Attacks on LGBTQ Rights in Poland: A Critique of Impure Reason

The arguments often employed against the LGBTQ community in Poland are based on prejudice and are seriously flawed.
Poland news, Poland LGBTQ rights, Poland gay rights, homosexuality news, prejudice against homosexuality, Eastern Europe LGBTQ rights, Poland Law and Justice party, gay rights, gay Pride Poland, homosexuality and the Catholic Church

Warsaw, Poland, 6/8/2019 © Mateusz_Szymanski / Shutterstock

It is already clear that the year 2019 in Poland will mark a record number of pride parades: 21 have already taken place and 6 further events are planned. The marches are organized not only in regional capitals but also locally, such as the march in Radomsko, a town of less than 50,000 inhabitants. In 12 of the total 27 locations, it was or will be the first event of this type. These events often meet with resistance, ranging from attempts at a cool-headed argumentation against them to verbal and physical attacks on marchers. These seemingly rational arguments employed by those who oppose LGBTQ rights use the decorum of a public debate to disseminate inequality and hostility.

In the town of Plock, 15-year-old Jakub Baryla recently attempted to stop the first Plock Equality March that took place on August 10. Carrying a cross adorned with a rosary, he blocked the way of the procession and, when he refused to give way to the marchers, was carried away by the police. The photos of the young boy facing the cavalcade of armed policemen and raising the crucifix with a triumphal grin as he was being removed from the scene gained considerable popularity and invoked many expressions of admiration.

Baryla, who describes himself as a “Catholic, traditionalist, conservatist, Pole, patriot, and nationalist,” is an eloquent, well-behaved, sleek young man who declares interest in history and theology. Next to his handkerchief he wears a silver Chrobry’s sword, the symbol of Polish nationalist movement. After his symbolical gesture, Baryla was invited to the studio of the right-wing TV channel Telewizja Republika, where he gave an interview to Tomasz Sakiewicz, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Catholic weekly, Gazeta Polska. He was introduced as “the boy, the man who stopped the LGBT march in Plock.”

It marks the confusion about how to define him: the virile hero who is clearly just a boy, perhaps talked into his action by someone else. Baryla insists to be taken seriously despite his young age and complains that “labeling people because of their age is detrimental because it leads to ignoring outstanding individuals.” Despite the somewhat Raskolnikov-like purport of this claim, it is hard to disagree that a person of his age is capable not only of planning an independent action but also of understanding its consequences. However, a reconstruction of his arguments suggests that he overlooks essential repercussions of his gesture.

It’s Not the People

These arguments are not new. They are also not very difficult to counter. The biggest challenge is their ostensible rationality and consistency with facts, which give these arguments an air of informed opinion and cannot be easily dismissed as hate speech. Quite the opposite, Baryla had stressed on many occasions that he loves and respects all members of the LGBTQ community, and it is only their actions that he disapproves of. It is one of the often-used argumentative strategies.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explicitly condemns homosexual acts but calls for treating homosexuals “with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” Homosexuality is understood as bad luck that happens to a person and calls for pity. The ambiguity of this call and the condescending undertone of “compassion” does not offer any guide on how to reconcile love and respect with the “unnatural” character of homosexual acts. When the Polish Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski called homosexuals a “rainbow pest” in his recent sermon, after a public outcry he went on to explain that he meant the “ideology, not the people,” and that the Church “does not condemn people, but it condemns evil.”

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Similarly, Baryla writes on his website: “I love and respect non-heterosexuals, also those from the LGBT movements, I do not decry them as people, but I do decry and disagree with the great majority of their actions.” In an interview granted to the website wrealu24.pl, he stated that the organization of pride parades should be forbidden, and the organizers imprisoned or fined, and called for eradicating “not people but the deeds, and that decidedly, even by the use of power.”

Love becomes an empty declaration when it is accompanied by a staged act of public discontent, and when protecting an inanimate object that is a wooden crucifix becomes more important than protecting vulnerable members of society. It is an act of willful ignorance to believe that there is no causal connection between verbal or physical expressions of disapproval and the feeling of insecurity among the LGBTQ community.

According to the report by the NGO Campaign Against Homophobia, three out of 10 LGBTQ people in Poland experienced violence motivated by their sexual identity, which shows clearly that the operation of detaching a person from their course of action is just a rhetorical figure.

It’s Against Nature

Stating that homosexuality is against nature may seem appealing because it is supposedly based on scientific knowledge, easily propped up by “evidence.” In his conversation with TV Republika, Baryla spoke against “the sin of Sodom that happens not only silently in the bedroom but goes on the streets and shouts that ‘love is love,’ while it is untrue because there exist factual differences.” His grimace left no doubt about his opinion on the “differences” in question.

Marek Chodakiewicz, the expert of the Institute of the National Remembrance, in his recent lecture on the “civilization of death,” presented a vivid description of violent, scatological fantasies and used some 30-year-old urban myth of gerbilling (inserting small live animals into human rectum for stimulation) to support his conclusion that homosexual practices are an abnormality. In this line of argument, non-heteronormative sexual preferences are presented as contrary not also to natural instincts, but also to common sense because they question fundamental “natural laws.”

Arguments of this type assume that whatever is natural is inalienably good — a delusion confuted by George Moore in his critique of the naturalistic fallacy. Furthermore, same-sex attractions actually happen quite often among animals, although it cannot be used as a valid argument either.

Furthermore, a variation of the “against nature” argument uses fraudulent scientific data to prove that homosexuality is associated with a number of aberrations, starting with an exceptionally high number of sexual partners — 25% having more than 1,000, according to the Polish priest and anti-gay activist Dariusz Oko — and going as far as the claim that pedophilia is directly linked to a homosexual orientation. These sensational claims are often introduced by phrases such as “Numerous studies have found that,” “Research shows that” and the like, creating an impression that the subsequent condemnation of homosexual acts is scientifically supported and thus resistant to critique.

It is, however, worth noticing that a 2018 report showed that the acceptance of same-sex relationships among Polish scientists is noticeably higher than average, with 86% of those working in the natural sciences having a positive or very positive attitude toward the legalization of same-sex unions. Easy access to reliable data seems not to weaken the impact of this type of argument. It can be partly explained by the partisan media landscape and confirmation bias, but readiness to abuse science in order to legitimize prejudice is concerning and may further deepen not only the hostility toward LGBTQ people, but also the distrust in science among the general public.

We Have to Protect Ourselves

False information spread as a part of the second strategy results in a distorted perception of LGBTQ people as expansive and threatening. Their unquenchable sexual appetite is said to lead to assaults on “normal,” heterosexual people, and that their ostensible pedophilic inclinations may put children in danger. Indeed, it is children in particular who have been instrumentalized in the political campaign against LGBTQ community. Protecting “our children” has become the highlight of this backlash, and it is a concern equally shared by parents and childless people.

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Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party, who does not have children himself, often uses this argument, perhaps in an attempt to appear as the “father of the nation.” Pride parades are seen as a totalitarian attempt to force the majority to conform to the will of the minority and hence vehemently opposed. Baryla disagrees that he wanted to stop a peaceful demonstration and claims that the march was not peaceful at all: The very fact that people manifest their affiliation with or support for the LGBTQ community is argued to be a threat to one’s own freedom.

Baryla maintains that “peaceful” means that it mustn’t be offensive, but he seems to ignore the basic distinction between intentions and consequences. The primary intention of the equality marches is the wish to express solidarity with other LGBTQ people, celebrate their diversity and support their demands for equal rights. The Equality Parade in Warsaw lists as its postulates, among others, marriage equality and legal protection from discrimination, but none of them calls to change others’ sexual preferences.

It is both untrue to say that the aim of the parade is to “sexualize” the citizens and naïve to believe it could change biological mechanisms of the brain. However, it stands in line with the first strategy of setting apart sexual beings from their sexuality and claiming that the latter can be controlled or manipulated.

Guarding Our Faith

Similar to the rhetorical trope of “protecting our children,” the need to protect “our faith” argument allows its proponents to speak on behalf of a community and helps to maintain a collective identity. Baryla defends his opinions by asserting that he “only says what the Lord says,” that he is not personally offended by LGBTQ events, but he cannot accept the fact that they offend God. The Polish penal code actually recognizes offending other people’s “religious feelings” as a legal offense that can be punished with up to two years in prison. With such a lax formulation it is possible to sue any person for not complying to one’s own religious standards as an offender. It seems nevertheless dubious to make the state the arbiter in spiritual matters.

Also, it undermines the meaning of religious faith if it can be threatened by other people exercising their freedom of belief. It is impossible to argue conclusively that the right to self-determination — also in the sphere of sexuality — is a constraint for those who choose to follow the morals of a specific religion on that matter. Presenting the current invigoration of LGBTQ initiatives as a persecution of Catholics in the country where 87% inhabitants are baptized in the Roman rite does not do justice to the real oppression experienced by many LGBTQ people.

At the same time, it ridicules the victims of actual persecution in many places of the world. Furthermore, it ignores the fact that many members of the LGBTQ community belong to the Catholic Church and wish to participate in its communal life. The strategy of casting them out as an ideological enemy is a manipulation that could be well said to offend the religious feelings of those Catholics who want more acceptance and support for LGBTQ rights.

It is easy to hastily dismiss the arguments discussed above and people who advance them as irrational, driven by anger or fear. We should, in fact, take them more seriously as an expression of a rationally motivated reasoning and try to avoide the symmetrical bias of refuting whatever does not support our own views. However, upon closer examination, it turns out that the assumptions of this reasoning are seriously flawed and are actually preceded by a number of prejudices. They can be called the effects of the “impure reason” — that is, reason that produces arguments against other people but fails to see its inconsequence and inner bias. It is way of thinking that does not critically question its own assumptions and masks hostility with exterior logic.

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The philosopher Martha Nussbaum describes three conditions under which — according to repeated psychological experiments — people behave badly: when they are not held personally accountable, when nobody raises a critical voice against their actions, and when human beings over whom they have power are dehumanized and de-individualized.

It is, therefore, particularly important to hold those using the fraudulent arguments accountable for direct hostile remarks. It is vital to express criticism of such antilocution and take a clear stance on the side of the LGBTQ community and to remember that, despite the dehumanizing and de-individualizing effects employed by those who oppose LGBTQ rights, their words do not give them power over LGBTQ people who can, and do, confidently speak for themselves.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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