equality. A Union where you can be who you are and love who you want – without fear of recrimination or discrimination. Because being yourself is not your ideology. It’s your identity. And no-one can ever take it away”. Moreover, Ursula von den Leyen unveiled the first-ever European Commission Strategy for LGBTIQ equality (2020-2025) which includes specific goals for the EU, namely, tackling of discrimination against LGBTIQ people, ensuring the community’s safety, building LGBTIQ inclusive societies, and leading the call for LGBTIQ equality around the world. In March, 2021, the European Parliament passed a symbolic resolution, declaring the whole European Union an “LGBTIQ Freedom Zone”.
To summarize, Polish decision makers interpret and represent LGBTQ+ people as a problem and followers of an “ideology” which poses a threat to Polish society. Conversely, European Union decision-makers treat the LGBTQ+ community as people who have the right to their identity. This, in turn, allows one to claim that EU decision-makers represent the LGBTQ+ community following Ken Booth’s explanation of emancipation. In conclusion, the collision between the Polish and EU decision-makers stems from different interpretations and representations of the same people.
Solomiya Kharchuk is a PhD candidate at the Doctoral College of Political and Administrative Sciences, University of Wroclaw. She holds a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the University of Wroclaw.
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