An LGBTQ march in the city of Rzeszow in Poland in 2019 (courtesy Jakub Gawron)

A group of local governments in Poland that had declared themselves as “free from LGBT ideology”  are waging a battle in court against four artist-activists who created the Atlas of Hate, an interactive map charting the country’s anti-gay zones. The activists — Kuba Gawron, Kamil Maczuga, Paulina Pająk and Paweł Preneta — were suid for slander by officials from six counties across the country: Przasnysz; Tatra; Opoczno; Przysucha; Tarnów; and the commune of Gromadka. If convicted, they would stand liable for at least 165,000 PLN (~$43,500).

Around 100 Polish municipal and local governments, almost a third of the country, have announced themselves as “LGBT-Free Zones” and passed local laws that encourage intolerance toward LGBTQ people. Supported by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, the discriminatory zones were announced in reaction to a declaration in favor of LGBTQ rights signed in February 2019 by Warsaw’s then-newly elected mayor Rafał Trzaskowski. In addition to the ongoing harassment of activists and members of the LGBTQ community, the Polish government has also announced a plan to ban adoption for same-sex couples.

The Atlas of Hate, an interactive map delineating Poland’s “LGBT-free zones” (courtesy Atlas of Hate)

Launched in November of 2019, the Atlas of Hate features an interactive map that outlines Polish regions that have adopted the “anti-LGBT declaration,” others that have rejected it, and regions where extremist lobbying activities are being conducted to adopt the declaration. In addition, the project includes a spreadsheet in which individuals from other countries can see if their city or province has a partnership with a Polish “LGBT-free zone.”

The project was used by advocacy groups to persuade the international community to take measures against the Polish government’s homophobic policies. So far, these efforts have yielded symbolic achievements: the European Parliament adopted a resolution in March that declared the entire block as “LGBT freedom zone,” and several Western sister cities have suspended cooperation with their Polish counterparts.

The string of lawsuits targeting the team behind the Atlas of Hate marks yet another dangerous escalation in the repression of LGBTQ rights in Poland. The first court hearing is scheduled on July 20 in the city of Ostrołęka, with another coming on July 29 in Nowy Sącz.

The plaintiffs are demanding that the activists publish apologies to the officials on the project’s website and also read them publically in press conferences on the steps of the European Parliament in Brussels and at the Polish Press Agency. The expenses of the trip to Brussels and the rental fees of the press agency’s conference room, combined with 100,000 PLN (~$26,300) going to “social organizations,” bring the total cost of the demands to more than 165,000 PLN (~$43,500).

In a statement to Hyperallergic, members of the Atlas team said that these expenses are higher than the sum of all of their yearly salaries.

“Repressions against us — persons working for human rights — are becoming stronger and stronger,” said Gawron. “With a media witch hunt already happening, the government is using SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). By forcing us into a lengthy and costly legal defense, public organs aim to scare us into silence.”

Legal support for the activists is coordinated by the Campaign Against Homophobia, Polish Antidiscrimination Society, the Equality Sign Federation, and Barabasz Lawfirm. They will be defended in court by a team of lawyers that includes Piotr Jurek, Alicja Szpringer, and Mikołaj Świstowski.

“No matter how many times we’re sued, our aim is to continue working,” said Maczuga. “The basic right to safety for the LGBT community, especially in smaller towns, is our top priority. No lawsuit will change that, because no lawsuit will help teenagers.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant and he holds an MFA in Art Writing from the School of Visual...