Rights groups criticize Trump for inviting Polish president

Vanessa Gera
Associated Press

Warsaw, Poland – U.S. President Donald Trump is being accused of sending a message of support to those looking to discriminate against LGBT people and other minorities by hosting his Polish counterpart at the White House days before he faces a tough re-election battle.

Trump is scheduled to meet Andrzej Duda on Wednesday, only four days before Duda competes for a second five year term. The visit, announced last week after Trump said he plans to remove thousands of U.S. troops from Germany, is expected to include discussions on defense and economic issues.

Polish President Andrzej Duda waves to supporters as he campaigns for a second term in Serock, Poland, on Wednesday, June 17, 2020. Duda has made LGBT rights an issue during the campaign, vowing to protect Polish families from what he calls “LGBT ideology.”

It is believed that some of the American troops could be transferred to Poland, a NATO member on the alliance’s eastern flank. Poland is one of Europe’s most enthusiastically pro-American countries and the visit could give Duda a boost as he seeks re-election.

Duda has made LGBT rights an issue during the campaign, vowing to protect Polish families from what he calls “LGBT ideology.” He recently called the LGBT rights movement an ideology more dangerous than communism.

Public television in Poland, which is controlled by the populist Law and Justice ruling party that backs Duda, has been pushing a similar message about the LGBT rights movement, which many conservatives in mostly Catholic Poland see as a foreign import and a threat to their culture.

Law and Justice embraced the same messages ahead of parliamentary elections that it won last year, while several municipalities in Poland have declared themselves “LGBT free.”

Public television has also been using anti-Semitic tropes in a series of reports meant to undermine Duda’s main presidential rival, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski.

“We are concerned that the White House visit is sending a signal of political support for a candidate whose campaign has engaged in homophobic and antisemitic rhetoric,” said Zselyke Csaky, research director for Europe and Eurasia at Freedom House. a U.S.-based organization. “The scapegoating of minority groups is a dangerous strategy and should be condemned, not supported by the president of the United States.”

An LGBT Washington-based rights group, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, also said it condemns Duda’s visit so close to Sunday’s election.

It said Duda’s use of anti-LGBT rhetoric is “vile, manipulative and dangerous,” and that Trump was showing he is “no friend” to the gay rights community.

U.S. Congressman Eliot Engel, a Democrat who is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the U.S. president’s invitation to Duda an example of Trump’s “infatuation with leaders who have demonstrated autocratic tendencies.”

“President Duda and his party promote horrifying homophobic and anti-LGBTQ stereotypes and policies that run counter to the human rights and values that America should strive to uphold,” Eliot said in a statement last week.

Duda is the front-runner in a field of 11 candidates, but his support has been falling lately as the coronavirus pandemic has hit Poland’s economy.

Polls predict he will win about 40% of the votes, below a 50% threshold for outright victory. That would trigger a runoff on July 12, which is likely to pit him against Trzaskowski, who has been gaining in popularity. Polls show them tied for support in a second round.