Metro Weekly

Polish County Fights Inclusion in “Atlas of Hate”

Court rules that activists behind the atlas are within their right to criticize the county's passage of an anti-LGBTQ resolution.

Atlas of Hate, Photo via atlasnienawisci.pl

An anti-LGBTQ county in Poland lost a lawsuit against a group of activists who had included the county in the “Atlas of Hate,” an online map that documents placed in Poland that have passed anti-LGBTQ resolutions.

In 2019 and 2020, dozens of local counties throughout Poland passed resolutions declaring opposition to “LGBT ideology” on the grounds that LGBTQ visibility is a form of propaganda that runs counter to government initiatives aimed at promoting marriage and increasing birth rates in the rapidly aging country.

In those areas, which some critics have derisively called “LGBT-free zones,” the resolutions have sought to censor any information that might be interpreted as “promoting” homosexuality or acknowledging the existence of gender or sexual minorities, especially in schools, out of concern that children will emulate same-sex behavior or begin identifying as LGBTQ.

Other counties have adopted “Charters of Family Rights” that do not mention LGBTQ people specifically but express support for heterosexual marriage and pledge to “protect children from moral corruption,” according to the news website Notes from Poland.

This trend has been especially in rural areas where the right-wing populist Law and Justice party, which controls the current government, is popular. The party has previously used the specter of LGBTQ rights to whip up anti-gay sentiment among conservative voters in order to benefit from their support electorally. 

In response, LGBTQ activists began creating an online “Atlas of Hate” documenting which municipalities, counties, or voivodeships had passed such resolutions, those that rejected or repealed such resolutions, and places where anti-LGBTQ opponents are lobbying for similar resolutions.

Opoczna, a county of 75,000 people in central Poland that adopted an anti-LGBTQ resolution, sued over its inclusion in the “Atlas of Hate,” arguing that it had been slandered by the creators, who had “damaged the good name of the county.” Maria Barbara Chomicz, the deputy mayor of Opoczna, argued that the charter had been adopted to show the county is “family-friendly,” according to the investigative reporting site OKO.press.

The county was represented in court by Ordo Iuris, an ultra-conservative polish Catholic legal organization that opposes LGBTQ rights, abortion, and divorce. Ordo Iuris had helped craft the language used in the resolutions adopted by various counties.

But a Polish court in Piotrków Trybunalski rejected the county’s lawsuit, finding that the creators of the “Atlas of Hate” were exercising their right to “express criticism of a public authority.” Additionally, that criticism was guided by the public interest — informing LGBTQ people and the larger public of where such resolutions had passed — and complied with the principle of fairness.

The court also found that by passing the “pro-family” resolution, Opoczno had entered into a public debate, thus opening themselves up to criticism for their actions.

“The county cannot prohibit harsh criticism of its own position, and that is what the lawsuit, in this case, boils down to,” the court ruled. The court also cited the position of the European Court of Human Rights, noting that a pluralistic society, by its very nature, including allowing free speech that may offend, shock, or disturb some people.

Ordo Iuris condemned the ruling, which the organization claimed “harms the Polish constitutional order” due to Poland’s ban on same-sex marriage.

Paweł Szafraniec, a lawyer for Ordo Iuris, said that Opoczna had been “slandered for protecting the family,” and noted that he would be advising the county to appeal the decision. 

But Kuba Gawrong, one of the activists behind the Atlas of Hate, celebrated the decision, saying: “3:0 to us,” referring to two previous cases brought by other municipalities who had objected to their inclusion in the “Atlas of Hate.”

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