By Hugo Greenhalgh
LONDON, Aug 14 (Openly) - Poland warned on Friday it could mount a legal challenge to the European Union's decision to withhold funding to towns accused of setting up so-called LGBT-free zones, in an escalation of a growing row over the issue.
LGBT+ rights have become a divisive issue in Poland, whose ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) says their promotion undermines traditional values.
President Andrzej Duda won re-election last month having pledged to ban same-sex adoption and school lessons that included discussions about sexuality or gender identity.
That has led to tensions with the EU, which last month rejected six town twinning applications from Polish authorities that passed motions rejecting what they call "LGBT ideology" or defending traditional family values.
Under the terms of the Europe for Citizens programme, EU towns can apply for grants of up to 25,000 euros ($29,600) as part of a Europe-wide twinning project.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki had asked the European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli to clarify the decision, the government said in a statement.
"Depending on the clarifications received, the government reserves the right to take further steps, including an appeal to the European Court of Justice," it said.
Dalli's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last month, Dalli tweeted that "EU values and fundamental rights must be respected by Member States and state authorities" as she announced the funding decision.
In its statement, the government said there was "no public policy or regulation restricting the civil rights of people with different sexual orientation in Poland", an assertion dismissed by LGBT+ activists in the country.
"The Polish government is playing the fool and is becoming the laughing stock of Europe for portraying itself as the victim rather than the perpetrator," Bartosz Staszewski, a board member of the Lublin Pride Association, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Hubert Sobecki, co-president of the Love Does Not Exclude Association, accused the Polish government of a "misguiding" narrative on LGBT+ issues.
"We have never heard any explanation of the supposed danger which our rights, well-being or sheer existence apparently pose when it comes to 'traditional family values'," he said.
About 100 municipalities across rural Poland have adopted "LGBT-free zones", leading the European Commission to signal it might curb aid to areas that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
"LGBT people in Poland need as much support as they can get within and beyond Poland's border," said Alan Wardle, director of the Global Equality Caucus, a network of LGBT-supporting parliamentarians from around the world.
"That's absolutely vital if the Polish government does decide to ratchet this up. (It's important) to keep a spotlight on them and their actions, so the world is aware of what's going on."
($1 = 0.8452 euros)
(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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