WARSAW (Reuters Life!) - A gay rights group urged the Polish government on Wednesday to withdraw a book authorized for use in secondary schools that it says portrays homosexuality as an illness that can be cured.
The 'Association for Diversity' said the textbook, one of two authorized recently for use in family and sexual education classes, limits itself to a narrow, traditional view of homosexuality espoused by Poland's powerful Catholic Church.
The education ministry shrugged off the complaint, saying textbooks were approved on the advice of experts and individual teachers were free to choose which ones they used.
"(The book) remains silent on the problems of homophobia and discrimination and presents the theory that homosexuality is something one can reject and that one can return to 'normality'," 'Diversity' spokesman Przemek Szczeplocki said.
"This kind of attitude deepens the lack of acceptance for gays, lesbians and bisexuals and perpetuates a belief that some sexual orientations are weird, and this is hurtful," he said.
A previous edition of the book had gone further by putting homosexuality on a par with incest and pedophilia, he added.
"This latest edition is more subtle but this is just as dangerous as it can seem less outrageous and more convincing to students," said Szczeplocki.
Reuters was unable to obtain a copy or excerpts of the book in question. Szczeplocki said the second newly-authorized textbook on the same subject was in line with more tolerant views enshrined in the Polish constitution and the European Court of Human Rights.
Poland, which joined the European Union in 2004, remains one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in Europe, but surveys suggest Poles are becoming more liberal on issues such as homosexuality and larger cities are home to increasingly open, self-confident gay and lesbian communities.
This summer, Warsaw attracted gays and lesbians from across Europe to attend Euro-Pride, an annual celebration of gay and lesbian culture, and avoided the kind of violent clashes with police or far-right groups that have marred similar events in Russia and some other countries.
An education ministry spokesman confirmed that the government had authorized two new textbooks on sexual education for use in schools but said it was not responsible for the books' contents, provided they met course requirements.
"Teachers select the textbook they want to use and are also free to decide how the lessons are prepared," said Grzegorz Zurawski, adding the gay rights group would be better served if it addressed its concerns to teachers and the book's publishers.
"We tell our experts to pay particular attention to any racial, sexual or religious discrimination before approving a textbook and in this case they found no such issues."
"We can't withdraw a book simply because a group of people disagree with the theories expounded by the scholars who wrote it," Zurawski said.
Writing by Gareth Jones, editing by Noah Barkin