Depression rising among LGBT people in conservative-ruled Poland, survey finds

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New Town Hall is illuminated in rainbow colours in a gesture of solidarity with the LGBT community during International Day of Tolerance in Gdansk, Poland, November 16, 2020. Bartosz Banka/Agencja Gazeta/via REUTERS/Files

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WARSAW, Dec 8 (Reuters) - The number of Polish LGBT people with depression rose by more than half between 2017 and 2020, according to a new study, amid what campaigners say is growing intolerance driven by the deeply conservative government.

Gay rights have become a deeply divisive issue in predominantly Roman Catholic Poland. Religious conservatives condemn what they say is an "ideology" bent on destroying the traditional family while more liberal Poles demand tolerance and equal treatment of what they regard as an oppressed minority.

Some 44% of LGBT people reported experiencing serious symptoms of depression in 2019-2020, up from 28% in 2017, according to the study by the University of Warsaw's Centre for Research on Prejudice commissioned by the Campaign Against Homophobia group, which was published on Tuesday.

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LGBT respondents said their families had become less tolerant of them during the period surveyed, with 61% of mothers and 54% of fathers accepting LGBT children in 2020, down from 68% and 59% respectively in 2017.

The report was based on an online survey between December 2020 and February 2021 in which 22,883 people took part.

Asked about the findings, cabinet minister Michal Wojcik told Reuters LGBT and heterosexual people were equal under Poland's constitution, but the government was taking steps to stop "LGBT ideology" being imposed on schools.

For 21-year-old artist Kosma Ugniewski, a lack of social acceptance of his homosexuality had contributed to his descent into depression, citing anti-LGBT rhetoric from conservative politicians.

"(The government) is trying to put a mask on people's faces, glasses through which society is supposed to look," he told Reuters. "People didn't even have an opinion, but they listen to politicians and they get the impulses which politicians send."

The conservative nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government and its ally President Andrzej Duda made combating "LGBT ideology" a key plank of successful election campaigns in 2019 and 2020, and many local authorities declared themselves "LGBT-free zones".

"The picture is of a serious worsening of the mental health of LGBT people," said Miroslawa Makuchowska, vice-president of the Campaign Against Homophobia.

"Why is that happening? Respondents to the survey reply directly - their situation at home, for example the family home, has got worse because there has been so much hate speech towards LGBT people," she said.

A separate poll conducted by state-funded research centre CBOS showed in September that Poles had grown more tolerant of LGBT people since 2019 and that support for same-sex marriages grew to 34%, the highest ever.

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Reporting by Alan Charlish, Felix Hoske, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk and Pawel Florkiewicz, editing by Mark Heinrich

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