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May 12, 2007


Poland_map Poland's ultra-homophobic conservative government has been dealt two severe rebukes by Europe's judicial and political institutions.

On May 3, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Polish President Lech Kaczynski (right), when he was mayor of Warsaw, violated three articles of the European Convention on HumanLech_kaczynski_good   Rights by banning the Warsaw Gay Pride March in 2005. The ruling, in a lawsuit brought by Poland's Equality Foundation - which organizes the Warsaw Pride Marches - was unanimous by the seven judges, among whom was Judge Lech Garlicki from Poland.

Kaczynski's ban on the earlier Pride March was ruled to have violated articles protecting freedom of association and assembly, the right to an effective remedy, and the prohibition on discrimination. This year's Warsaw Gay Pride March will be held on May 19.

A week before the court ruling, on April 26, the European Parliament in Strasbourg voted overwhelmingly to condemn Polish politicians for "inciting discrimination and hatred based on sexual orientation," in a resolution that also asked the Europarliament's leaders to send a fact-finding mission to Poland to investigate rampant homophobia and racism there.

The immediate impulse for this condemnation was the announcement by the Kaczynski government of legislation that would prohibit any discussion of homosexuality in schools and fire any teacher who violated that ban (see this reporter's article, "Poland Moves Vs. Gays In Schools," March 22).

But the resolution also cited "a series of worrying events [that] have recently taken place in a number of member states," particularly in Eastern Europe, such as bans on gay pride marches, hate speeches by political and religious leaders, breaking up of demonstrations by police, homophobic violence, and constitutional amendments prohibiting same-sex unions.

The wide-ranging resolution, which passed 325 votes to 124 with 150 abstentions, went on to urge member states to grant gay people "the same respect, dignity, and protection as the rest of society."

It further demanded that the European Commission - the body responsible for the day-to-day governance of the European Union - enforce its "principle of mutual recognition" to insure that gay couples are able to move freely across European borders without fear of discrimination. The Commission also asked all EU member states to pass legislation outlawing discrimination against same-sex couples.

The resolution as well asked the European Commission to draft new EU directives to insure that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited in all areas. So far, EU law covers only equal treatment in the workplace. And the Europarliament simultaneously urged the European Commission to take member states to court if they violate their obligations under EU law not to discriminate against same-sexers.

This is the strongest and most extensive pro-gay resolution ever passed by the Strasbourg parliament. It also re-endorsed the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), which it had supported last year, and pledged to observe the annual May 17 event in future years as a sign of the Europarliament's continued commitment to eliminate homophobia.

IDAHO was marked in more than 50 countries last year, and the number is expected to be even greater this year. May 17 is the anniversary of the day the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990.

Finally, the Europarliament called for the "universal decriminalization of homosexuality." This was yet another victory for the Paris-based International Committee for IDAHO, which last November launched a global petition campaign demanding that the United Nations take a stand for abolition of all laws criminalizing homosexuality (see this reporter's article, "Bold Move for U.N. Action," November 21, 2006).

Polish gay activists hailed the resolution condemning the Kaczynski government.

Robert_biedron_good "When you hear from the prime minister that homosexuality is abnormal, that we should be cured, that they will try to cure us by force, this is quite frightening," said Robert Biedron (left), the head of the Warsaw-based Campaign against Homophobia, adding: "I think that this resolution is very important for new European member states as a reminder on which way the new democracies should go."

A recent report by the Campaign Against Homophobia found that almost 18 percent of Polish gays and lesbians have experienced physical violence and more 51 percent have been the victims of psychological violence - but as much as 85 percent of these cases have not been reported to the police due to the victims' fear of further discrimination.

While welcoming the resolution, German gay rights activist Jörg Litwinschuh (right) saidJrg_litwinschuh  that it's only worth something if actions follow.

"If nothing changes, sanctions have to happen," he said, according to the German public broadcasting service Deutsche Welle, adding that his Initiative Queer Nations would also lobby German Chancellor Angela Merkel to address discrimination against gay people in her meetings with foreign leaders.

Litwinschuh is the executive director of a consortium of German scientists and celebrities that plans to reopen the Magnus Hirschfeld Institute, the first center in the world to study homosexuality, which was destroyed by the Nazis in 1933. He said that he was particularly pleased that the Europarliament's resolution called on "member states concerned finally to accord full recognition to homosexuals as targets and victims of the Nazi regime."

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