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!

Defence minister apologises for Catholic priests who outed gay and lesbian soldiers

Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has now apologised for what happened

By Jimmy Nsubuga

A defence minister has said sorry after it emerged Catholic priests in the army broke the trust of gay personnel by outing them to bosses in the 1990s.

The chaplains broke confidentiality of confession when they revealed private conversations they had with vulnerable people, campaigners said.

The army personnel could have been fired and humiliated as a result of the breach of trust, they added.

Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has now apologised for what happened, the Times reported.

He said: ‘Our policy regarding LGB members in the military was unacceptable then, and as a defence minister, I personally apologise for those experiences.’

‘Pastoral encounters between service chaplains and personnel should be strictly confidential.’

Church of England chaplains working in the army were also accused of breaking confidences during the 90s.

On Thursday, Mr Mercer also apologised to a group of veterans for the harm caused by a ban on homosexuality.

The ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people serving in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force was repealed on January 12, 2000.

People suspected of being LGB in the armed forces at the time were subject to a dishonourable discharge.

A damning judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in September 1999 said the policy was a ‘grave interference’ in people’s private lives.

Mr Mercer added: ‘It was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now, and as the minister for defence, people and veterans, I wanted to personally apologise to you today for those experiences.’

Gay and lesbian veterans who served under a ban on homosexuality have reflected on their experiences on the 20th anniversary of the policy’s end.

Emma Riley, 47, from West Sussex, served from 1990 to 1993 as a naval radio operator but was arrested and discharged for being a lesbian.

Ms Riley, who is a lesbian, said: ‘I thought the person I told was my friend and at the time I told them seemed to be very supportive and OK with it and the next morning I got woken up at 6am and told to “get up, get dressed and go downstairs, you’re under arrest”.’

Ms Riley had been reported to the Navy’s special investigation branch and had her belongings searched and confiscated, including a video of Julian Clary.

She was subjected to a two and a half month “relentless” investigation where officers tried to find other LGB people in the Navy.

Ms Riley was one of the handful of LGB ex-service people who brought her case against the Ministry of Defence to the European Court of Human Rights.

The MoD now has an LGBTQ+ group within its rank to support service personnel and the Royal British Legion boasts its own LGBTQ+ & Allies branch, which celebrates its first anniversary on Sunday.

Complete Article HERE!

Pope compares politicians who rage against gays to Hitler

The Catholic Church leader also denounced a resurgence in anti-Semitism in Europe

By Philip Pullella

Pope Francis said on Friday politicians who rage against homosexuals, gypsies and Jews remind him of Hitler.

“It is not coincidental that at times there is a resurgence of symbols typical of Nazism,” Francis said in an address to participants of an international conference on criminal law.

“And I must confess to you that when I hear a speech (by) someone responsible for order or for a government, I think of speeches by Hitler in 1934, 1936,” he said, departing from his prepared address.

“With the persecution of Jews, gypsies, and people with homosexual tendencies, today these actions are typical (and) represent ‘par excellence’ a culture of waste and hate. That is what was done in those days and today it is happening again.”

During the 1933-45 Nazi regime in Germany, six million Jews were killed and homosexuals and gypsies were among those sent to extermination camps.

Pope Francis did not name any politicians or countries as the targets of his criticism.

In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro had a history of making homophobic, racist and sexist public remarks before he took office on Jan. 1. He told one interviewer he would rather have a dead son than a gay son.

In May, Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah extended a moratorium on the death penalty to incoming legislation prohibiting gay sex, seeking to temper a global backlash led by celebrities such as George Clooney and Elton John.

The United Nations had warned Brunei it would be violating human rights by implementing Islamic laws that would allow death by stoning for adultery and homosexuality.

In recent weeks, Pope Francis has also denounced a resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe.

On Wednesday, in improvised remarks at his general audience, he said: “Today the habit of persecuting Jews is beginning to be reborn. Brothers and sisters: this is neither human nor Christian; the Jews are our brothers and sisters and must not be persecuted! Understood?”

Last week, a Vatican cardinal said he was “disgusted” by anti-Semitic abuse directed at an 89-year-old Italian senator and Holocaust survivor, who was given police protection after receiving death threats.

In July, a European Union study said young Jewish Europeans experience more anti-Semitism than their parents, with a rise in abuse coming in emails, text messages and social media postings.

More than 80% of Jews of all ages said they felt anti-Semitism had increased on the Internet over the past five years and around 70% said they faced more hostility in public, the study found.

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!

If you’re a gay or divorced Catholic, the American National Catholic Church might be for you

Rev. George Lucey leads St. Francis of Assisi Church in Glen Ridge. Rev. Lucey, who is openly gay, has been at the church for twelve years.

By

For years, Jim Hammill searched for a church where he could worship in the Catholic tradition that he loved. He grew up attending a Roman Catholic Church, but felt ostracized after his divorce and remarriage to a woman in a Lutheran Church.

The Catholic Church does not recognize civil divorce and Hammill did not seek a Catholic Church annulment, a declaration by a church court that a marriage was never valid according to church law.

The Caldwell resident spent the better part of his adulthood considering himself a lapsed Catholic.

“I was convinced I was going to hell,” he said.

Then, about five years ago, he stumbled into St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Glen Ridge and he immediately felt the sense of belonging that he had craved.

The church is part of the American National Catholic Church, an independent religious movement established in 2009 by former Catholics who sought a more inclusive experience.

Like other breakaway Catholic-style churches across the nation, the ANCC is not recognized by the Vatican as a part of the Roman Catholic Church.

The movement has 11 branches around the country, including Kearny and Long Branch, New Jersey, as well as in New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Connecticut. ANCC leaders say more are on the way.

Nationwide, the ANCC has over 2,000 members. It is headed by Bishop George Lucey, who is also the pastor of the St. Francis of Assisi parish.The ANCC ordains its own priests and bishops.

The Church in Glen Ridge draws anywhere from 50 to 100 worshipers to its regular Sunday Mass.

Many of the group’s fundamental beliefs and rituals are similar to those of Roman Catholicism, yet it offers a more progressive approach that is in sharp contrast to Rome. For one thing, women can be ordained, priests can marry, and openly gay priests and LGBT worshipers are welcomed. There is full sacramental participation by all, and reproductive choice is supported.

“I immediately felt like this is what Catholicism was meant to be,” said Hammill. “It’s nonjudgmental. It’s welcoming. There are a lot of diverse people — we have people of different races and different sexual orientations, which is refreshing.”

“I grew up believing that you go to Mass on Sunday because if you don’t, it’s a mortal sin. Now I go because I really want to,” said Hammill, who recently began studying in a seminary.

Hammill’s refrain has become increasingly familiar to the church’s associate pastor, Father Geety Reyes.

“A lot of people come to us because they are dissatisfied with the Catholic Church, for a variety of reasons,” said Reyes. He added that many have recently left the church over its handling of the abuse scandals.

“We are an all-embracing parish and we welcome everyone regardless of who they are and regardless of their journey in life,” Reyes said. “We make the sacraments available to everyone.”

Reyes, who is openly gay, noted that in the early years of the church, most of its members were Catholics from the LGBT community, but now the church is drawing worshipers from traditional families and of all backgrounds, including non-Catholics.

The most famous breakaway movement in Christian history was the Reformation over 500 years ago, which gave rise to the Protestant churches. That break was as a result of theological differences. Protestants allow their clerics to marry and have children.

Another breakaway, the Anglican Church that includes America’s Episcopalian Church, grew out of King Henry VIII’s dispute with the pope over his divorces.

These days, though, dissatisfied Catholics are more likely to fade away from religious life — perhaps attending midnight Mass on Christmas and celebrating Easter in some way — than to join another church or start one.

The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that the percentage of Americans identifying as Catholic had fallen from 23.9 percent in 2007 to 20.9 percent (51 million) in 2014

The study found that 41 percent of all respondents who were raised Catholic no longer identified with Catholicism — and that 12.9 percent of all Americans were former Catholics.

A 2015 Pew survey also found that majorities of American Catholics wanted to see the church undertake some major changes, such as allowing priests to marry (62 percent) and women to be ordained as priests (59 percent). Almost half of respondents (46 percent) supported recognition of LGBT marriages.

For some disenfranchised Catholics, the answer has to been to break with the Vatican and join Catholic-style independent churches. These splinter groups generally utilize the Catholic liturgy and rituals, even if they reject the “magisterium” — the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church, as dispensed by the pope and bishops.

Pat Brannigan, the executive director of the New Jersey Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops of the state, admitted that it can be a challenge to follow the teachings of Catholicism. “Even in the time of Jesus, some of his disciplines had difficulty accepting his teachings and turned away,” he said. “Why should we be surprised that some still turn away?”

He said he was not familiar with the ANCC but asserted that it is not considered part of the Roman Catholic Church.

Alison Shapiro, a middle school teacher from Bloomfield, grew up Catholic but “was not a big fan of the Catholic dogma,” she said. She immediately realized that St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church was different.

“It was exactly like a normal Mass, but without all the negative social stuff I didn’t agree with,” she said.

She became active in the church and is now the parish council president. A big part of its appeal, she said, is that it welcomes everyone. “You just come how you are comfortable and you are just accepted,” she said.

Like many of his parishioners, Reyes was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church but felt he couldn’t remain there because of his gay identity. The ANCC accepted him for who he was and allowed him to worship in the Catholic tradition, he said.

The 43-year-old Bloomfield resident was ordained as a deacon by the ANCC in 2012 and, several years later, as a priest.

“I never felt like I left the Catholic Church — I didn’t change anything I believed,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!