WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A senior European Union official on Monday criticized a campaign by Polish authorities against the LGBT rights movement during a close presidential election campaign, saying is is wrong to target minorities for political gain.
European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova, who is in charge of values and transparency, spoke two days after Polish President Andrzej Duda called the LGBT rights movement more dangerous than communism.
“I find it really sad that in modern Europe, politicians holding high offices decide to target minorities for potential political gains,” Jourova told the European Parliament, adding that it violated EU guarantees of equal rights for all.
LGBT rights have become a key campaign theme before Poland’s presidential election on June 28. Duda, the incumbent, who is backed by the nationalist conservative governing party, has vowed to protect Polish families against what he calls an “LGBT ideology” that he says is seeking to enter schools and influence children.
Duda is the front-runner but his key challenger, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, a vocal supporter of LGBT rights, has been gaining in opinion polls. It is expected that none of 10 candidates will win 50% of the vote on June 28 and that Duda and Trzaskowski will face each other in a runoff on July 12.
Duda said that the LGBT rights movement promotes a viewpoint more harmful than communism and expressed agreement with another conservative politician’s view that “LGBT is not people, it’s an ideology.”
Jourova, who was born in communist Czechoslovakia, said she was “confused” by the comparison of the LGBT rights movement to communist ideology.
“I remember communist ideology as something which was suppressing and persecuting everything and everyone who was different,” she said.
Duda’s comments Saturday triggered anger in Poland and were reported widely abroad. On Sunday he accused foreign media outlets who reported his comments, including The Associated Press, of taking his words out of context without explaining how.
“I truly believe in diversity and equality,” Duda tweeted.
Many other members of the governing party, Law and Justice, have also made statements in line with Duda’s recently. A lawmaker and member of Duda’s election team, Przemyslaw Czarnek, said Saturday that LGBT people “are not equal to normal people. Let’s stop listening to idiocy about some human rights or some equality.”
As Duda campaigned Monday in the eastern Polish city of Lublin, he said he was just trying to protect families and keep LGBT “ideology” out of schools.
“For saying that, I was attacked in Western Europe and in our country,” Duda said.
“We are a state of equal opportunities, everyone is equal and everyone has the right to their own opinion,” Duda said. “But when we talk about the transmission of ideological content in schools, I want it to happen with the consent of parents.”
Many parents of gay and lesbian Poles are furious and have been posting images of themselves with their children on social media with the words “You are my child, not an ideology.”
About 10 mothers and one father of gay and lesbian children gathered in front of the Presidential Palace on Monday afternoon, appealing to Duda to change his rhetoric.
“What you say about our children terribly hurts and wounds us,” said Helena Biedron, mother of a left-wing presidential candidate who is openly gay, Robert Biedron.
She said many parents of LGBT people in Poland live in fear that their children could be beaten or killed for being gay, or that they could kill themselves.
“I was often afraid for my son’s life, for example when I found out that he wanted to take his own life because he had no strength to fight contempt,” she said.
Lorne Cook contributed to this report from Brussels.