PALMA DE MALLORCA, Spain (AP) — When the Polish Olympic athlete Jolanta Ogar-Hill and her wife decided to have a baby, it was obvious to them both that Poland would not be the place to bring up their child.
In recent years, right-wing ruling politicians and church leaders in the traditionally Roman Catholic nation have increased hostile rhetoric toward LGBT people, particularly to mobilize conservative voters ahead of elections.
“The government does everything they can to implement fear in the people,” said Ogar-Hill, who won a silver medal in the women’s 470 class in sailing with teammate Agnieszka Skrzypulec at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
So she and her Spanish-British wife, the filmmaker Chuchie Hill, have instead made their home in Mallorca, Spain.
In November, they welcomed a daughter into the world, allowing a photographer to be present for some of their most intimate moments, from time together at home before the birth to the moment that the girl they named Hunter was born by C-section.
It was the latest chapter in their years-long love story.
They met in Palma de Mallorca in 2015 during the filming of a documentary directed by Hill. Their next encounter was months later and at the end of that year, they began a relationship. They got married in 2018 at their favorite place in Mallorca — a restaurant in the bay of Palma. For the athlete, it was a symbolic move.
“It was a statement of what I would love to be able to do in my country,” Ogar-Hill said.
She says she lost some friendships in Poland because of her sexual orientation and would not be able to live as openly there as in Spain.
“We would be subject to living a lie and we could not have the freedom that we have in Spain,” the couple wrote in an email.
Spain has some of the most advanced laws in the world when it comes to protecting gender identity and sexual orientation. Social attitudes are also largely welcoming. Still, statistics show that attacks on the LGBTQ community in Spain are either on the rise or that their reporting has increased in recent years, in what many activists say is a result of the homophobic stance of a far-right party.
By contrast, in Poland, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people believed only a few years ago they were on a path that would eventually lead to greater rights. But recently they have instead faced allegations from leaders, including the president, that they were pushing a dangerous, foreign “ideology” that corrupts the country’s youth.
Several Polish cities and provinces declared themselves free of “LGBT ideology” in mostly symbolic declarations that were dropped, in some instances, when the European Commission froze millions of euros in funding.
The government’s stigmatization of LGBT people has led many Poles to come out of the closet or join pride celebrations, but many, particularly in rural areas, still don’t feel safe.
Some, like Ogar-Hill, have chosen to leave Poland altogether.
Yet even in Spain, their road to parenthood was not easy. Some local friends disagreed with their decision as a same-sex couple to have a baby. But after some dialogue, they think they have changed a few minds.
Elsewhere in Europe, parenthood often remains a Kafkaesque challenge for same-sex couples, who faced heaps of additional bureaucracy compared with heterosexual parents.
In a boost for the rights of families with same-sex parents, the European Union’s top court last week ruled that a child with two mothers certified in one of the bloc’s 27 nations must also be recognized by the other EU members as such.
Hill gave birth to Hunter on a rainy November day in Mallorca with Ogar-Hill by her side.
According to Hill’s mother, Esperanza, who joined the couple at the hospital, Hill was just as nervous as in an Olympic final. The first time Hill spoke to her mother about her sexual identity they both cried, the daughter afraid she would not be understood and her mother because she feared her daughter would suffer. Yet Hill says she always felt support from her mother.
The couple wants their own daughter to grow into a strong, independent and happy woman. At the moment they don’t see her living in Poland — not the way things are now.
“We want Poland to change and people like us and our daughter to be able to live there without fear of being attacked either psychologically or physically,” they wrote.
They gave Hunter a middle name, Nadzieja. In Polish, it means “hope.”