Activist aims to shame Polish towns opposed to LGBT community

TRZEBIESZOW, Poland (Reuters) - An activist has begun photographing members of Poland’s LGBT community next to a fake “LGBT-free zone” sign outside towns that passed motions rejecting what they call “LGBT ideology” or defending traditional family values.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Bartosz Staszewski, a 29-year-old filmmaker, has taken portraits of five people so far, and plans another 32 that would target towns he considers took the strongest stance against the gay community.

His action is in protest against what he calls a “hate campaign” by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), which says lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) “ideology” is an invasive foreign influence that undermines traditional values in the staunchly Catholic country.

In Poland, which doesn’t recognize any form of same-sex union, parades to celebrate LGBT life became violent flashpoints last year in the buildup to October elections. [nL3N26B2VT]

The self-funded artistic project, which is published on social media, involves Staszewski photographing local members of the LGBT community in front of a sign saying “LGBT-free zone” in four languages. He removes the sign after each photoshoot.

“I’m visualizing, encouraging a debate,” Staszewski told Reuters, as he prepared to photograph Jakub Przybysz, 26, a former resident of the eastern Polish town of Trzebieszow and a gay man.

Miroslaw Szekalis, the mayor of Trzebieszow, where a motion to reject “LGBT ideology” was passed last year, defended the town’s decision. “Neither I, nor any of the council members ... have a reason to be ashamed,” he told Reuters.

While the motions are largely symbolic, they can be intimidating for members of the LGBT community. Municipalities and regions that have rejected LGBT “ideology” cover nearly a third of the country.

When Staszewski first published the pictures on social media, some members of the European Parliament and a Polish presidential candidate, Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska, criticized the signs which they thought had been put up by towns.

“False accusations appearing in the EU institutions directed at the Polish government create a false picture,” PiS members in the European Parliament said in a statement on Thursday. They did not mention Staszewski’s project specifically.

Staszewski, who has been accused of spreading fake news and received threats on social media, changed the captions accompanying his pictures to explain the project better.

“I thought ... we live in such a time that people will understand that this is an art project,” he said. “(But) we are living in a time when there is a thin line between what is absurd and what is reality.”

Reporting by Dominik Starosz, Robert Furmanczyk and Alicja Ptak; Editing by Joanna Plucinska and Mike Collett-White