24 Sep 2017

What can be worse than a teenage suicide? Politicians using it to spread homophobia

There are times when cruel words kill and times when loaded statements blow open the door to further violence. This past week Poland saw examples of both.

Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland
Source: Gazeta Wyborcza
What can be
worse than a teenage suicide? Politicians using it to spread homophobia - NewsMavens

Why this story matters:

There are times when cruel words kill and times when loaded statements blow open the door to further violence. This past week Poland saw examples of both.

When 14 year old Kacper committed suicide in a small town in central Poland, his mother began an informal investigation and discovered that he was being bullied in school for being homosexual. This tragic incident began a much-needed discussion about Polish schools not doing enough to educate children about how discrimination works and how to protect themselves and others from its brutality. This in itself would be sad news about Poland failing its youngest generation. But then something even more threatening took place.

Krystyna Pawłowicz, a member of parliament, a university law professor and member of the ruling right-wing political party took to Facebook and commented the unfolding discussion around Kacper’s death. To paraphrase, she wrote that leftist liberals are to blame for impressionable teens becoming gay in the first place and it is, therefore, their fault that Kacper is dead, not so-called intolerance in schools.

The idea that homosexuality is a trend, a choice that you can make or unmake under the influence of others, is commonly held in Poland’s educated conservative circles. The roots of this conviction are Catholic in origin -- there is clearly no science that backs such claims. And that’s what makes this situation so pivotal.

On the local scale -- imagine what the bullies who hounded Kacper at school must think if a powerful political voice says that it is not they, but leftwing social norms which are responsible for their schoolmate’s suicide. Picture the hell that the next kid discovered to be homosexual in his town, or pretty much anywhere else in Poland, will be put through.

On a national scale -- if arguments based on faith and ideology make a home for themselves in political discourse, and violence against dissenters of ideological norms is shrugged off by the authorities, then we have the stage perfectly set for a superstitious regime to displace the rule of law.  And replace it by force.

The left, centrist and even right-wing political commentators have all stepped up to the internet plate to denounce Ms Pawłowicz’s statement. But in the age of social media, these denunciations may not reach the same audience that her original post was seen by. That’s what makes figures like Ms Pawłowicz so dangerous.

Be wary of this mechanism wherever you are. If a political loose cannon, like Pawłowicz, is not immediately rebuked and removed from his/her representative role then it means they are doing something useful for their party. Like expressing a government-approved feeling that is meant to infect the electorate...

Details from the story:

  • Kacper, a 14-year-old highschooler from Gorczyn in central Poland, committed suicide on September 7.
  • His mother’s informal investigation at school uncovered that he was being bullied for being homosexual.
  • On Saturday, September 23, Krystyna Pawłowicz, a controversial figure in the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) known for brash and aggressive language, posted a comment on the case on her facebook profile. It reads: “Leftist liberals propagate nonstandard behavior and unnatural attitudes to impressionable young people. It is no wonder these children and teens are sometimes criticized by their peers for disturbing behavior which can lead to such tragic ends. It is impudent and false that the leftists blame their “murderously intolerant” teens when it is their own pathology that yields this deadly crop. Stop demoralizing children, leave them alone to grow up and have a childhood that nature intended for them.”
  • Her post has been criticized by many. Among them: Adrian Zandberg, leader of the left wing Together party (Razem), Katarzyna Laubner from the centrist Modern party (Nowoczesna), right-wing commentator Rafał Ziemkiewicz and liberal journalist Dominika Wielowiejska.
  • NGOs like Lambda and Fundacja Dajmy Dzieciom Siłe (Let's give our youth strength foundation) promoting educational programs on tolerance and hotlines for troubled teens are appealing to Polish youth to seek help rather than drastic measures.

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

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NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
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