WARSAW — A conservative magazine in Poland distributed "LGBT-free zone" stickers with its weekly edition on Wednesday, amid a mounting backlash against gay rights in central Europe's largest nation ahead of a parliamentary election this year.
Diplomats and opposition politicians in Poland have criticized the Gazeta Polska's campaign and a major bookseller, Empik, as well as the Polish branch of British oil company BP, have said they would not carry the edition.
Gazeta Polska's editor-in-chief, Tomasz Sakiewicz, said the campaign wasn't directed against any individual but against those who try to censor views that are critical of "LGBT ideology".
"We wanted to prove that censorship in this case exists and we have proved it," Sakiewicz told Reuters, referring to criticism of the stickers. "What is happening is the best evidence that LGBT is a totalitarian ideology."
The nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government, which has faced accusations of fomenting anti-gay sentiment in recent months, said Gazeta Polska should be free to publish under Poland's freedom of expression laws.
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"As the ruling party, we won't impose on the free media and the free press what it should write and what stickers it should distribute," deputy prime minister Jacek Sasin told private TV station TVN on Monday.
The campaign includes stickers with a black "x" through a rainbow flag and was announced last week by Gazeta Polska.
The move comes as PiS has made LGBTQ rights a central campaign issue, pegging the party against more liberal forces in the country.
The magazine is largely loyal to the government line and receives significantly more advertising placements from state-run companies than other privately run media.
Along with the stickers, gay pride marches have become a pressure point in Poland, with many ruling party politicians saying that they unnecessarily encourage public display of sexuality.
"These kinds of marches, initiated by groups that are trying to force through their non-standard sexual behaviors, awaken resistance ... it's worth considering if such events should be organized in the future," Education Minister Dariusz Piontkowski told private broadcaster TVN on Sunday.
Police have detained more than 30 people in Bialystok, eastern Poland, after attacks on gay pride march participants on Saturday.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and human rights officials condemned the violence.
Poland ranks second to last out of 28 European Union states when it comes to equality and non-discrimination, according to Rainbow Europe, an organization linked to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
Gay marriage is illegal in Poland and homosexual partnerships are not legally recognized.
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