Did you know that Poland has 35 sister cities in the United States spread over 19 states? I know this since I just searched the sister Cities programs, and compiled the list. So why did I do that?
Over the last year the populist (read: Trumpist) President of Poland, Andrzej Duba, has continually bashed the LGBT community to the point that the gay pride marchers in Bialystok were met by a confrontational mob of thousands. Here’s how the NYTimes reported it, quoting a Pride marcher.
“’First hurling invective, then bricks and stones and fireworks,’ she said. ‘From the balconies, people threw eggs and rotten vegetables. Even before the march started, there were violent confrontations, and by the time the tear gas cleared and the crowd dispersed, dozens were injured and Poland was left reeling.’”
Then came the anti-LGBT legislation similar to Putin’s Russia. Soon after, cities across Poland started to erect signs that read “This is an LGBT-Free zone. In answer to all this, the European Union decided that it would cut off funding to any of those cities. It dawned on me that the U.S. has a Sister Cities program that has diplomatic ties to many of those anti-LGBT cities in Poland
Where I live in Pennsylvania there are three cities that have Polish sister cities. Allentown has Lelów, Poland as one of its sister cities, Hazelton has Gorzów, and my city of Philadelphia has Toruń as it’s Polish sister city. (Philadelphia’s other sister cities include Florence, Italy; Kobe, Japan; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Douala, Cameroon.)
Now I know nothing about Toruń, Poland, but I now want to know if they have an LGBT-free zone. Citizens Diplomacy International is the organization that heads our sister’s cities Program and I’ve asked them to look into this.
This might seem like a small issue, but somewhere in Poland a bureaucrat will get a call or email, that bureaucrat will send the message up the political chain. Those people will have to discuss the issue and know people in other parts of the world are watching, and more importantly, they’ll have to decide if their anti-LGBT ideology is worth alienating them from the rest of the world.
Poland is one of the most conservative countries in Europe, and they are neighbors with Russia, which has a noted history of harsh discrimination against the LGBT community. If their homophobia is allowed to continue unchecked, it won’t be long until they are like Russia or even worse. President Duba has said that LGBT ‘ideology’ is worse than communism. It’s no surprise that many of the Polish people have internalized his hatred.
We have to do our part to help, even if it’s something as small as re-evaluating our sister cities relationship with Poland. Every voice matters when it comes to combating homophobia.