LGBT groups criticize Trump for hosting Polish president

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File -- In this Thursday, July 6, 2017 file photo U.S. President Donald Trump, left, and Poland's President Andrzej Duda, leave at the end of a joint press conference, in Warsaw, Poland. Trump and Duda will meet at the White House on June 24, four days ahead of a presidential election in Poland in which Duda, a conservative, is seeking reelection. The meeting is expected to give Duda a boost, and is seen by some as election interference. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski/file)

WARSAW – 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 Poland's president at the White House days before his visitor faces a tougher than expected fight for reelection.

Trump is scheduled to meet Polish President Andrzej Duda on Wednesday, four days before the first round of Poland's presidential election. The visit, announced last week after Trump said he planned to remove thousands of U.S. troops from Germany, is expected to include discussions on defense and economic issues.

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 a second 5-year term.

The Polish president has recently attracted international attention by making LGBT rights an issue during the presidential campaign. He vowed 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 ruling Law and Justice ruling party that backs Duda, has pushed 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.

The populist Law and Justice embraced the same messages crticial of the LGBT rights movement before the parliamentary election it won last year. 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.”

The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights advocacy group in Washington, also criticized Duda visiting the White House 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 Trump'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.

One of Duda's challengers in the presidential race, nonaligned Szymon Holownia said Duda must see his visit to Washington as a potential “game changer” in the race if he is suspending campaigning to go there during the crucial week before the election.

He said he saw it as nothing more than a “propaganda event.”

Before taking off for Washington from Krakow on Tuesday, Duda said his fifth meeting with Trump would focus on “fundamental” issues such as Poland’s military and energy security, telecommunications and cyber-security and economic cooperation.

Duda, who is seeking a second 5-year term as president, pointed to Microsoft’s announcement last month of a planned $1 billion investment for a data processing center in Poland as an example of growing cooperation in the IT sector.