Why Australians should be concerned about what’s happening in Poland

Back in 2015 I was invited to go on the TODAY show and debate the issue of marriage equality. It seems like a long time ago.

Since then I’ve made many appearances on television, but back then it was only my second time on air, and the first time I was debating someone on an issue.

My opponent was Western Australian Liberal MP Peter Abetz, the brother of Tasmanian federal MP Eric Abetz. Peter and I knew each other, as it happened, I lived in his electorate.

Preparing to go on television you prepare as much as you can. You try to remember facts and figures, you practice saying your main points concisely. You try to be as up to date with the latest events and news as you can be.

It’s a guarantee as soon as the camera is off, your phone will be filled with messages from members of our community giving unsolicited advice on how you could have said it better, phrased it differently, or worn a different colour of shirt.

The debate with Peter Abetz went as expected, until the last few moments. We spoke about how Ireland had recently had a historic vote to allow same-sex marriage, and host Tim McMillan highlighted it had not been one of the most progressive democracies.

Suddenly, Abetz began talking about Poland. This came as a surprise, I knew nothing of Polish politics, but suddenly it was being held up as an example of a country we could take a lead from. Be less like Ireland, more like Poland.

In that moment I was wondering what to say if McMillan switched back to me, I knew nothing of the political situation in Poland. If he asked me a question, I’d be stumped on live TV. Thankfully, the segment ended.

Five years down the track, my husband and I will soon celebrate our first wedding anniversary, the sky has not fallen in, Peter Abetz having lost his seat at the state election, and lost the marriage debate as the NO campaign’s Western Australian convener, has moved into local government, and is now our Deputy Mayor.

But what’s happened in Poland? Is there still a push to make Australia more like the now extreme right wing country – where politics and religion are closely aligned?

In 2015, Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) won their parliamentary election, the first time a single party has claimed a majority since the fall of communism.

Since coming to power it has implemented a series of conservative policies that have seen families with many children, Catholicism and conservatism become the most powerful forces in the country.

This week the ABC’s Foreign Corespondent program reported on the current political situation in Poland, and showed how LGBTI people are being marginalised, and huge areas of the country being declared LGBTI+ free zones.

In A New Crusade, award winning reporter Eric Campbell visits Poland and speaks to some of the people who have been deeply impacted by the crackdown on the LGBTIQ community, as well as interviewing religious leaders and far-right nationalists.

One of the people featured in the report is Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Krakow, who has described the country as being under attack from a “rainbow plague”.

For Australia, is the situation in Poland an example of the road not taken? There is some concern that the Religious Freedom arguments that have dragged on after the marriage debate could still open a door that would see LGBTIQ+ Australians face our own set of similar challenges.

Just.equal spokesperson Brian Greig commented on the ABC report ahead of its screening saying the conservative push in Poland, backed by the Catholic Church, to ban LGBTIQ people from visibility, advocacy and civic space was the inevitable conclusion of a religious freedom narrative which has demonised LGBTIQ around the globe since the rise of marriage equality.

“What is happening in Poland is the politics of exclusion and scapegoating. At the very time communities should be coming together, Poland’s MPs are engaging in social exclusion – targeting the LGBTIQ community with religion as their rationale,” Greig said.

A number of Polish municipalities have passed a swathe of non-binding resolutions which began in 2019, and which coincide with a rise in rhetoric by the governing Law and Justice Party (PiS) denouncing “LGBT ideology” as a foreign import threatening Poland’s ‘Christian values.’ The mood has led to street violence and physical attacks on LGBTIQ people.

Speaking recently to the New York Times, Polish gay activist Jakub Kwiencinski, said “The situation for LGBTI people in Poland is getting worse, I would say day-by-day, the Law and Justice Party are against us… they also encourage people to attack us, to insult us.”

Brian Greig argues that there are parallels in Australia with the Federal Government’s Religious Freedom legislation, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to pursue.

“The Religious Freedom legislation drafted by Attorney General Christian Porter, allows doctors, nurses and pharmacists to refuse to provide essential health services to LGBTIQ people if those services are against their religious beliefs – including hormone treatment to transgender young people.

“The Bill also overrides all existing State and Federal anti-discrimination laws, and will allow religious people to ‘insult, offend and humiliate’ LGBTI people in the name of religion.

“The impact of Australia’s Religious Freedom legislation is to define LGBTIQ people as a threat and danger to traditional, Christian values. It builds on existing religious exceptions in the Sex Discrimination Act, giving religious people further legal justification and social license to discriminate, insult and exclude LGBTIQ people from public life,” Greig said.

Since reporter Eric Campbell filmed his report earlier this year, LGBTIQ+ people in Poland have continued to be blamed for a wide range of the countries challenges.

Lawmakers are currently considering a bill which would ban all sex education in schools, labeling teachers who mention sex as gay activists and pedophiles.

Those backing the bill argue that there is a correlation between wanting young people to know about sex, and being gay – and that being gay – is linked to pedophilia. The law proposes that teachers caught discussing sexuality will be sent to prison for up to five years.

Watch Foreign Correspondent on ABC iView 

Graeme Watson 

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