Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned Poland’s so-called LGBT-free zones, saying they “have no place in the European Union or anywhere in the world."
Biden retweeted an Associated Press article on Sunday about European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s condemnation of what she called “humanity-free zones.”
Without mentioning Poland by name, she said such entities “have no place in our Union.”
“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,” von der Leyen said in her first State of the Union address.
On Monday, the Polish Embassy in the United States denied that any such zones exist.
“The assertion in Vice President Joe Biden's tweet is based on inaccurate media information, as no ‘LGBT-free zones’ exist in Poland,” the embassy tweeted.
“The Polish Government is committed to the rule of law, equal rights and social inclusion. There is no place for discrimination in our societies.”
Some 100 Polish municipalities, encompassing about a third of the country, have adopted anti-LGBTQ, “family rights” resolutions since 2019.
One passed by the legislature of Malopolska, which surrounds Krakow, avows “firm opposition to the emerging public activities aimed at promoting the ideology of LGBT movements.”
It claims gay pride parades and other activities are “oriented at the annihilation of values shaped by the centuries-old heritage of Christianity.”
The declarations are mostly symbolic but activists say they fuel homophobia in the staunchly Roman Catholic country.
“There’s certainly cause for alarm,” Mark Bromley, of the Council for Global Equality, an LGBTQ foreign-policy advocacy group, told NBC News. “The situation in Poland has been steadily deteriorating with more and more public backlash against the community.”
Bromley said Polish President Andrzej Duda, who was re-elected in June, “made his election something of a referendum on human rights.”
Duda, a member of the far-right Law and Justice party, used homophobic rhetoric to court votes, including calling “LGBT ideology” more dangerous than Communism.
Under Duda, the Justice Ministry has backed a campaign against “crimes related to the violation of freedom of conscience committed under the influence of LGBT ideology.”
There’s been strong international condemnation of the rising tide of homophobia in Poland.
In August, the E.U. denied funding to six Polish towns that declared themselves LGBT-free zones.
"E.U. values and fundamental rights must be respected by Member States and state authorities," European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli said in a tweet.
The unnamed municipalities had applied to join the E.U.’s twinning program, which includes up to $29,000 in funding to connect cities and "reinforce mutual understanding and friendship.”
Last week, Norway’s foreign minister announced it would similarly deny funding to Polish towns endorsing anti-LGBTQ resolutions.
A partnership between Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein allows small and medium-sized Polish cities access to $117 million in grant money.
Councilors in Krasnik, which has received more than $8 million from the program in the last two years, nonetheless voted Tuesday to maintain the town’s resolution that Krasnik would defend itself from "radicals striving for a cultural revolution,” according to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
LGBTQ activist Bartosz Staszewski called the vote “the most expensive ... act in Krasnik's history."
"The citizens of these cities are losing because of the path [politicians] choose," Staszewski, co-founder of the Love Does Not Exclude Association, a Polish gay rights advocacy group, told Reuters.
The same week Sztum, a town of 10,000 in the north, repealed its resolution supporting a "Charter of Family Rights."
In August, an administrative court annulled an anti-LGBTQ resolution in the village of Serniki. It was the third declaration a Polish court had overturned, according to the site Rule of Law in Poland.
While homosexuality is legal in Poland, stigma, propaganda, harassment and discrimination are widespread.
An April 2019 opinion poll from the Warsaw-based Center for Public Opinion Research found that 78 percent of Poles believed homosexuality "was abnormal,” with nearly a quarter saying it must not be tolerated. According to a 2019 survey conducted by the European market research company Ipsos, a majority of Polish men under 40 believed that "the LGBT movement and gender ideology" is the "biggest threat facing them in the 21st century.”
Peaceful LGBTQ rights protestors have been charged with violating the country’s vague blasphemy law, according to Human Rights Watch, which states that individuals who “offend the religious feelings of others” can face up to two years in prison.
A campaign placing rainbow flags on public monuments this summer was followed by a rash of arrests.
“Scapegoating and targeting a vulnerable minority is becoming a routine and nasty part of the government’s playbook, with dangerous repercussions for human rights,” Kyle Knight, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, said.
Biden has publicly committed to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad, following a precedent set by former President Barack Obama.
“Together, we will work to defend and advance the human rights of all people, and we will not rest until equality, at home and around the world, is fully realized,” Biden wrote in a 2017 opinion piece in The Washington Post marking the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
The LGBTQ plank of Biden’s campaign platform pledges that his administration would “restore the United States’ standing as a global leader defending LGBTQ+ rights.”
In 2019, then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell announced the Trump administration was launching a strategy to decriminalize homosexuality abroad.
It was inspired, in part, by the alleged execution of a young gay man in Iran.
“This is a bipartisan push. People understand — religious people, individuals who may not always be in the LGBTI fight — they understand that criminalizing homosexuality is absolutely wrong,” Grenell told NBC News at the time. “It is unbelievable to believe that in today’s world a 32 –year-old man in Iran can be hanged simply for being gay. That’s unacceptable.”
At the time Grenell said decriminalizing homosexuality ”is a policy that we have to move forward on,” but activists say there has been little momentum since then.
”Trump invited President Duda to the White House for a photo op the week before the runoff election in Poland,” Bromley said. “As far as we can tell there’s nothing behind this pledge. It’s complete rhetoric.”
Grenell later became the acting director of national intelligence, the first openly gay member of a presidential Cabinet, as well as a senior Republican adviser focusing on LGBTQ outreach and special presidential envoy for peace negotiations in the Balkans.
In an address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, President Trump reiterated that his administration is promoting the decriminalization of homosexuality.
“My administration is advancing religious liberty, opportunity for women, the decriminalization of homosexuality, combating human trafficking and protecting unborn children,” he said. “We also know that American prosperity is the bedrock of freedom and security all over the world.”
Bromley said the speech was more “pinkwashing” from the administration.
“In 2011 the Obama-Biden administration made significant investments in decriminalization,” he told NBC News. “Under President Trump, there have been no significant diplomatic efforts, no new funding and no follow-through at the United Nations.”
“To the contrary, Trump has befriended and continues to coddle the dictators who are stridently committed to persecuting LGBTI individuals, from Putin in Russia to Duda in Poland to Sisi in Egypt,” Bromley added. “It’s shamefully empty rhetoric that harms LGBTI individuals everywhere.”