By Marcin Goclowski and Joanna Plucinska
WARSAW, July 31 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Twitter users have expressed support for gay rights in Poland as part of the #jestemLGBT campaign, aimed at fighting discrimination and homophobia in a country where the ruling party is strongly socially conservative.
The #jestemLGBT (I am LGBT) campaign, was launched earlier this week by Twitter users.
Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has made its opposition to LGBT rights a campaign issue ahead of a parliamentary election expected in October, with some officials connecting gays and public displays of sexuality to paedophilia.
"We're against the affirmation of LGBT ideology and the aggressiveness of this ideology which attacks our basic national and Catholic family values," a PiS lawmaker, Janusz Szewczak, told Reuters.
Critics say PiS has fanned intolerance in the country. Earlier this month an equality march in the eastern city of Bialystok was marred by violence and attacks on those taking part.
A conservative magazine distributed "LGBT-free zone" stickers last week, while a number of towns have declared in recent months that they are going "LGBT-free".
Filip Pawlak, a 25-year-old freelance theatre consultant, said he took part in the #jestemLGBT campaign to show that LGBT people like him are not paedophiles or a threat to Poland.
PROUD TO BE GAY AND POLISH
He called the violence in Bialystok a pivotal point in the history of Poland's gay community, as it spurred LGBT people to fight more strongly for their rights.
"I am a patriot, I am proud that I am a Pole and I also want to be proud of the fact that I am a gay Pole ... we want to show that we are simply people."
According to an opinion poll by state pollster CBOS released in April, almost a quarter of citizens of the former Communist country think homosexuality is not normal and cannot be accepted, while 54% think it should be tolerated.
Psychology associate professor at the University of Warsaw Michal Bilewicz said the hashtag showed the bravery of the LGBT community, as it marked a "mass coming out in Poland at the same time as the right is carrying out a homophobic campaign".
The European Commission expressed its support for the campaign, with its @EU_Justice account tweeting: "#JestemLGBT! We support LGBTI rights in Poland, in all EU countries and worldwide #EU4LGBTI!"
Since coming to power in 2015, the eurosceptic PiS has clashed with the EU over its adherence to rule of law as well logging, migration and climate change policies.
(Additional reporting by Angelika Mieczkowska Editing by Frances Kerry)
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