Writers, actors and directors call for end to homophobia in Poland in open letter

More than 70 signatories including Poland’s Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk, Margaret Atwood and Mike Leigh accuse president Duda’s government of using LGBTQ+ people as ‘a scapegoat’

Polish Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk, Margaret Atwood, JM Coetzee, Ian McEwan, Slavoj Žižek and Judith Butler are among more than 70 signatories to an open letter by authors, actors and directors condemning the rise of homophobia and transphobia in Poland under president Andrzej Duda.

In a letter addressed to the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the signatories write to “voice our grave concern about the future of democracy in Poland, a country with an admirable history of resistance to totalitarianism and struggle for freedom” and express their outrage at “repressions directed against the LGBT+ community in Poland”.

Other signatories include film directors Pedro Almodóvar, Yorgos Lanthimos, Mike Leigh, Luca Guadagnino and Paweł Pawlikowski, who is Polish; actors Ed Harris, Isabelle Huppert and Stellan Skarsgaard; and writers John Banville and Sebastian Barry, Deborah Levy, Édouard Louis and Valeria Luiselli.

The letter, started by Tokarczuk, film director Agnieszka Holland and sociologist Agnieszka Graff, comes amid intensifying anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric by government officials and state media, and a crackdown on LGBTQ+ equality protests after the recent re-election of Duda, leading the populist Law and Justice (PiS) party, for a second five-year term.

Since taking power in 2015, Duda has railed against LGBTQ+ rights as an “ideology” and foreign import that threatens Poland’s Christian values. With more than 86% of the population identifying as Roman Catholic, Duda has proposed the establishment of a “Family Charter”, which would ban “the propogation of LGBTQ+ ideology in schools and public institutions” and stop LGBTQ+ people getting married or having children. Anti-LGBTQ+ attacks are currently not considered a hate crime under Polish law.

Authorities in one-third of municipalities across Poland have declared themselves “LGBT-free zones” since 2019, a non-binding, but menacing resolution calling for the end of tolerance of LGBTQ+ individuals. Last month, the European Union announced that it would cut funding to six Polish towns that made this declaration, while one Dutch town, Nieuwegein, voted to sever longstanding ties with its twin town, Puławy in eastern Poland, over the issue.

The letter calls attention to the case of Margot, a non-binary activist who was placed in pre-trial detention for two months on 7 August. In June, she was accused of assaulting a van driver who was broadcasting homophobic slurs from a loudspeaker. In July, along with three others, she was arrested again for “insulting religious feelings and insulting Warsaw monuments” by putting rainbow flags on statues throughout the city.

On 7 August, after her detention, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Warsaw with signs reading “Give us back Margot” and “We are behind Margot”. Some 48 people were arrested on charges of taking part in an illegal gathering. In a nod to the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in New York, a landmark protest in LGBTQ+ rights, Polish Twitter users documented the protests using #PolishStonewall.

The letter calls Margot’s actions “neither ‘hooliganism’ nor ‘provocations’, as Poland’s government-run media insist, but rather desperate acts of resistance against degrading homophobic hate speech.”

The letter goes on: “The van is one of many similar vehicles parading outrageous claims around the cities of Poland: equating homosexuality with paedophilia, and asserting that gays are the source of diseases and a threat to children. Efforts to stop this well-funded hate campaign by legal means had led to nothing.

“Homophobic aggression in Poland is growing because it is condoned by the ruling party, which has chosen sexual minorities as a scapegoat with no regard for the safety and well-being of citizens. Margot is, in fact, a political prisoner, held captive for her refusal to accept indignity.”

The signatories call upon the Polish government to “stop targeting sexual minorities” and on the European Commission to “take immediate steps to defend core European values – equality, non-discrimination, respect for minorities – which are being blatantly violated in Poland. LGBT+ rights are human rights and must be defended as such.”


Sian Cain

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Pokot (Spoor) review – Miss Marple meets Angela Carter in the trackless Polish forest
Agnieszka Holland’s new film is a mix of forensic crime story and magical realist fairy tale that, adapted from Olga Tokarczuk’s novel, doesn’t always hang together

Peter Bradshaw

12, Feb, 2017 @3:30 PM

Article image
Margaret Atwood and JM Coetzee demand release of jailed Iranian writers
A letter by PEN America, signed by dozens of high-profile writers and artistic figures, calls for Baktash Abtin, Keyvan Bajan, and Reza Khandan Mahabadi to be acquitted

Alison Flood

29, Sep, 2021 @4:17 PM

Article image
Olga Tokarczuk: the dreadlocked feminist winner the Nobel needed
From her Man Booker International winning novel Flights to her William Blake-infused eco-thriller, you can’t go wrong reading this great Polish author

Claire Armitstead

10, Oct, 2019 @4:06 PM

Article image
Agnieszka Holland: Pokot reflects divided nature of Polish society
Renowned director says she did not intend to create a political film, but that the plot mirrors her country’s male authoritarianism

Kate Connolly in Berlin

16, Feb, 2017 @9:57 AM

Article image
Olga Tokarczuk's 'magnum opus' finally gets English release – after seven years of translation
The Books of Jacob, praised by the Nobel prize judges and winner of Poland’s prestigious Nike award, will be published in the UK in November

Alison Flood

26, Feb, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Roxane Gay champion trans rights in open letter
With more than 1,200 signatories the US and Canada including Neil Gaiman and NK Jemisin, message follows row over comments by JK Rowling

Alison Flood

09, Oct, 2020 @11:27 AM

Article image
Olga Tokarczuk's 'extraordinary' Flights wins Man Booker International prize
The Polish novelist takes £50,000 prize, to be shared with her translator, for a story that moves from ‘wit and gleeful mischief to real emotional texture’

Alison Flood

22, May, 2018 @8:43 PM

Article image
Australian writers urge yes vote in same-sex marriage survey
An open letter signed by more than 100 authors including JM Coetzee, David Malouf and Helen Garner encourages support for ‘equality and social reform’

Alison Flood

26, Sep, 2017 @10:07 AM

Article image
Salman Rushdie leads protest against Russian 'choke hold' on free speech
Satanic Verses author, and 200 others, use open letter to denounce Putin regime's new laws 'putting writers at risk'

Alison Flood

06, Feb, 2014 @12:02 AM

Article image
Rowling, Rushdie and Atwood warn against ‘intolerance’ in open letter
Harper’s letter asserts way to ‘defeat bad ideas is by exposure, argument, and persuasion’, but critics accuse authors of censorious mentality

Alison Flood

08, Jul, 2020 @9:12 AM