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Milan hits back at Poland and Hungary’s curbs on LGBTQ+ rights

This article is part of POLITICO’s Global Policy Lab, a collaborative journalism project exploring the future of cities. Sign up here.

Milan has joined the rank of cities taking a stand against Poland and Hungary’s efforts to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

The city designated itself an “LGBTQ+ freedom zone” — a label that riffs on the so-called “LGBT ideology-free zones” created in some Polish towns since 2019.

“The freedom to exist and to speak of LGBTQ + local citizenship is substantially prohibited” in Poland and Hungary, said councillor and activist Michele Albiani. Milan — which is home to Italy’s largest LGBTQ+ community — adopted the designation as a response, he said.

It puts Milan in the company of cities like Paris, Vienna and Lisbon that have similarly pledged to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people and was adopted Monday, on the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

European Commissioner for Equality issued a rebuke to Poland in November 2020, saying the LGBT ideology-free zones went against the EU’s values and law. In several cases, the European Commission also cut off access to EU funds — a move that prompted Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro to accuse the Commission of “blackmail.”

Milan councilmen Carmine Pacente, Michele Albiani and Angelo Turco co-sponsored the bill to turn the city into an ‘LGBTQ+ Freedom Zone’ | Michele Albiani

While some municipalities have since reversed course, many have stood by their pledges to exclude LGBTQ+ people.

In Hungary, meanwhile, the government last year passed legislation banning communication considered to be promoting or displaying homosexuality or gender change to people under the age of 18.

Milan’s response is part of a coordinated effort, spearheaded by the European Socialist Group in the Committee of the Regions, to affirm that LGBTQ+ people have equal rights in Europe despite discriminatory policies in some EU member countries.

Albiani said that, beyond the symbolism of the declaration, cities also have an important role to play in ensuring that areas are inclusive by offering “services, public spaces and projects” that help to make life “more simple” for the LGBTQ+ community.

“Milan has been supporting the LGBTQ+ community for over a decade but everyone is aware that there are still so many other things to do,” he said. “Now the goal must be to carry out practical actions for the rainbow community, such as the gender registry for transgender people and the construction of a large LGBTQ+ cultural center.”

Nikodem Bernaciak, a legal analyst at the ultra-conservative Ordo Iuris Institute, which formulated a “pro-family” charter adopted by many of the Polish municipalities that created LGBT ideology-free zones, declined to comment.

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