Opposition leader Tusk promises simpler gender recognition and same-sex partnerships

Opposition leader Donald Tusk has said that his centrist Civic Platform (PO) party has bills already prepared for if it comes to power that would simplify the gender-recognition process for trans people and introduce same-sex civil partnerships.

At a meeting in the town of Piła in northwest Poland, Tusk was asked a question by a high-school student: “What future do you intend to build with your party and coalition partners for people who identify with the acronym LGBT? Because the current government dehumanises these people.”

In recent years, the national-conservative ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has mounted a vociferous campaign against what it calls “LGBT ideology”. That has resulted in Poland being ranked as the worst country in the EU for LGBT people for the last four years running.

Poland remains the EU’s worst country for LGBT people, according to the annual Rainbow Europe ranking https://t.co/j83yAOtrcT

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) May 11, 2023

In response to the question, Tusk said that he often hears it asked by young people, and “it is one of the most dramatic questions that I hear”. He described LGBT people as a “victimised minority” in Poland.

Whatever legal changes are introduced, “the most important thing is to rebuild the language of respect”, said Tusk. “Love deserves our respect”.

But when it comes to the law, he said that his group has two bills on this issue prepared and ready to be introduced if they come to power.

.@donaldtusk w Pile: Mamy przygotowany projekt ustawy dotyczący zdecydowanego ułatwienia w kwestiach procedur sądowych dla osób transseksualnych. #PolskaWNaszychSercach

— PlatformaObywatelska (@Platforma_org) September 21, 2023

One is designed to “significantly simplify the current very complicated and humiliating, ghastly court procedures for transsexual people”, said Tusk, referring to the difficult process trans people must go through to change their legally recognised gender.

Because there is currently no law setting out a specific pathway for gender recognition, an ad hoc system has developed that requires trans people to sue their own parents in order to change their legally recognised gender.

In 2015, when Poland was ruled by PO, parliament passed a bill to create a court procedure for gender recognition. However, it was vetoed by newly elected conservative President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally who remains in office.

The only way to change your legally recognised gender in Poland is to sue your parents – even if they are no longer alive.

That process is slow, complex and often traumatic for trans people and their families, writes @AnnaZabl https://t.co/euE230vEXt

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 1, 2023

Speaking in Piła yesterday, Tusk announced that the second bill his group has prepared would introduce the right for same-sex couples to form legally recognised civil partnerships.

Tusk acknowledged that this measure “won’t satisfy everyone”, referring to the fact that many call for full marriage equality. “But I really want to finally take this step and not spend another 20 years protesting in the streets.”

“I always try to be careful because I want to actually improve reality,” said Tusk, adding that the possibility of civil partnership would provide important rights to same-sex couples.

A growing majority of Poles favour the legalisation of same-sex civil unions or marriage, with almost two thirds now in favour, a new poll has found https://t.co/ivS7MswKWi

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 10, 2022

He noted that, if KO is to form a government, it would be as part of a coalition that contains groups further to the right. He says he will try to “convince coalition partners more conservative than me to make real changes on this issue”.

During his remarks, Tusk also criticised the anti-LGBT rhetoric of PiS, mentioning as an example anti-trans statements made by the ruling party’s chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński, last year.

The opposition leader finished by telling the student who had asked the question that KO needs to come to power if there is to be any chance of change in this area. If PiS wins the election outright, or if it forms a coalition with the far-right Confederation (Konfederacja), it is clear that nothing will improve, said Tusk.

A growing majority of Poles favour the legalisation of same-sex civil unions or marriage, with almost two thirds now in favour, a new poll has found https://t.co/ivS7MswKWi

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 10, 2022

While PiS used strong anti-LGBT rhetoric during the last parliamentary election campaign in 2019, and Duda did so during his successful re-election bid in 2020, the ruling party has hardly mentioned the issue at all ahead of next month’s elections.

However, both PiS and Confederation remain opposed to granting any specific LGBT rights. Confederation has regularly used anti-LGBT rhetoric. Earlier this month, a video emerged of its campaign chief pledging to create a register of gay people in order to stop them from coming into contact with children.

Among opposition parties, the centre-right Third Way (Trzecia Droga) alliance – which would likely be part of any potential coalition government led by Tusk – has also talked little about LGBT issues during the campaign. It is more conservative than PO but less so than PiS.

LGBT „deviants do not have the same rights as…normal people”, says Poland’s education minister.

His words were applauded in parliament by fellow MPs from the ruling party https://t.co/DtrghOblyW

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) June 23, 2021

The other main opposition group, The Left (Lewica), is the most supportive of LGBT rights, and has been the most willing to talk about them during the campaign.

An assessment of election manifestos by Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), an NGO, found that The Left is the only group standing in the elections that supports five key LGBT rights policies.

Those are: introducing civil partnerships, marriage equality, simplifying the gender recognition procedure (with KPH’s list made before Tusk’s remarks yesterday), protecting gender identity and sexual orientation in hate crime laws, and banning so-called “conversion therapy”.

Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.

Main image credit: Maciej Wasilewski / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

Daniel Tilles is editor-in-chief of Notes from Poland. He has written on Polish affairs for a wide range of publications, including Foreign PolicyPOLITICO EuropeEUobserver and Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

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