Stranger in your own land: How Polish LGBT+ people are battling discrimination

While Poland remains more socially conservative than many countries in Western Europe, attitudes to LGBT+ issues are changing. We speak to activists standing strong in the face of oppression.

by Will St Leger

In the lead up to the Polish elections in October this year, LGBT+ people became a central cultural issue in the country’s election campaigns. Law and Justice (PiS) – Poland’s Christian democratic and right-wing populist party – demonised the community to win votes in what is still considered a Catholic country. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling party, used the populist playbook to identify perceived threats to society. According to Mr Kaczynski, those threats come from LGBT+ people and from Europe, where families can have “two mummies or two daddies”.

The Catholic Church’s anti-gay rhetoric has become the ruling party’s dominant theme. Recently the archbishop of Krakow, Marek Jedraszewski, described Poland as under siege from a “rainbow plague” of gay rights activists. In the past, the archbishop identified the “LGBT lobby” and “gender ideology” as the new threat to national freedom.

In Poland, same-sex unions are not legal. Gay couples can’t take out loans, settle taxes together, or inherit. There are no laws protecting LGBT+ people from hate crime. Life for Polish LGBT+ folk feels increasingly dangerous, especially in rural areas. Back in July, participants at a Pride parade in Bialystok in the east of the country were attacked by a violent mob, leaving many people injured. Scenes of these attacks sent shock waves across social media. In the same month, a right wing newspaper, Gazeta Polska issued “LGBT-free zone” stickers to readers which drew widespread criticism from Polish opposition parties and diplomats.

It’s midday, I’m in central Warsaw and I’m visiting the offices of Lambda, Poland’s longest running LGBT+ organisation. I’ve arranged a meeting with Krzysztof Kliszczyński, a seasoned Polish LGBT+ activist, and Sławomir Kirdzik, a 22 year-old student at Warsaw University and an intern with Lambda. I begin by asking Krzysztof about the recent elections and how anti-LGBT+ rhetoric is impacting life for the community.

Krzysztof begins, “One year ago LGBT+  people were not the topic of national political discussion, then in February this year, within days of the mayor of Warsaw signing a pledge to protect LGBT+  rights in the capital, the ruling party launched its attack on the LGBT+ community.”

Sławomir adds, “I come from Gdansk, so coming to Warsaw was not a huge change in the way I express myself. I have been attacked on the street and I know of many people who have been attacked leaving a gay club nearby.

“When I’m on the street I don’t have a problem expressing myself, because it’s more important that other young people see that there are people just like them.”

Sławomir points to his bag, which has a rainbow flag patch sewn on it, “When I carry this bag, I hear people behind me on the street calling me a ‘faggot’ nearly everyday, however there are lots of supportive people trying to help me.”

Krzysztof expands on the history of youth movements in Poland; “30 years ago, young people led the political wave against communist rule, my generation led the second wave of establishing LGBT+  groups like Lambda and greater rights for LGBT+ people, now we are seeing a newer generation of 15 and 16 year-olds that have witnessed the progress of LGBT+ rights throughout Europe who aspire and campaign for those rights too.”

Despite the violence and political rhetoric, Poland has seen an increase in the number of Pride marches and attendees. Two years ago there were seven Pride/equality marches, last year there were 70. Public opinion is shifting too – a recent survey showed 57 % support same-sex civil partnerships – the positive responses were mainly from younger people, especially women living in cities. Younger men in rural areas tend to have the most negative views of same-sex relationships and LGBT+ rights.

That evening, Krzysztof and Sławomir invite me to come back to the office as an LGBT+ youth group hold one of their weekly meetings. About 20 young people are sitting in a circle chatting among themselves. I’m introduced to a trans man called Hugo, I’m interested to learn about the legal and cultural status of trans people in Poland and find it’s not quite what I expect.

Legal gender recognition has been known to Polish courts since the late 1960’s. Changing a person’s gender marker is done through a court process known as the “assessment suit”, in which an individual has to literally file a lawsuit against their parents and both parents must agree.

A person going through gender recognition in Poland is subjected to physical examination, along with psychological and psychiatric evaluations. After those are fulfilled, the diagnostician decides whether to prescribe hormones. While it is possible to receive hormonal treatment without the diagnosis, this practice might be problematic for further court procedures.

To gain legal recognition as a woman one has to undergo several months of hormonal therapy. Recognition of masculinity requires undergoing chest surgery as well. In this case, one could say that Poland is strictly divided into west Poland, where trans men are not forced to undergo any surgeries, and east Poland, where mastectomy is often required before the court process can begin. Mastectomy is labeled as a condition for receiving the relevant documents needed for the lawsuit (against your parents). Some good news came in 2016, when a court in Warsaw issued a decision that allowed a Polish citizen, who transitioned legally in Germany, to change her personal data (gender marker, and first and last name) without obtaining a transsexual diagnosis and going through a civil court case in Poland.

I asked Hugo about his real life experience of being trans in Poland. He said, “It took my mother time to adjust but recently she has started using he/him pronouns when addressing me and that made a big difference.”

The Catholic Church’s grip on the country also seems to be softening. Poland is now experiencing the same scrutiny about historical sexual abuse within the clergy as the Catholic Church in Ireland did in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. This year, an independent Polish documentary directed by Tomasz Sekielski called Tell No One unearthed cases of child sexual abuse. The film addresses the issue of responsibility of the Episcopal Conference of Poland for hiding paedophile priests from the law. It was posted on YouTube in May, 2019, and received over a million views in the first five hours – a new record for Polish YouTube. Seven months later it’s had over 23 million views. Following the film, the National Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that they had established a team of prosecutors, whose task it is to analyse the cases presented in the documentary.

From the outside, Poland may seem an outwardly conservative country out of step with progressive Europe regarding LGBT+ rights, however, looking closer, I see a country that is not dissimilar to Ireland in the late ‘80s. The government are deflecting their economic failures by creating misdirection and stirring up hatred against LGBT+ people and immigrants. As the cracks appear in their cover up of clerical abuse of children, the Catholic Church are under scrutiny and using the age-old tactic of blaming LGBT+ people for their own sins. The next few years will be crucial for LGBT+ people. If broader society can continue to mobilise behind the community, Poland could to shift from a theocratic state into a more modern and pluralist society.

Complete Article HERE!

Will bishops at last be held to account in abuse cases?

We’re about to find out.

Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo speaks during a news conference in Cheektowaga, N.Y., on Nov. 5, 2018

ON BECOMING the bishop of Buffalo, Richard J. Malone let it be known that his episcopal motto would be “living the truth in love.” Now Mr. Malone, ensnared in scandals and buffeted by allegations that he has covered up for priests accused of sexual abuse, has become a test case of whether bishops, who report only to the pope, will at last become accountable under a new policy adopted by Pope Francis last spring.

It has been a year since the bishop acknowledged “inadequacies” in his handling of abuse complaints involving minors as well as adults targeted by clergymen. Since then, reports of those “inadequacies” have multiplied. But Mr. Malone, who insists he has instituted reforms, has refused to resign even as some clergy in his own diocese and other prominent Catholics have said enough is enough. His tale encapsulates a basic feature of the church’s clergy sex abuse scandals: professions of new procedures and policies to clean up the mess, juxtaposed with institutional inertia, resistance and denial.

When Mr. Malone assumed his current job, in 2012, it had already been a decade since the clerical abuse and coverup scandals, starting in Boston, had erupted across the country. Yet in Buffalo, one of the nation’s largest dioceses, with some 600,000 Catholics, it took six years and, finally, a barrage of accusations involving local clergy, before he posted a list of 42 priests credibly accused of child sex abuse.

Those cases covered the decades before Mr. Malone had arrived in Buffalo, and, it soon emerged, they represented a very partial accounting. The bishop’s own executive assistant, Siobhan O’Connor, had seen the original draft, with 117 priests named, along with hundreds of pages of diocesan personnel files and memos — including a 300-page binder she found in a cleaning cabinet — detailing the allegations.

Ms. O’Connor, who turned over copies of the documents to a local television station as well as CBS’s “60 Minutes,” realized the published list had been whittled down by the bishop and church lawyers to exclude, among others, accused priests who had been left in ministry or restored after a suspension. In one case, a church lawyer wrote to the bishop that a priest alleged to have had sex with a teenage girl in the 1980s should be dropped from the list because including him “might require explanation.” (The priest, Fabian J. Maryanski, who has since been placed on leave, denied the allegation.)

Under the church’s new policy on accountability for bishops, it has fallen to Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the archbishop of New York, to decide whether to launch an investigation of Mr. Malone. As Mr. Dolan mulls that question — his office says an announcement is expected soon — other revelations have surfaced involving Mr. Malone’s less-than-assiduous attention to abuse victims. In an audio recording of a conversation from August, leaked recently by one of his former top assistants, Mr. Malone is heard worrying that “this could be the end for me as bishop.”

Conceivably, it could be. Meanwhile, what’s striking in the sordid tale is the absence of proactive moves that would lend credibility to the church’s stated zero-tolerance stance.

Complete Article HERE!

Archdiocese claims 1st Amendment against gay teacher’s lawsuit.

Here’s how that could play out.

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis enrolled 23,206 students in the 2018-19 school year, and it has 68 Catholic schools, including seven high schools. Here’s what we know.

By

A judge will soon decide whether the Catholic Church’s First Amendment religious rights protects it from a lawsuit filed by a fired Cathedral High School teacher who is gay.

Joshua Payne-Elliott was fired in June for being in a same-sex marriage, something the archdiocese says violates church doctrine. The school had the option of firing Payne-Elliott or being stripped by the archdiocese of its Catholic status. Cathedral chose to dismiss the teacher, who had been with the school since 2006 as a world language and social studies teacher.

Payne-Elliott in July sued the archdiocese, stating that he has suffered lost wages, lost employer-provided benefits and endured emotional distress and damage to his reputation.

The archdiocese filed a motion this week to dismiss Payne-Elliott’s lawsuit, citing First Amendment protections and jurisdictional issues. Jay Mercer, attorney for the archdiocese, said he’s confident a judge will rule in the archdiocese’s favor.

While a constitutional law expert who spoke to IndyStar didn’t rule out the chance that the archdiocese’s motion to dismiss will prevail, he said it would be more complicated than it appears.

What the attorneys say

Mercer said the archdiocese is governed by Catholic canon law and that the archbishop is tasked with ensuring Catholic teachers abide by church doctrine. The archbishop’s right to do so without court interference is enshrined in the First Amendment, Mercer said.

“The court would be substituting its judgment for the archbishop, which it could not do because the court cannot put itself as the leader of the Catholic church,” Mercer said Thursday. “It would be inappropriate for a court to say it (the archdiocese) doesn’t have this authority. It would be violating the Constitution.”

The archdiocese’s motion asks the court to dismiss the case on grounds that it isn’t constitutionally allowed to interfere with church governance. The 20-page document cites a slew of case histories and rulings to support its argument.

Payne-Elliott’s attorney, Kathleen DeLaney, said archdioceses get sued all the time, making it clear that they can fall under court jurisdiction.

“I think they’re really overreaching,” DeLaney said of the archdiocese’s motion.

DeLaney argues that a court can hear and decide her client’s lawsuit without making a judgment about church doctrine. The case is really about the archdiocese interfering with a separate entity, Cathedral High School, to force Payne-Elliott’s termination without justification, DeLaney said.

In the archdiocese’s motion, Mercer says the plaintiff fails to show there wasn’t justification for the archdiocese’s involvement that led to Payne-Elliott’s firing. When asked by phone about alleged improper interference, Mercer said the merits of that allegation won’t even make it to court.

“The merits of this case will never be litigated because the court has no authority,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Dissident Catholics Assail Vatican Role at UN

By The Associated Press

A group of activist Roman Catholics asked the United Nations Thursday to revoke the Vatican’s observer status for failing to protect the rights of women, children and the LGBTQ community.

The group, calling itself Catholics for Human Rights, said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that the Vatican must be stripped of its status in part because of the “magnitude of rape, sexual violence and torture perpetrated by clergy.”

The activists, including lawyers and theologians, also said the Holy See excludes women from positions of authority and opposes contraception, same-sex marriage and abortion.

In Rome, the Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.N. chief spokesman Stephane Dujarric said it had no immediate reaction. Any change in the Vatican’s status would have to be decided by U.N. member states.

Catholics who disagree with the church’s teachings on abortion or who have been upset at its handling of sexual misconduct allegations have previously made similar demands for the U.N. to downgrade the Vatican’s status as a permanent observer, which allows it to take part in the world body’s policy discussions, but does not give it a vote in the General Assembly.

The Vatican’s role at the U.N. has also been opposed sporadically by groups who say it is a religious organization, not a nation.

Members of the activist group gathered Thursday in a building across the street from the U.N., where the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women was holding its annual conference.

“It’s hard to name a state or religious group that’s done more than the Holy See to thwart the spirit and the letter of the Commission on the Status of Women, which affirms that the fundamental freedoms of all women and girls is essential for the achievement of gender equality,” said one of the activists, Mary Hunt, a theologian from Silver Spring, Maryland. “Today, the institutional church is essentially a global, male-run, top-down corporation whose product is religion.”

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

French cardinal Barbarin convicted over sex abuse cover-up

Barbarin was found guilty of failing to report the abuse of a minor between 2014 and 2015

The archbishop of Lyon, the most senior French Catholic cleric caught up in the paedophilia scandals that have rocked the church, was convicted of helping covering up abuse and handed a six-month suspended jail term on Thursday.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who was not in court, was found guilty of failing to report the abuse of a minor between 2014 and 2015.

His lawyers announced immediately that he would appeal the judgement.

“The reasoning of the court is not convincing,” lawyer Jean-Felix Luciani told reporters. “We will contest this decision by all the means possible.”

Barbarin, 68, faced long-standing allegations from victims’ groups that he failed to report a priest under his authority to police after learning of abuse which took place in the 1980s and 90s.

But prosecutors judged that those crimes were beyond the statute of limitations — meaning they were too old to prosecute — and declined to press charges.

During the trial, victims accused Barbarin of being aware of the abuse allegations from at least 2010 and then trying to cover up the scandal, under orders from the Vatican, from 2015.

Francois Devaux, who leads a victim’s group in Lyon, called Thursday’s verdict a “major victory for child protection.”

The Catholic Church has been roiled in recent years by claims against priests which have come to light in the wake of a global move by victims to go public with evidence.

Clerics have been denounced in countries as far afield as Australia, Brazil, Chile, Ireland, and the United States, leading Pope Francis to promise to rid the church of a scourge that has done enormous damage to its standing.

Complete Article HERE!