European Union Tries to Counter Anti-L.G.B.T.Q. Wave in Hungary and Poland

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BRUSSELS — The European Union on Thursday unveiled policies intended to strengthen the rights of L.G.B.T.Q. people, proposals that appear aimed particularly at right-wing governments in Hungary and Poland that have promoted discrimination.

The moves, drawn up by the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, would classify hate crime, including homophobic speech, on a list of “E.U. crimes” that also contains offenses such as drug trafficking and money laundering, giving the bloc more powers to crack down on member nations. The proposal would also protect same-sex families in all 27 of the bloc’s members, and promises more funding for organizations promoting equality.

The plan comes as the governing Law and Justice party in Poland faces the biggest protests in the country since the fall of communism in 1989. The huge demonstrations, which began as a defense of women’s rights after a top court’s decision last month to ban nearly all abortions, have grown to include calls for the protection of L.G.B.T.Q. rights.

In Hungary, the government has pushed for laws targeting the L.B.G.T.Q. community, including a bill that ties an individual’s gender to their sex and chromosomes at birth, restricting later modifications on official documents.

Announcing the European proposals on Thursday, Vera Jourova, the bloc’s commissioner for values and transparency, said, “Everyone should feel free to be who they are — without fear or persecution.”

“This is what Europe is about and this is what we stand for,” she added.

The commission’s intentions are hobbled somewhat because its recommendations are not binding on member countries. Any new legislation would need to be approved by the European Parliament and national governments before much pressure can be applied on nations who do not comply.

Hungary and Poland have been at loggerheads with the European Commission over an array of issues, mostly centering around abuses to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary and the rights of minorities. The Hungarian and Polish authorities have described those principles of governance as “foreign” ideology, but most other European countries and institutions consider them fundamental to the bloc’s beliefs.

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With little legal recourse, the commission has tried to shame or pressure the governments politically but has so far failed to force much change.

The commission denied funding for six towns in Poland after nearly 100 local governments in the country — about a third of its territory — declared themselves “free from L.G.B.T. ideology.” But the amounts involved were modest, and the Polish justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, called the move “groundless” and “illegal.”

Ms. Jourova, the values and transparency commissioner, said the bloc rejected discrimination on the basis of gender or sexuality. “We will defend the rights of L.G.B.T. people against those who have more and more appetite to attack them from this ideological point of view,” she said.

During the Polish election campaign this year, President Andrzej Duda, who was running for a second term, called human rights for L.G.B.T.Q. people an “ideology” more dangerous than communism. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the chairman of the governing Law and Justice party and the country’s de facto leader, called homosexuality a “threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence and thus to the Polish state.”

The messages were amplified by state television and by the Catholic Church, which plays a prominent role in Polish society, and Mr. Duda won re-election by a narrow margin. According to a 2020 survey by ILGA, an international gay rights organization, Poland now ranks as the most homophobic country in the European Union.

Activists say that violence against the gay community in Poland has surged. “We are talking about physical violence, beatings, insults, but also destruction of offices of activists,” said Mirka Makuchowska from the Campaign Against Homophobia, an advocacy group.

Trucks with slogans baselessly accusing gay people of pedophilia have appeared on the roads of Polish cities and towns recently, even in the generally more liberal capital, Warsaw. On Wednesday, during the annual Independence March, participants in the city shot flares into an apartment where a rainbow flag was hanging, setting it on fire.

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In Hungary, as the health care system and the economy buckle under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government has proposed a set of bills reflecting its war on gender identity.

On Tuesday, after the Hungarian Parliament extended the use of emergency executive powers to combat the virus for 90 days, the Orban government submitted a bill to amend the Constitution to establish marriage as an institution exclusively between a man and a woman. Additional provisions include protections of the right to raise children in a Christian culture.

Another bill introduced on Tuesday would allow only married couples to adopt children, with exemptions granted only by the government’s minister for family policy.

And in May, a law came into effect in Hungary that tied an individual’s gender to their sex and chromosomes at birth, restricting later modifications on official documents and making gender reassignment illegal.

Hungarian L.G.B.T.Q. groups have criticized the sudden legislative push. Hatter Tarsasag, an advocacy group, said that the new rules would fuel discrimination.

“We’ve had a conservative government for 10 years now and they have been systemically undermining the rights of L.G.B.T.Q.I. people,” said a representative of the group, Tamas Dombos, using an alternative abbreviation that includes people who are intersex. “In the past year and a half, they have become more vocal about their opposition to L.G.B.T.Q.I. rights, and increasingly against trans people.”

Analysts say the culture war is a potent unifying element for Mr. Orban’s supporters.

“It appears they have seen the success of such campaigns in Poland,” said Robert Laszlo, an analyst with the Budapest-based think tank Political Capital.

“This is a symbolic issue in their politics,” Mr. Laszlo added. “It’s a simple message. You can generate some hate with it and strengthen the base.”

Monika Pronczuk reported from Brussels, and Benjamin Novak from Budapest.

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