Skip to content


Óscar Pérez Farías

A setback in Europe: zones free of LGBTIQ+ people

- A hundred municipalities in Poland have declared themselves "LGBT-free zones", posing a serious risk to progress in human rights throughout the European Union.

A setback in Europe: zones free of LGBTIQ+ people

In some parts of the world, negative perceptions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer (LGBTIQ+) people have been reflected in practices and laws that violate their rights. Consensual sexual acts between adults of the same sex are illegal in around 70 countries and in six of them it is punishable by death.

In some countries, laws against so-called “gay propaganda” have even been discussed and approved, processes criticized by the United Nations and the European Union (EU) for their effect on limiting human rights.

The EU has been perceived as one of the regions with the most progress in the protection and promotion of the rights of LGBT people, but progress in each Member State has been varied, and one of the most visible examples has been the creation of the so-called “Zones free of LGBT people”.

Anti-LGBT rhetoric in Poland

The creation of these zones started at the beginning of 2019, in the south and east of Poland. Its appearance must be understood in a context where the party in power, Law and Justice (PiS, in Polish), has maintained a public stance that is reticent to protect the human rights of LGBT people.

Michael Bilewicz, a researcher at the University of Warsaw, mentions that PiS has used a common electoral strategy to unify its electorate. For example, for the 2015 elections, which brought that party to power, an anti-immigrant electoral stance was adopted, alluding to the threat Muslim immigrants and refugees allegedly posed to Polish and Christian values.

Subsequently, the electoral strategy prior to the 2020 elections found the ideal scapegoat in LGBT people. In February 2019, the newly elected mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, from the largest opposition force, the Civic Coalition, adopted an LGBT Charter to fight discrimination. The Charter included city commitments to combat hate and violence based on sexual orientation and gender expression, strengthen sex education in schools, provide shelter for persecuted LGBT people, and promote equality.

As part of these engagements, Trzaskowski even hosted the Warsaw Equality Parade in June 2019, a first for a Warsaw mayor.

PiS's electoral strategy for the 2020 presidential and parliamentary elections took LGBT people as a common denominator to unify its electorate, which was marked by rhetoric claiming that “LGBT ideology” was more dangerous than communism for the country and it was even accused that this "ideology" was an import from abroad that undermined the nation and Christian values. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, president of PiS, described homosexuality as a threat to Polish identity and to the very existence of the country.

What are LGBT-free zones?

Since 2019, the year before the presidential elections, a good number of municipalities in Poland have discussed and signed declarations reaffirming themselves as municipalities free of “LGBT ideology”. Although they are non-binding statements, they do provide a sense of permissiveness for hateful attitudes. In many of the municipalities and regions where these zones exist, the debates in the town halls have been plagued with hate messages and ideas that violate human rights.

The first municipality to become an LGBT-free zone was Swidnik, in March 2019 just as PiS intensified its anti-LGBT messaging following the actions of the Warsaw mayor described above.

The municipalities reaffirmed themselves as intolerant zones by writing and signing their own declarations; or through the adoption of the “Municipal Charter of Family Rights”, formulated by the Institute for Cultural Legal Ordo Iuris, a conservative institute based in Warsaw.

Unlike the other resolutions, the Ordo Iuris letter suggests concrete measures that municipalities can implement, such as giving parents control over extracurricular activities carried out by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in schools, evaluating projects for Municipally funded NGOs based on their impact on families, or appoint a “family ombudsman” to ensure that “family rights” are respected.

So far, around 100 municipalities in the south-east of the country, which are geographically equivalent to the size of Hungary, have signed these declarations, alluding to the protection of traditional family values and rejecting the holding of mass events that contravene them. According to PiS and supporters of the resolutions such as Ordo Iuris, “LGBT ideology” is a foreign imposition on Polish Christian culture and morality.

Data from across the country shows that the vast majority of local councilors who have supported these resolutions are PiS members, followed by unaffiliated local politicians. In 2019, 869 PiS councilors out of 1,481 (ie around 60%), supported "anti-LGBT" or "pro-family" resolutions. This is a very broad attack against the LGBT community in Poland, including increased hate speech by elected officials and the media.

These actions are a way of symbolically excluding non-heteronormative people from the public space. The messages were amplified by state television and by the Catholic Church, which plays a prominent role in Polish society. According to a 2020 survey by ILGA-Europe, an international LGBT rights organization, Poland now ranks as the most homophobic country in the European Union.

These practices have found an echo in another EU country, specifically in Hungary, where in November 2020, the Nagykáta Municipal Council adopted a resolution to ban the “dissemination and promotion of LGBT propaganda”.

The counterweight of the European Union

In March 2021, the European Parliament declared the entire European Union to be a “freedom zone for LGBT people”, in clear opposition to the creation of intolerant zones in Poland and Hungary.

This declaration affirms that all people should enjoy their freedom and publicly display their sexual orientation and gender identity without fear of intolerance, discrimination or persecution. In addition, this right must be guaranteed by all officials at all levels of government. The resolution was approved by 492 members of parliament, while 141 voted against it and only 46 abstained.

The parliamentary discussion left various comments on the setback in the promotion and protection of human rights. It was concluded that these areas increase discrimination and attacks against the integrity of people, as well as normalize hate speech.

Another of the measures promoted by the European Commission was in July 2020, when the European Commission Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, withheld funding for six Polish cities based on town twinning programs. Her objective was to demonstrate the Commission's rejection of the measures adopted.

Finally, one of the most ambitious measures presented by the Commission was in November 2020, when it presented the first Strategy for Equality for LGBTIQ people in the EU, where specific actions were proposed in four pillars for the period 2020-2025:

  1. Fighting discrimination: The Commission will carry out an assessment of respect for the human rights of LGBT people in employment, which will be published in 2022. With this, the Commission will be able to present legislative proposals to strengthen the role of the organizations of the equality.
  2. Ensuring security: The Commission will present in 2021 an initiative to expand the list of EU crimes to include hate crimes and hate speech, in particular against LGBTIQ people. In addition, funding mechanisms will be offered to initiatives aimed at combating hate crimes, hate speech and violence against LGBTIQ people.
  3. Protection of the rights of LGBTIQ families: The Commission will present a legislative initiative on the mutual recognition of parenthood and will explore measures to support the recognition of same-sex couples between Member States. This is because the regulations between States are different and may violate rights earned in other countries.
  4. LGBTIQ equality in the world: The Commission will support actions in favor of LGBTIQ equality within the framework of the Neighborhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (IVDCI), the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IAP) and the Asylum and Migration Fund.

In addition, the Commission has tools and procedures designed to sanction Member States that violate the basic values of the Union, such as human rights or the rule of law. Such is the case of article 7 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which would prevent a State from its right to vote in the European Council.

Final considerations

On March 12, 2020, the EU Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, stated that public officials and opinion makers must stop promoting an atmosphere of hatred and intolerance towards LGBTI people and instead improve the respect for their human rights. Stigma and hate speech carry a real risk of legitimizing violence. LGBTI people are people, not an ideology.

Actions against human rights in some Polish cities will strengthen hate speech through institutions and empower social groups to hinder the exercise of human rights by LGBT people.

Other actors outside the European Union must condemn these practices and build alliances with groups and organizations in Poland that defend and promote the human rights of LGBT people. One of the most important coordinated efforts was the publication of an open letter in September 2020 by more than 50 ambassadors with a presence in Poland.

It reaffirmed the commitment to the human rights of all people, including LGBT people, and mentioned the commitment to the conventions and treaties to which Poland and the European Union are party. This letter was signed mostly by European ambassadors, and only four of them were representatives of governments from Latin America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

The approval of resolutions that refer to zones free of LGBT people are an extremely alarming sign of public approval of hatred, intolerance and exclusion, encouraging such behavior.


    ABC News. “Poland’s ‘LGBT-free zones’ could lead to hate crimes and violence, rights group warns”. (10 de febrero de 2021). ABC News. (Consultado el 1 de abril de 2021).

    Ash, L. “Inside Poland’s LGBT-free zones”. (21 de septiembre de 2020). BBC. (Consultado el 31 de marzo de 2021).

    BBC. “EU declared LGBT freedom zone in response to Poland’s LGBT-free zones” BBC. (11 de marzo de 2021). (Consultado el 1 de abril de 2021).

    Ciobanu, C. “A third of Poland declared LGBT free zone”. (25 de febrero de 2020). Balkan Insight. (Consultado el 31 de marzo de 2021).

    Ciobanu, C. “Foreing Ideology: Poland’s populists target LGBT rights”. Balkan Insight. (26 de junio de 2019). (Consultado el 30 de marzo de 2021).

    Comisión Europea. “Unión de la Igualdad: la Comisión presenta su primera estrategia para la igualdad de las personas LGBTIQ en la UE”. (12 de noviembre de 2020). Comisión Europea. Consultado el 1 de abril de 2021).

    Consejo de Europa. “Poland should stop the stigmatisation of LGBTI people”. (3 de diciembre de 2020). Consejo de Europa. (Consultado el 1 de abril de 2021).

    Embajada y Consulado de Estados Unidos en Polonia. “Open Letter”. (sin fecha). (Consultado el 1 de abril de 2021).

    El País. “¿Qué es el artículo 7 del Tratado de la Unión Europea que se quiere aplicar a Hungría y qué pasa ahora?”. (12 de septiembre de 2018). El País. (Consultado el 1 de abril de 2021).

    Euronews. “EU funding withheld from six Polish towns over LGBT-free zones” (30 de julio de 2020). Euronews. (Consultado el 1 de abril de 2021).

    Goclowski, M. & Wlodarczak-Semczuk, A. “Polish towns go LGBT free ahead of bitter European election campaign”. (21 de mayo de 2019). Reuters. (Consultado el 31 de marzo de 2021).

    Noack, R. “Polish towns advocate ‘LGBT-free’ zones while the ruling party cheers them on”. (21 de julio de 2019). The Washington Post. (Consultado el 30 de marzo de 2021).

    Parlamento Europeo. “Parliament declares the European Union an ‘LGBTIQ Freedom Zone”. (11 de marzo de 2021). Parlamento Europeo. (Consultado el 1 de abril de 2021).

    Picheta, R. & Tilotta, S. “You don’t belong here. In Poland’s LGBT free zones, existing is an act of defiance”. (octubre de 2020). CNN. (Consultado el 31 de marzo de 2021).

    Pronczuk, M. & Novak, B. “European Union tries to counter anti-LGBT wave in Hungary and Poland”. (12 de noviembre de 2020). The New York Times. (Consultado el 31 de marzo de 2021).

    Shreeves, R. “The rights of LGBTI people in the European Union”. (noviembre de 2020). Parlamento Europeo: 2-4. (Consultado el 30 de marzo de 2021).

The best content in your inbox

Join our newsletter with the best of CEMERI

Related articles

Pérez, Óscar. “Un retroceso en Europa: zonas libres de personas LGBTIQ+.” CEMERI, 9 sept. 2022,