EU lawmakers seek to declare bloc an LGBT 'freedom zone'

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FILE - In this Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020 file photo, people hold a protest rally in front of Poland's Education Ministry in Warsaw, Poland against the appointment of a new education minister Przemyslaw Czarnek. The European Parliament is due to debate a resolution that would symbolically declare the entire 27-member European Union to be a freedom zone for LGBT people. The resolution comes largely in reaction to developments over the past two years in Poland, where many local communities have adopted largely resolutions declaring themselves to be free of what Polish conservative authorities have controversially dubbed LGBT ideology. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

WARSAW – Lawmakers in the European Parliament overwhelmingly spoke out in favor of a resolution that would declare the entire 27-member European Union a “freedom zone” for LGBT people during a debate held on Wednesday.

The resolution comes largely in reaction to developments over the past two years in Poland, where many local communities have adopted largely symbolic resolutions declaring themselves free of what conservative authorities have been calling “LGBT ideology.”

These towns say they are seeking to protect traditional families based on unions of men and women, but LGBT rights activists say the designations are discriminatory and make gays and lesbians feel unwelcome. The areas have come to be colloquially known as “LGBT-free zones.”

The resolution is the work of the a cross-party group in the European Parliament, the LGBTI Intergroup, which says it has garnered enough support to approve the largely symbolic resolution. The vote is scheduled for Thursday.

Liesje Schreinemacher, the vice chair of the group, told other lawmakers that this month marks the second anniversary of the first Polish community passing an anti-LGBT resolution.

“Since then over 100 places in Poland followed — a disgrace on European soil,” Schreinemacher, a Dutch lawmaker, said, before listing other challenges to LGBT people across the bloc.

The European Union's equality Commissioner Helena Dalli welcomed the initiative, saying LGBT people have been coming under increasing attack from political and religious leaders and other public figures.

“This has led to increased scapegoating of (LGBT) persons, who are for instance framed as a threat to children," Dalli said. “The EU must be a freedom zone for all of us, without exception."

Ryszard Legutko, a lawmaker with Poland's conservative ruling party, which is behind the local resolutions, denounced the debate, telling those who support the resolution that he considers them the “radical left” and the debate “ideological madness.”

Legutko argued the EU was overstepping its jurisdiction with the resolution. He said that marriage being based on the union of a man and woman is a principle enshrined in Poland's constitution which Poles have a right to defend.

“It is our right to defend families. We cannot have this right infringed upon,” Legutko said.

The resolution said the fundamental rights of LGBT people have also been “severely hindered” recently in Hungary due to a de facto ban on legal gender recognition for transgender and intersex people. It also notes that only two member states — Malta and Germany — have banned “conversion therapy,” a controversial and potentially harmful attempt to change a person's sexual orientation.

Dozens of local governments across conservative eastern and southern Poland began in March 2019 to pass either resolutions declaring themselves to be free from “LGBT ideology,” or family charters defending traditional families in the mostly Catholic nation.

They have proven costly to Poland's international image, and to the finances of local communities. The EU and Norway — a non-EU member that funds some development in EU nations — have cut off funding to some of the communities.

“Hate speech kills, and the Polish so-called LGBTI-free zones are symbols of hatred," said lawmaker Sophie in ’t Veld. "And they are terrible city marketing, by the way.”

Bart Staszewski, a Polish activist who has protested the local resolutions, said he sees the EU resolution as “important and necessary.”

But he also noted that local governments stopped passing such resolutions months ago and some communities have already withdrawn theirs. Others have passed resolutions declaring support for all types of families.

“There is some very good change,” Staszewski said. “I see this as a very good sign for the future.”