Grindr’s U.S. security review disclosures contradicted statements made to others

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When Grindr Inc’s Chinese owner sold the popular dating app to an investor consortium last year to comply with a U.S. national security panel order, the parties to the deal gave information to authorities that contradicted disclosures to potential investors and Chinese regulators, Reuters has learned.

They told the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) that James Lu, a Chinese-American businessman who is now Grindr’s chairman, had no previous business relationship with a key adviser to the seller, a man named Ding’an Fei, according to a Reuters review of the parties’ written submissions to CFIUS.

Fei, a former private equity executive, was acting as an adviser to Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd, Grindr’s owner at the time, on the deal, the documents show.

“The investors and Ding’an Fei have at no time conducted business together in their personal capacities prior to the proposed transaction,” Kunlun and the investor group, called San Vicente Holdings LLC, wrote to CFIUS in a response dated March 27, 2020.

However, when Lu was raising funds to buy Grindr in the second half of 2019 and early 2020, potential investors were told by firms helping him raise the money that Fei was involved in the effort with him in various capacities, a review of four different fundraising documents shows.

The duo had also done business together in other ventures: Fei was a member of the board of a Chinese restaurant operator in which Lu served as chief executive officer, according to that restaurant company’s 2018-2019 annual report.

The discrepancies and omissions in the parties’ response to U.S. authorities, reported by Reuters for the first time, could prompt a new review from CFIUS, according to six former U.S. officials and lawyers familiar with the panel’s rules. If CFIUS were to find the statements were not true, it can also lead to civil penalties and criminal charges under the false statement provisions of the U.S. penal code, they said.

“If a transaction was approved based on misrepresentations, that could well invalidate the approval of the transaction,” said Brent McIntosh, who served as the Treasury Under Secretary responsible for CFIUS when the Grindr deal was cleared. McIntosh declined to comment on the specifics of Reuters’ findings.

San Vicente spokesman Taylor Ingraham said that “a complete and accurate account of James Lu’s relationship with Ding’an Fei, as well as his investments and business activities in China, was provided to CFIUS prior to the agency’s approval of San Vicente Holdings’ acquisition of Grindr.”

Ingraham declined to make Lu, who owns a 17% stake in the buyer’s group, available for an interview. Lu, Fei, Kunlun and Grindr did not respond to emailed requests for comment.

CFIUS and the U.S. Treasury Department, which chairs CFIUS, did not respond to requests for comment.

CHINA DEALINGS

The documents reviewed by Reuters include a resume for Lu that was put together by the parties in support of the CFIUS application. While the resume lists positions going back to 2002, it does not mention some of his business dealings in China. In particular, Chinese regulatory filings show Lu is chairman of a Chinese investment firm, where a local government is the majority shareholder.

Scott Flicker, a regulatory partner at law firm Paul Hastings LLP who was not involved in the Grindr case and reviewed Reuters’ findings, said CFIUS would want to know about Lu’s business dealings in China when assessing whether his past could be used by Beijing to compromise him.

“It is potentially relevant information for the CFIUS review. The integrity of the acquiring party is relevant to the question of threat of exploitation,” Flicker said.

However, some lawyers played down the possibility that CFIUS would reopen its review. They noted that there is no publicly known precedent of the panel ever having done so. Were CFIUS to identify misstatements in a review, it would likely take action only if they significantly raised the risk of a transaction harming national security, said Alexis Early, a regulatory partner at law firm King & Spalding LLP who was not involved in the Grindr deal.

Reuters could not determine whether San Vicente and Kunlun disclosed those activities to CFIUS subsequently.

Reuters first reported about the ties between Lu and Fei in June of last year, after CFIUS had already approved the sale of Grindr to San Vicente for $620 million. Reuters could not determine whether CFIUS had taken any action following that Reuters report.

Since then, Reuters has reviewed three sets of confidential written questions that CFIUS sent to the parties, their responses to them and several supporting documents. Reuters could not determine whether CFIUS knew of the specific discrepancies reported in this article when it approved the deal last year.

Ingraham did not comment on whether there were any additional communications with CFIUS beyond the set of questions and answers seen by Reuters.

GRINDR SALE

Based in West Hollywood, California, Grindr is especially popular among gay men and has millions of users. CFIUS ordered Kunlun, a Chinese mobile gaming company, in May 2019 to sell Grindr, giving it about a year to complete the deal. The move was among a series of actions the United States took in recent years against Chinese companies.

Reuters previously reported that Kunlun was ordered to divest Grindr because U.S. authorities worried personal information about Americans could fall into Beijing’s hands. here

Lu started raising money from outside investors for the Grindr acquisition in the months after the CFIUS order, according to the fundraising documents and the responses to CFIUS. Lu first sought money for the acquisition through a fund called Duo Capital, and later an entity called TGL Capital.

In the fundraising documents, Fei is named as associated with the funds in various ways, including as a contact person for Duo Capital, a member of the external advisory team of Duo Capital and as a co-leader of TGL Capital. Reuters could not learn more about his role or independently verify the information.

The ties between Fei and Lu came to CFIUS’ attention during the review. In the third set of questions, CFIUS asked, “Is Mr. Ding An Fei of TGL Capital (formerly known as Duo Capital) the same Dingan Fei” who is listed as “an individual who should receive notices on behalf of Beijing Kunlun Tech Co Ltd?”

In their March 27, 2020 response, the parties denied any ties. “Neither Ding’an Fei nor anyone else employed by or representing Kunlun has ever held a position with TGL Capital, Duo Capital, or San Vicente,” they wrote.

Lu did not respond to questions about Duo and TGL.

San Vicente and Kunlun also told CFIUS in their March 27, 2020 response to questions about the relationship between Fei and the San Vicente investors that Lu knew Fei “because they have each held positions in the investment community working on Asia-U.S. transactions.”

However, Fei sat on the board of restaurant operator Life Concepts Holding, in which Lu served as CEO, according to the company’s annual report. Fei stood down from Life Concepts’ board in April 2020, amid the CFIUS review, without disclosing a reason, according to a Life Concepts filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange.

Life Concept, based in Hong Kong, did not respond to a request for comment.

EU declared ‘LGBT freedom zone’ in response to Poland’s ‘LGBT-free zones’

The European Parliament has declared that the whole of the European Union is an “LGBTIQ Freedom Zone”. 

The symbolic resolution was passed in response to local authorities in Poland labelling themselves “LGBT ideology-free zones” in recent years.

Poland also plans to close a loophole that allowed same-sex couples to adopt.

The Polish government announced its proposal for the adoption ban just hours before the European Parliament’s declaration in support of LGBT rights.

Same-sex relationships are not legally recognised in Poland, and the country already bans same-sex couples from adopting children together.

However, as single people are permitted to adopt, some have managed to get around the ban by applying to adopt as single parents.

Under the new law, the authorities will be required to perform background checks on anyone applying to adopt a child as a single parent.

If a person is found to be applying as a single parent when they are in a same-sex relationship, they will be criminally liable.

Announcing the new plan, Deputy Justice Minister Michal Wojcik said: “We are preparing a change where… people living in cohabitation with a person of the same sex cannot adopt a child, so a homosexual couple will not be able to adopt a child.”

What is in the EU resolution?

The resolution declares that “LGBTIQ persons everywhere in the EU should enjoy the freedom to live and publicly show their sexual orientation and gender identity without fear of intolerance, discrimination or persecution”. 

It adds that “authorities at all levels of governance across the EU should protect and promote equality and the fundamental rights of all, including LGBTIQ persons”.

The resolution was supported by 492 MEPs, while another 141 voted against it and 46 abstained.

German MEP Terry Reintke, one of the people who put forward the resolution, praised the “overwhelming majority” in favour of it.

“Let’s use it,” she tweeted after the vote. “Let’s put it into concrete political action: better laws, better enforcement, better protection. Together we can do it.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had already backed the resolution before it went to a debate on Thursday.

“Being yourself is not an ideology. It’s your identity,” she tweeted on Wednesday. “No one can ever take it away. The EU is your home. The EU is a #LGBTIQFreedomZone.”

Last year, Ms von der Leyen said that Poland’s “LGBT-free zones” had “no place in our union”, and vowed to push all EU member states to recognise adoptions by same-sex couples.

Thursday’s resolution said that discrimination not only needed to be addressed in Poland, but that it was “an issue across the EU”.

Source: BBC

Jess Glynne apologises for using transphobic slur on podcast

Jess Glynne has apologised for using an “unacceptable” transphobic slur in an interview.

The singer appeared on comedian Mo Gilligan’s podcast last week, and told a story about visiting a transgender strip club.

The punchline of the story was about someone feeling uncomfortable around people in the venue.

Jess wrote on Instagram she is “wholeheartedly sorry” after a clip was posted online and heavily criticised.

“The way it’s such an outdated term being used by someone within the LGBT community is a massive shame,” said one user.

View original tweet on Twitter

“I want to address my appearance on the @mothecomedian podcast, when a story I told caused massive and righteous offence,” she wrote.

“Firstly, I want to say that I am wholeheartedly sorry”.

She continued: “I know that in this case, sorry is not nearly enough, throughout my life I have made a lot of mistakes and what I have come to know is that the only benefit to making one is to learn from it. 

The word Jess used in her interview is among the most commonly used slurs against trans people online – according to a recent study.

“To be in the knowledge that I have negatively impacted the community through my own ignorance has ripped out a piece of my heart.” she explained.

“I know I needed to address my mistake head on and educate myself about an issue I was frankly ignorant of. 

“The language that I used on the podcast was unacceptable, as someone that has always been immersed in the LGBTQ+ community, I have witnessed first hand the progress that has been made when it comes to language, I am ashamed that I was unaware of the potency of the T-slur until now.”

The singer then shared a list of organisations we she said her followers could “learn from”. 

Organisers of London Trans Pride say the singer “still has a lot of work to do”, but called her apology “a step in the right direction”.

Newsbeat asked Mo Gilligan for comment, but he hasn’t responded.

‘When are you getting married?’

Be “softer” and “more humble”, a work client told happily single Tulanana

The pressure to marry is something many people know only too well.

“It’s coming from family, friends, people you work with, people you go to church with – and It can be quite intrusive,” says 27-year-old lawyer Ebunoluwa Tengbe.

Colleagues in her office in Freetown often tell her she spends too much time working and should be out meeting people instead.

“I am happy – I don’t feel incomplete, until those questions start coming up so often that you start to doubt yourself,” says the young Sierra Leonean.

It’s a similar story in Tanzania, says journalist and media entrepreneur Tulanana Bohela.

On one occasion after a workshop, a client questioned why Ms Bohela wasn’t married and suggested she become “softer” and “more humble” to bag a husband.

“I’m one of very few cousins or family members to have not moved from my father’s house to another man’s house,” she tells The Comb.

Instead the 33-year-old lives alone, which she says raises eyebrows in her “conservative” country. She’ll often tell people she lives with her brother to put them at ease.

Source: The Comb (BBC)

Can online sex build intimacy?

Social isolation has also meant sexual isolation for people keen to explore physical intimacy. Is virtual sex enough – or do we need to be touched?

About three months into lockdown in the UK, 26-year-old student Emma signed into a Zoom meeting with a group of people she’d only ever met through online chats. Organised by Killing Kittens, a company that, pre-Covid-19, hosted in-person sex parties with an emphasis on women’s empowerment, the “virtual house party” kicked off with drinking games. It was unlike anything she’d ever attended.

“We played ‘Never Have I Ever’,” she says, “and [the organisers] asked us questions like, ‘Which celebrity would you most like to see at a Killing Kittens party?’.” It got attendees talking about their fantasies and preferences – a smooth segue into the less structured part of the evening, during which some participants “removed clothing”, says Emma. “It was just a really good, quite sexy interaction with other people.”

It was the kind of connection Emma had been craving. With her one housemate staying with family, and having lost her job in March, Emma has spent much of the pandemic physically isolated. “There were points at which it got quite lonely,” she says.

Though she’d attended sex parties in the past, Emma had only just joined Killing Kittens in November 2019. “I was a little nervous to get properly involved,” she says, and when the pandemic hit, she worried she’d missed her chance. Instead, she joined one of Killing Kittens’s singles chat groups and started making close friends, which made her feel comfortable enough to try a virtual party on for size.

During the pandemic, social isolation has also meant sexual isolation for both individuals and couples hoping to explore physical intimacy. While recreating the tactile experience of sex online isn’t straightforward, virtual experiences – from dirty-talk Zoom workshops to sex parties like the one Emma attended – have helped fill the intimacy-shaped void felt by so many. To a certain extent, at least. For attendees and organisers, online sexual encounters can ‘mimic’ in-person experiences and offer much-need psychological relief, but there’s no direct replacement for physical touch.

As they meet new people and date, many singles have acknowledged that 'digital intimacy' is important during the pandemic (Credit: Alamy)
As they meet new people and date, many singles have acknowledged that ‘digital intimacy’ is important during the pandemic (Credit: Alamy)

However, beyond just acting as a stand-in for sex during the pandemic, these virtual experiences may also be showing us what’s important in intimacy writ large – both while we’re in isolation and once we can touch each other again.

Discovering digital intimacy

Almost a year into the pandemic, many have found ways to date and form relationships online. Dating apps such as Bumble now let users indicate “virtual only” or “socially distanced” dating preferences. According to a Bumble representative, in-app video calls were up by 42% in May 2020 compared to pre-lockdown March.

But replicating a first date via video chat is a far cry from recreating sexual experiences over the web. Key elements – physical touch most prominently – don’t have a straightforward, online substitute.

Still, people are getting virtually intimate. In October, hard-seltzer company Basic surveyed 2,000 single under 35-year-olds in the US, and found that 58% had had virtual sex during the pandemic. Of those, 77% did so with someone they’d never had sex with in person. Per a Bumble survey of 5,000 UK singles, 32% said “digital intimacy” was important in a relationship “both during lockdown and when measures lifted”.

There’s a big sexual gratification in being able to watch and be watched – Emma

For Emma and others who’ve dabbled in online sexual encounters in the past year, things like virtual sex parties, educational Zoom workshops, remotely controlled sex toys and simply engaging in sex-positive communities have proven to be both sexually fulfilling and antidotes to physical intimacy. “There’s a big sexual gratification in being able to watch and be watched,” says Emma, who describes herself as an “exhibitionist”.

Plus, watching real couples have sex is different from watching pornography. It’s personal – and the connections Emma’s made in these sex-positive spaces are, too. She and other single attendees have formed “tight bonds”, she says, “because we’ve all shared this experience on a very similar level”.

In London, David runs the brick-and-mortar adult lifestyle club Le Boudoir. In October, when he started hosting virtual sex parties with other London lifestyle clubs such as Purple Mamba, he noticed first-time attendees behaving like they would in physical spaces. Instead of huddling in the corner, they’re initially hesitant to virtually chat with others, but “you can literally see them warm throughout the evening”, says David.

Like Killing Kittens, these events start with icebreakers and performances (i.e., erotic dancers), which help get people in the mood. The progression of the parties looks a lot like it would in real life. “That’s technology mimicking real life,” he adds.

Along with individuals, some couples are also exploring outlets for online sexual interaction (Credit: Alamy)
Along with individuals, some couples are also exploring outlets for online sexual interaction (Credit: Alamy)

The element of safety

The online nature of these events also expands attendee demographics, so they span more locations, age ranges and experience levels.

People attend Boudoir and Purple Mamba’s events from Israel, South Korea, Australia and the US. A party that starts on Saturday evening, UK time can roll into evening on the US’s East Coast and across America. Sayle has also noticed virtual events attracting younger attendees – not only because they’re more online and “that’s how they communicate”, says Sayle, but also because online events remove the financial barrier to showing up at a physical party. Online Killing Kittens parties cost £20 ($27), while in-person ones can cost £350 ($480).

Emma, who doesn’t live in a major city, likes that she doesn’t have to spend money on travelling to an event in London, which would include putting up for a hotel, meals and new clothes. “As a student, that’s quite nice,” she says.

Boudoir and Purple Mamba’s virtual sex parties now attract around 150 attendees on a given Saturday. About half are first timers. Sayle sees a similar split at Killing Kittens’ events. “A lot of [attendees] are totally new people who would never have thought about [attending a sex party] before,” says Sayle. There’s a “safety element” to showing up via video chat, she adds: “You can close the screen at any point.”

That’s exactly what made UK-based couple Matt, 31, and Emily, 29, feel comfortable about going to their first-ever sex party during the pandemic, with Boudoir and Purple Mamba, online. “You’re in your own house,” says Matt. “It’s the safety of it.” Though they would have likely gone to an in-person event eventually, “it would have taken longer,” says Emily.

Just because you’re separated by distance doesn’t mean the activity you’re doing… is somehow less than if it was in person – Megan Stubbs

So far, the online events have let them explore their sexuality and relationship. Everyone’s “different styles” come through, says Matt, which creates a real, shared experience with another couple – one they didn’t think they’d want to experience before the pandemic. They’ve since changed their minds. Virtual encounters have also helped Matt and Emily put language to their desires. Because they’ve had to clearly communicate with others remotely, they’ve learned certain terms that describe their preferences.

This fits with a trend Michigan-based sexologist Megan Stubbs has observed. “I see more avenues of communication being open. People are talking more and getting more specific about their needs.” Distance necessitates this. When you’re not in the same room as your sex partner(s), you can’t rely on body language and subtle cues. But, she adds, “Just because you’re separated by distance doesn’t mean the activity you’re doing… is somehow less than if it was in person.”

‘Touch deprivation’

Still, experts and people having virtual sex agree nothing can completely substitute for physical touch. As Sayle puts it, “You can’t recreate an orgy online.”

Virtual boudoir parties have drawn groups from around the world and across different demographics (Credit: Alamy)
Virtual boudoir parties have drawn groups from around the world and across different demographics (Credit: Alamy)

This is, in part, because of the cellular processes that take place when a person is touched. Tiffany Field, who heads the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, explains that “moderate pressure touch” stimulates pressure receptors under the skin. “That sets off a chain reaction,” she says, that slows the nervous system. “The heart rate slows down, blood pressure slows, and brainwaves change in the direction of theta, which is a relaxation state.”

Levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that kills immune cells, also decrease when we’re touched, while natural killer cells (which kill bacteria, viral and cancer cells) increase, according to Field’s research, which specifically examines massage therapy. “It’s ironic, during this time when there’s a lot of touch deprivation going on,” she says, “that we don’t have the protection of the natural killer cells killing the viral cells.”

Based on her research of “moderate pressure touch,” Field says people living alone can still help stave off touch deprivation through “self-touch”. That even includes simple activities such as stretching and walking, which stimulate pressure receptors on the bottoms of our feet. Engaging in virtual sex surely falls into that category, if participants are willing to get active.

A deeper appreciation

Of these online-sexual-experience organisers and participants, all say they’ll likely continue with virtual experiences even when it’s safe to mingle with strangers. Digital intimacy offers something unique – the ability to stay at home but still engage in a fulfilling activity, with a geographically wider array of people, for minimal or zero cost.

In-person events, though, will likely boom. “Thousands of years of history of what happens post-pandemics and post-war show that people start shagging,” says Sayle. “It’s going to happen.”

The pandemic could also have another effect – it may make us all realise how touch-deprived we were to begin with. Before Covid-19, touch expert Field and colleagues were conducting a study in which they observed how much people were touching one another at airport departure gates. People were touching, says Field, only 4% of the time. Sixty-eight percent of the time, they were on their phones. Online platforms and social media were driving us physically apart pre-pandemic. Now, they’re facilitating people being together.

“I think what Covid has done has exacerbated [touch deprivation],” says Field. “Maybe [people] are beginning to appreciate that they’re missing the touch they did have.”

By: By Jessica Klein – BBC

Orgasm!!! The wicked adrenaline in man

Look, we all wanna know how to have an orgasm that blows our freakin’ minds, every time. But unfortunately, it’s not always that easy.

Research shows that only about half of women consistently have a happy ending during partnered play and 9 percent have never-ever orgasmed during intercourse. (Worth mentioning: The percentage of pleasure-seekers who do consistently O during sex is significantlyyyyy higher for women in same-sex relationships).

Not to worry. Here, sex experts explain everything you need to know to have an orgasm, whether you’re trying to ring the bell for the first time or take your big O to another level of pleasure.

What’s an orgasm, exactly?

Let’s start with a definition, shall we? An orgasm is “a feeling of intense pleasure that happens during sexual activity,” according to the National Health Services.

But Taylor Sparks, erotic educator and founder of Organic Loven, the largest BIPOC-owned online intimacy shop says the definition is even broader than that! After all, orgasms can happen *outside of* sexual activity (looking at you, coregasms). Orgasms, she says, are simply an involuntary release of tension.

“For vagina-owners, orgasm typically feels like a period of tension where your heart beats faster, breath hitches, and muscles tighten followed by a release of that tension,” she explains. “Often, people will even have what feels like a rhythmic pulsing in and around their genitals.”

While orgasms vary in intensity, Searah Deysach, longtime sex educator and owner of Early to Bed, says that “for the most part, you’ll know when you’ve had an orgasm.”

Different kinds of orgasms:

“Stimulating different parts of the body can result in orgasms that feel different from one another,” Deysach explains. Each is named for the body-part that needs to be stimulated in order for them to occur, including

  • Clitoral orgasm: The clitoris is the small, nerve-dense bud at the apex of the labia that serves no function other than to provide sexual pleasure (!). When orgasm happens as a result of clitoral stimulation—be it from your partner’s hands or tongue, or a clitoral vibrator—it’s called a clitoral orgasm! FYI: This is the most common type of orgasm for women, says sex therapist Ian Kerner, PhD, author of She Comes First.
  • Vaginal orgasm: A previous Women’s Health survey found that a substantial 37 percent of vagina-havers can orgasm from penetration of the vaginal canal alone. That’s a vaginal O!
  • Cervical orgasm: Your cervix is the vaginal canal’s anatomical stopping sign. Located at the wayyy back of the vaginal canal, the cervix is what separates the vagina from your reproductive organs. But beyond just what keeps tampons from traveling into your bod (#bless), the cervix can also bring on some serious pleasure when stimulated.
  • G-spot orgasm: Often described as feeling more full-bodied than clitoral orgasms, G-spot orgasms occur from stimulation from the G-spot, a nerve-packed patch of sponge located 2 (ish) inches inside the vaginal canal.
  • Nipple orgasm: A nipple orgasm is “a pleasurable release of sexual arousal, centered on nipple stimulation and not caused by stimulating the clitoris [or penis] directly,” as Janet Brito, PhD, a sexologist and clinical psychologist in Honolulu previously told Women’s Health.
  • Anal orgasm: For some, this means stimulation of just the external anus (for instance, during rimming). And for others, it means stimulation of the internal anal canal (for instance, with anal beads, a penis, or finger).
  • Blended orgasm: Any orgasm that comes from stimulating two or more body parts. Nipples + anus= blended orgasm! Clit + vagina? Also a blended orgasm.

Important: The goal in differentiating the many types of orgasms *isn’t* to create an orgasm hierarchy (lol). The goal, Deysach says, is to encourage people to experiment with their bodies to discover what feels best for them. Noted!

“If you can get off from nipple stimulation alone, that’s great,” she says. “If you need vaginal, clitoral, and anal stimulation all at once to have an orgasm, that’s awesome too.” Every human body is unique and will respond differently to sensation. “So keep an open mind, find what you like, and go with it,” she says. “After all, an orgasm is an orgasm is an orgasm.” True that.

How to have an orgasm:

Achieving consistent, mind-blowing orgasms is kind of like winning the lottery. Sounds amazing, but basically a pipe dream, right? With these little tricks, it doesn’t have to be.

1. Prioritize cuddling.

In the name of boosted oxytocin, rather than saving spooning for after sex, spend some time snuggling up pre-play.

Known as the “love hormone,” oxytocin might be the key to better orgasms, according to a study in the journal Hormones and Behavior. The study found that couples who received oxytocin in a nasal spray had more intense orgasms than couples who took a placebo.

Since you probably don’t have oxytocin nasal spray on your nightstand (lol), try giving yourself the same jolt of the hormone naturally by hugging, cuddling, or making other gestures to show your love to your partner. Your post-cuddle O will surprise you.

2. Don’t skip right to penetration!

According to Kerner having an orgasm requires a few key ingredients.

  1. Vasocongestion (i.e. blood flow to your pelvis)
  2. Myotonia (muscular tension throughout your body)
  3. The brain’s natural opiate system being turned on (because it triggers oxytocin)

The best way to get these ingredients? “Gradual[ly] building up arousal rather than a race to orgasm,” he says. In other words, slow down. Trust, the end result will be worth the wait.

3. Focus on the clitoris.

Jennifer Wider, MD, suggests focusing on sex positions that directly stimulate the clitoris during penetrative sex. “That can provide a consistent orgasm in the majority of [vagina-havers],” she says. Try rider-on-top, which allows you to grind your clit against your partner, or rear entry, with you or your partner stimulating your clitoris.

Another option: Stick to your fave sex positions, but get your clit in on the action with the help of a clitoral vibe. Or, take matters into your own hands by bringing your digits downstairs.

4. Use a vibrator.

Vibrators are literally made to help you orgasm, after all. “Vibrators increase the frequency and intensity of orgasms—whether you’re alone or with a partner,” says Jess O’Reilly, PhD, host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast. She suggests starting with a vibrator that will target your clitoris, G-spot, or both. A few to get you started.

15 Clit Vibrators That’ll Make You Come In Minutes

Ultimately, though, the type of vibrator you try will depend on the type of stimulation you enjoy—and the type of orgasm you’re interested in exploring. A vibrating butt plug or string of vibrating anal beads will bring whole of “oh baby!” to your backside. While vibrating nipple clamps will make you tingle and giggle without any between-the-leg lovin’.

5. Think about your cycle.

If you feel like your orgasms have been meh or not even there lately, consider trying to time sex around your cycle. Generally, your libido peaks during ovulation— that’s about two weeks before your period shows up—so the chances of having an orgasm will go up during this time period, Wider says.

FYI: This is especially important if you’re exploring cervical orgasms. That’s because, as O’Reilly previously told Women’s Health, some people are more likely to have cervical orgasms during ovulation. If having your cervix touched feels ouchy but you’re still curious, try it during a different time of the month to see if it feels better.

6. Don’t hold back on the lube.

No matter what sexual acts you enjoy, lube is a pretty handy tool to have in the bedroom. It reduces uncomfortable friction and allows you to “safely engage in a wider range of acts, techniques, and positions,” O’Reilly says. Not only that, it also “leads to higher levels of arousal, pleasure, and satisfaction,” she says.

For anal play, so long as you’re not using a silicone-based toy, Deysach recommends a silicone-based lube, which is thicker than water-based ones. For all other acts though, a water-based lube is perf.

Oh, and don’t snooze on lubes’ utility for nipple play. A little dab of lube on your finger can be the difference between hand-on-nipple stimulating feeling irritating and feeling ah-mazing.

7. Whip out a fantasy.

Adding a little psychological stimulation to the equation can help enhance physical stimulation, which is why Kerner recommends fantasizing on your own or with your partner. “Fantasy is also a powerful way to take your mind off other stressors or any other anxieties you may be experiencing,” he says. And, for the record, “it’s okay to fantasize about someone other than the person you’re having sex with,” Kerner says. (Maybe just keep that info to yourself.)

8. Try sensation play.

“The simple act of turning off the lights, closing your eyes, using a blindfold, or wearing sound-canceling headphones can help you to be more mindful and present during sex—and lead to bigger, stronger orgasms,” O’Reilly says. “This is because the deprivation of one sense can heighten another, so when you remove your sense of sight or sound, you may naturally tune into the physical sensations of the sexual encounter.” Before you tie an old tube sock around your boo’s eyes, just be sure to ask for consent first.

9. Feel yourself up in the shower.

Sure, you shower to get clean, but take a minute or so to embrace your body when you’re in there. “It’s very simple: As you shower, rather than touching to wash yourself, take one minute to touch for sensuality and pleasure,” O’Reilly says. “Feel your skin, take a deep breath, and bask in the heat and warmth that surrounds your body.” This can help you de-stress and get in touch with what feels good to you—and that can do you a solid when you’re in bed later, she says.

10. Forbid orgasm from happening altogether.

“If you’ve struggled with achieving orgasm, you may find yourself in a cycle of being anxious about having an orgasm, which makes having an orgasm even more difficult,” says Deysach. Sighhh. So while it may sound counterintuitive, taking orgasm off the table (er, bed) altogether “can give your brain a rest and allow your body the opportunity to enjoy the sensation without the pressure of feeling like you need to ‘achieve’ orgasm,” she says.

Worth a try, right? As she says, “You never know, maybe not thinking about orgasm will make it easier for you to find your way.”

11. Take an orgasm ‘break.’

On a similar note, “sometimes taking a masturbation and orgasm break for a day or two can be a good ‘refresh,’” Kerner says, noting that people sometimes “report stronger orgasms during masturbation after taking a short break.” If you can, try taking sex or solo love off the table for a day or so and see where that gets you. A simple reset may be just what you need to ramp things up.

LGBT asylum seekers: Call for dedicated housing in Wales

A Moroccan man seeking asylum in the UK over alleged mistreatment due to his sexuality has said he faced homophobic abuse while housed in Wales. 

Abderrahim El Habachi, 28, said he felt “unsafe” living alongside some men from North Africa and the Middle East after he arrived in Cardiff in 2017.

He called for dedicated LGBT housing. 

The Home Office said it required accommodation providers to “take account of any circumstances and vulnerability”.

Mr El Habachi’s application for asylum in the UK and a subsequent appeal have been rejected and a new application is pending.

He said being gay in Morocco was difficult, he felt his life was in danger there, and he was constantly playing a game of “hide and seek” with the police.

“‘Who’s the man and who’s the woman? What’s your girl name?’ – I heard this daily from the Moroccan police,” said Mr El Habachi.

In 2017, he decided to flee Morocco for the UK and ended up in Cardiff, housed with men from a similar culture who he said had the homophobic and transphobic views he had tried to escape.

“I had fled a country that was dangerous for me, because of who I am, and I was put in an environment that felt more dangerous than the situation that I left,” he said. 

He was initially housed in accommodation provided by the National Asylum Support Service.

“I only spent 50 days there, but it felt like a lifetime,” he said, explaining that being placed alongside some men from North Africa and the Middle East with homophobic views created “instability” for him. Mr El Habachi said when he asked about living accommodation for LGBT-asylum seekers and refugees, he was told none existed. 

“I felt so unsafe and vulnerable, I thought I would come here and be able to embrace myself but instead I was feeling very insecure.

“It was as though there was no effort to make LGBT people welcome, the drop-in centres for asylum seekers and refugees weren’t LGBT friendly, they were mainly aimed towards cis men. I was made to feel unwelcome,” he said.

Abderrahim El Habachi dancing
image captionMr El Habachi was told Morocco was a safe country for LGBT people

Mr El Habachi said his interview with the Home Office in relation to his application to remain in the UK was traumatic with lots of “intrusive” questions about his sexuality. 

“This added so much more pressure to the interview. Was I saying the right thing? Was I giving enough detail? From a life in Morocco, where I was pretending to not be gay in order to avoid any issues, I was now having to openly talk about my homosexuality in great detail, something I wasn’t comfortable with,” Mr El Habachi said.

His application was rejected, with Mr El Habachi told Morocco was a safe country for the LGBT community – a conclusion he found unbelievable. 

“I have been persecuted as a gay man in the country, so for them to say I can go back and live openly as a gay man is ridiculous,” he said.

His subsequent appeal against the decision was also rejected.

Homosexuality is illegal in Morocco and victims of abuse and harassment can expect no support from police or the government, human rights groups have said.

Official figures show there were 1,212 asylum applications lodged in the UK in 2019 where sexual orientation formed part of the basis for the claim. 

Over the past three years, the refusal rate for sexuality-based asylum claims increased from 61% to 71%, according to Home Office figures.

Mr El Habachi said he was ready to give up but, with the support from the LGBT community in Wales, he decided to make a new application, which is pending. 

He said his time as an asylum seeker might be “shrinking” and he hoped he would get refugee status but he feared the “nightmares I have of living in persecution, having to hide who I am will become a reality”. 

Charity Stonewall Cymru said many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were forced to flee their countries because they experienced “violence and rejection by their family and society”.

“They come to the UK looking for safety and to lead a life where they are free to be themselves. Sadly, the harrowing experience of this individual shows that the UK has a long way to go before LGBT+ people seeking asylum get the support and protection they deserve,” a spokesperson said. 

Abderrahim El Habachi at a Pride Event
image captionAbderrahim El Habachi arrived in Cardiff after fleeing Morocco in 2017

The Welsh Refugee Council added: “We know that those seeking sanctuary who identify as LGBTQI+ face specific challenges when claiming asylum. We continue to press for safe, secure accommodation for all those seeking asylum in Wales.”

The Home Office said the UK had a “proud record” of providing protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution. 

A spokesman said: “We provide LGBT+ asylum seekers with details for a range of organisations which can provide support from the point of their claim. We also require our accommodation providers to take account of any circumstances and vulnerability, with two of them offering designated accommodation for LGBT+ asylum seekers. 

“Every asylum claim is considered carefully, sensitively and on its individual merits by caseworkers who receive extensive training.”

Lily Allen launches sex toy, encouraging women to talk confidently about pleasure

Lily Allen has teamed up with a German sex toy brand to launch her own sex toy — and start a discussion about female sexuality.

The British singer announced she is partnering with sex tech company Womanizer to release the “Liberty” — a sleek hot pink and orange product retailing at $99 — in an Instagram post on Thursday. How innovative design is reshaping the sex tech industry.

In addition to the release of the vibrator, Allen has been anointed chief liberation officer at Womanizer, and is heading up the company’s #IMasturbate campaign, encouraging women to embrace their sexuality. “Sex toys are still seen as a taboo subject because they are, you know, related to masturbation and female pleasure. I think female pleasure in itself is a taboo subject,” Allen said in a video, adding that the first time she tried sex toys was “groundbreaking.”

“The only way to make taboo subjects no longer taboo is to speak about them openly and frequently and without shame or guilt,” she added.

Lily Allen has joined forces with German sex toy brand Womanizer.
Lily Allen has joined forces with German sex toy brand Womanizer. Credit: WomanizerWomanizer are one of many brands working to revamp the aesthetics of sex toys.

In the past decade, a new crop of sex toy start ups have been working to offer consumers innovative and distinctive designs, and in some cases, challenge taboos around sexuality.

The sleek hot pink and orange product retails at $99.
Credit: WomanizerDevelopers have been experimenting with product design, engineering and branding to create colorful, appealing, and even wearable technology which they hope are both marketable and loved by customers.

The sleek hot pink and orange product retails at $99.

“I hope that this collaboration will lead to people feeling that they can talk more freely about masturbation and if somebody like me can talk openly about it without shame then they might feel inclined to try it out for themselves — a whole new world awaits,” Allen added.

Written by: Amy Woodyatt, CNN

Same sex affair: lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender marriages

In Poland’s ‘LGBT-free zones,’ existing is an act of defiance

Kozy, Poland (CNN) — Karolina Duzniak has lived in the drowsy, tree-dotted Polish village of Kozy for 26 years. But she doesn’t feel herself until she gets into her car each morning, shuts the door and drives away.

“I prefer big cities,” she says, reflecting on her daily journey to work in nearby Bielsko-Biala, an industrial urban sprawl near the border with the Czech Republic. “I come back home and I feel bad. It’s not me.

“All the time I hide something.”

Duzniak is a confident, amicable career coach with a partner of 10 years, but she has good reason to hide one important aspect of her personality. She is gay, and gay people are not welcome in Kozy. An official document reminds them of that.

Last year, the surrounding Bielsko county — which includes Kozy and dozens of other towns and villages, but not Bielsko-Biala — passed a resolution supporting “traditional family values” and rejecting the LGBT community for “undermining the concept of a family model.”

“We encourage young people to start families which are by their essence a natural environment for self-realization,” the text reads. Families “shaped by the centuries-old heritage of Christianity,” and which are “so important for the comprehensive development of our homeland.”

The region is not an exception. In little over a year, hundreds of regions across Poland — covering about a third of the country, and more than 10 million citizens — have transformed themselves, overnight, into so-called “LGBT-free zones.”

Duzniak, left, and Głowacka hope to marry in Poland, but the country currently prohibits any kind of formal same-sex unions.

These areas, where opposition to LGBT “ideology” is symbolically written into law at state and local levels, have put Poland on a collision course with the European Union and forced sister cities, allies and watchdogs across the continent to recoil in condemnation. Local laws have been contested, and some communities that introduced such legislation have seen their EU funding blocked.

But the impact is felt most painfully — and daily — by the gay, lesbian and transgender Poles who live in towns that would prefer they simply weren’t there.

“I’m more stressed. For the first time in my life I’m very, very scared,” Duzniak says, reflecting on the resolution as she walks CNN around her hometown with her girlfriend Ola Głowacka.

Kozy — which translates as “Goats” — claims to be Poland’s most populous village. It is a slumbering place with a neat, well-maintained park, several churches and an 18th century palace that once welcomed local nobility and now serves as a cultural center and library.

But Duzniak tries not to talk about her partner when she’s in her hometown. “People would talk behind our back,” she says. “It’s strange for them. It’s something terrible. It’s unnormal, unnatural. They say that, sometimes.” Things are easier in Bielsko-Biala, where Głowacka lives, and where anti-LGBT intolerance has not been adopted in law.

Instead, the affection between the two is noticeable only in their glances, half-smiles and the engagement that they keep well-hidden when walking through Kozy. While they briefly hug when they meet each other, they would never — ever — hold hands.

“Of course not!” Duzniak says with a dismissive laugh, as if the concept were so outlandish as to not warrant a thought. “It’s not possible here,” adds Głowacka.

Poland is a country still steeped in Catholic custom and fiercely, reflexively defensive of its national tradition. Around nine in 10 Poles identify as Roman Catholics, and about 40%attend Sunday mass weekly.

A family arrives to Sunday mass at a Catholic church in Istebna. Poland is staunchly Catholic, and nearly half of Poles attend church weekly.

Parts of its particularly conservative, rural regions to the southeast have never embraced LGBT people; but now, homophobic rhetoric is uttered by the state and preached in churches, and hostility on the streets is boiling over.

During a reelection campaign partially dominated by the issue earlier this year, incumbent President Andrzej Duda — a staunch ally of US President Donald Trump — warned of an LGBT “ideology” more dangerous to Poland than communism. The governing party’s powerful leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has claimed LGBT people “threaten the Polish state.” Its new education minister said last year that “these people are not equal to normal people.” And last year, Krakow’s archbishop bemoaned that the country was under siege from a “rainbow plague.”

“The church tells (worshippers) we are dangerous,” says Głowacka. The couple say that a few years ago, “people would just ignore us.” But not anymore; the surge of anti-LGBT rhetoric from governing officials has been met by a number of high-profile acts of violence at LGBT events, pro-government media frequently parrots the populist government, and Poland has now become the worst EU country for LGBT people in Europe according to continental watchdog ILGA-Europe.

When a massive EU study earlier this year found that LGBT+ people on the continent generally feel safer than they did five years ago, Poland was the glaring exception; two-thirds of gay, lesbian and transgender Poles said intolerance and acts of violence against them had increased, while four in five said they avoid certain places for fear of being assaulted — the highest rate in Europe.

And last year, a pro-government magazine was met with an angry backlash after handing out “LGBT-free” stickers to readers— allowing them to mimic their lawmakers by proclaiming that their homes, vehicles or businesses welcome only heterosexual people.

“My mum all the time asks me, are you OK? Are you with Ola?” Duzniak says. “All the time, she rings or texts,” worried about her daughter’s safety.

“I love this country. I was born here,” Duzniak says as she wears her engagement ring around Kozy. “It’s very important to me that if we have a wedding, if we get married and she is my wife, that it is respected by the law of this country.”

The couple have avoided the worst, for now. But neither Duzniak or Głowacka, who wear engagement rings despite the fact that same-sex marriage and civil partnerships are illegal in Poland, can avoid the daily stress of being who they are.

“It’s like I’m just less human than the other people,” says Głowacka. “They can hold hands, they have children. Just because they’re like they are, they are better. But why?”

“A lot of people know me,” adds Duzniak, referring to her neighbors in the village of 12,000 people. “I’ll never tell them (that I’m gay),” she says. “But I know that they know.”

‘John Paul II wouldn’t approve’

Homophobia exists not just on many of Poland’s streets, but in the closed-door council meetings where the freedom of LGBT people is debated; and where a visceral, deep-rooted and alarmingly casual sentiment is laid bare.

In Swidnik, a small town near the Ukrainian border, councilors painted gays and lesbians as “radical people striving for a cultural revolution,” accusing them of wishing to “attack freedom of speech (and) the innocence of children.” In Nowa Sarzyna, another eastern town, homosexuality was labelled “contrary to the laws of nature” and a violation of “human dignity.” And in the Lublin province, a sprawling area of eastern Poland home to more than 2 million citizens, LGBT rights campaigners were condemned by local lawmakers for seeking “the annihilation of values shaped by the Catholic church.”

It is from these debates, and amid a relentless eruption of anti-LGBT rhetoric from the country’s populist government and religious leaders, that the local laws emerge.

The country’s pursuit of intolerant, anti-LGBT legislation decorated as a defense of traditional values has also spurred comparisons with Russia, a typically unwelcome connection to draw in Poland; Moscow’s 2013 law banning LGBT “propaganda” relied on many of the same arguments, and fostered a similar global outcry.

But unlike Russia, where the international community has little sway, Poland has been thrust into a battle with Brussels over the legislation. At least six towns have lost EU funding over their adoption of “LGBT-free” bills. In the face of such global condemnation, the ruling Law and Justice Party has furiously rejected the “LGBT-free” characterization; when US presidential candidate Joe Biden condemned the regions last month, one Polish lawmaker retorted angrily that it was an LGBT activist who had used the label, and that he would stand trial for doing so.

The Polish government did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment for this story.

“Nationalism and Catholicism are very connected in Poland,” explains Tomek Zuber, a young gay man living in Czechowice-Dziedzice — a larger town just a few miles from Kozy that also lies within the wider “LGBT-free zone” of Bielsko.

Tomek Zuber sits in the center of Czechowice-Dziedzice. In the past year, he has come out, attended his first Pride parade, and suffered his first experience with homophobia.

At a square in the town center, a statue of Pope John Paul II looks upon the church Zuber used to attend as a schoolboy. The late Pope, an icon who evokes almost sacred adoration among many older Poles, wears a shy smile on his face, his arms outstretched as if he were about to embrace passersby in a hug. The pontiff was born just a few towns to the east, and is revered for giving Poles hope during the era of martial law — but his staunch opposition to homosexuality widened the chasm between many LGBT people and the church.

“His words are used for not giving LGBT people rights,” Zuber says. “‘John Paul II wouldn’t approve,’” he adds, imitating the admonitions of conservative Poles.

Those lessons are learned from an early age. At school in nearby Katowice, Zuber said his principal issued a warning to all students before their final-year prom: “No drinking, no smoking (and) no same-sex dancing.” He and his classmates rallied against the rule and, with the help of some of their parents, got it overturned.

“I had a phase where I was a really Catholic and spiritual person,” Zuber says. “But in the end … the Catholic church doesn’t seem to me like it’s true to most of the teachings they claim to follow.”

A statue of Pope John Paul II greets passersby in Czechowice-Dziedzice.

Zuber’s former church, which he attended as a child and a teenager.

The “LGBT-free zone” he lives in is a regular reminder. “The zones themselves don’t have any legal power, they’re mostly symbolic,” he notes. No signs go up overnight; no businesses become immediately empowered to refuse custom. “(But) it encourages the opposite-minded people to speak out against us, and be more active.”

Just two weeks before meeting with CNN, Zuber said he overheard an elderly lady say she was disgusted by his rainbow tote bag.

“It increases the fear,” he says.

What drives so many regions to adopt a bill that sends fear through many of their residents? “The interest of communities (is) not to protect romantic, emotional relationships, but the relationships that are fruitful,” Nikodem Bernaciak, an attorney whose firm wrote a template for an “LGBT-free” resolution that has since been adopted by dozens of Polish towns, tells CNN in a phone interview. His group, the Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, is despised among many Polish LGBT activists for its prominent role in driving the national backlash against LGBT rights.

A child on a scooter rides past the Bielsko council building, where the resolution to create an “LGBT-free zone” was drawn up.

“Informal relationships are not as strong as marriage, so the state chooses the kind of relationship that is more helpful.”

“The family needs to be protected against all kinds of threats,” Bernaciak says, explaining the basis of his group’s resolution. He argues that its wording is “positive” and does not mention LGBT people specifically, which critics say is merely an attempt to evade legal challenges.

Others, like the Bielsko region, choose instead to write their own resolutions that more directly single out those campaigning for equal rights for LGBT people. The Bielsko council refused multiple requests to comment on their reasoning for passing the bill, telling CNN they do not discuss the resolutions they enact.

But the message to LGBT people in Poland has been clear. “The Polish government used to use immigrants and the migration crisis as their scapegoat,” says Mathias Wasik, director of programs at the New York and London-based LGBT+ monitoring organization All Out — one of many human rights groups watching Poland from abroad. “Now, they’ve found the LGBT+ community as the next scapegoat.”

“The rhetoric they’re hearing from the government, from the pro-government media, from the church — all of that shows them, you don’t belong here.”

People gather at the Katowice Pride event on September 5.

‘He told us we were pedophiles’

For a few hours on one gloriously sunny recent Saturday, the scene in Katowice resembles any other European city.

In the bustling and more liberal southern location, rainbow flags flutter underneath a baby-blue sky. Revelers from the region, including Zuber, have gathered for the city’s third annual Pride parade.

The event hardly rivals events in London, Madrid or Berlin. Authorities estimate 200 people are present — and the crowd is dwarfed by 700 police officers, some in riot gear, who tightly surround the festivities.

But the parade provides comfort. “It gives this feeling of living in a normal city, in a normal country, where we don’t have nationalists wanting us to be gone,” Zuber says, after marching past the school in which he came to terms with his sexuality — and which tried to ban him from dancing with another man.

Zuber marches past his former school, where he says his principal tried to ban same-sex dancing during prom.

Dominika Danska came to the event with her mother, young sister and 11-year-old brother. “We want to show him that LGBT people are normal,” she explains.

Hours earlier, she was on a train with a dozen others, travelling to Pride from “LGBT-free zones” around Bielsko-Biala. As the train approached Katowice, many changed into their Pride attire. Their rainbow socks, flags and T-shirts with slogans emerged from plain bags. Pins were attached. One young couple went to the bathroom to put makeup on, a move that would be unthinkable back at home. Few attendees wanted to risk boarding the carriage in rainbow colors.

But even before arriving at the parade’s starting point, the group was reminded of the daily dangers they face. A car pulled over, and the driver shouted “F**k faggots” out of the window.

It’s the first insult of many. “He told us we were pedophiles. He told me not to smile or he’d take my flag,” Danska says. Moments later, a man walks past, shouting and theatrically pulling his children in the opposite direction as if to protect them from the group. An elderly lady weighs in, telling the group to go away.

From left: Dominika Danska rides the train home from the Pride parade with her mother, Agata; brother, Szymon; and sister, Gosia.

“Two people love each other and they call them pedophiles just because they are different,” Danska’s mother says. “This is hard. It’s hard.”

Pride parades have taken on a tangible tension in Poland since violence at Bialystok last year, where an event was overrun by nationalists throwing rocks and bottles.

“I feel bad in Poland,” says David Kufel, an 18-year-old attendee at the event. “The President says I am not human.

“I have one friend who was kicked out of his home because he was gay. I don’t want to live in this country,” he says. “I just don’t want to have to fight all the time, just when I go out of my house.”

People watch from balconies as the Pride parade moves through Katowice.

David Kufel wears his rainbow socks to the Katowice Pride march.

Even in Poland’s larger cities, the antipathy is never far away. At one counter-protest near the parade, anti-LGBT activists set up a makeshift stall to gather signatures for a petition against LGBT events. They brought a big speaker that plays long homophobic monologues denouncing the LGBT community as “deviant” and “dangerous.” Many of those passing by stop to sign the petition. At times, a line forms.

“In Poland, we have a civil war between LGBT and normal, conservative people,” says Grzegorz Frejno, the 23-year-old who co-organized the protest with his wife. “We want to stop Pride parades.”

“We don’t want our kids to see that, to see the naked people on the street,” his wife Anna adds, gesturing towards a small group of clothed revelers doing the macarena nearby. She refers to LGBT activists as coming from “the dark side,” and says their petition has garnered 5,000 signatures in one afternoon, far outnumbering those celebrating at the event.

Anna Frejno and her husband Grzegorz Frejno, right, gather signatures for their petition.

Patryk Grabowiecki signed the petition to ban Pride marches.

Marchers are reflected in a police shield during the Pride parade. An estimated 700 officers packed Katowice during the event.

Several of those who came to support the anti-LGBT gathering told CNN they identify as Polish nationalists. Some wear high black boots and T-shirts adorned with slogans written in Fraktur, the old German typeface favored by Eastern European far-right groups. A few complained about “Antifa” infiltrating Poland’s streets among the protesters.

“I am disturbed. For them, anti-conception and abortion are the same thing. They are talking about murdering people,” says Patryk Grabowiecki, a tall man with a shaven head, wearing suspenders and black boots with white laces — classic identifiers of Eastern European far-right nationalism.

The gaggle of petitioners briefly and bitterly engage with Pride marchers, before police intervene. Danska wearily says that engaging with the opposition is “pointless.”

“Of course I wouldn’t like for someone to try to hurt me, to beat me. But I am prepared for that — I have this pepper spray,” she says, displaying an item she keeps as a last resort. “I don’t want to use it.”

Anti- and pro-LGBT demonstrators confront one another following the Pride march in Katowice. Violence at previous events across Poland have made Pride parades tense encounters in the country.

‘We are the public enemy’

A day later, under a drab grey sky, locals in the southern village of Istebna filter into Sunday mass.

The village, surrounded by mountains and walking distance from both the Czech Republic and Slovakia, is home to just over 5,000 people. But since its “LGBT-free” status was deemed unconstitutional and annulled by a local court in July, the dozy town has been thrust into the heart of Poland’s battle over gay rights.

The court found that claims the zones target an LGBT “ideology” — and not LGBT people themselves — turn “a blind eye to reality.” The designation “harms LGBT people and strengthens their sense of threat,” it said.

Campaigners were overjoyed by the ruling. But activists in Istebna are already working to regain the “LGBT-free” label, and Sunday morning is an ideal time to rally support.

A family of parishioners make their way to Sunday mass in Istebna.

Jan Legierski stands outside the church, where he collects petitions to turn Istebna back into an “LGBT-free zone.”

“People here are against the (LGBT) ideology,” says Jan Legierski. He spends hours standing in the drizzle outside the church collecting signatures, lobbying for the court’s decision to be reversed.

“I don’t want this to affect my grandchildren,” he says, insisting that “children and future generations are not indoctrinated, and that they are not depraved.”

The church hosted four back-to-back packed masses that morning. Nearly everyone attending — older people, youngsters, children — signed the documents. Legierski started the small-scale movement with around a dozen friends, inspired by the resolutions being passed across the country.

Parishioners crowd around a table outside the church to sign Legierski’s petition.

The battle ongoing in Istebna, and countless towns like it, is rapidly pushing Poland into a geopolitical quagmire.

“There is no place for LGBTI-free zones in the EU or anywhere else,” Helena Dalli, the European Commissioner for Equality, tells CNN. Dalli has rejected town-twinning applications and pulled EU funding for a number of regions that pursued the designation, while Poland has been publicly condemned by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“The claimed ‘LGBTI ideology’ that these charters supposedly address is only a veil to mask the underlying discrimination,” Dalli says. “Poland joined the European Union on a voluntary basis and must now respect the EU treaties and fundamental rights.”

“I’m in favor of normal families,” says Jerzy, a 71-year-old worshipper who signed the petition, arguing that the “LGBT-free” designation makes him feel safer. He declined to give his last name.

But inside the Istebna clergy house, deputy priest Grzegorz Strządała defends his town’s sentiment. “There are certain communities, societies, groups on this planet who try to impose a different way of thinking, which is in conflict with natural law,” he says, telling CNN he is comfortable with his parishioners supporting the petition outside. He says the organizers can count on his support.

“Jesus loved everybody, and this has not changed,” he adds. “However, sometimes people use certain words for certain supposedly Christian concepts, but really they’re talking about something completely different.

“The words love, acceptance, dignity, freedom — these words in the context of scripture have a particular meaning. In dialogue with LGBT people, we used the same words, but we mean something totally different.”

Deputy priest Grzegorz Strządała in the clergy house in Istebna.

Strządała’s comments reveal the glaring chasm between LGBT Poles and many of their staunchly Catholic compatriots — an abyss so wide, it can feel as if they’re speaking different languages.

Activists, including Bartosz Staszewski — arguably Poland’s most prominent LGBT rights campaigner — are determined to bridge that gap. Staszewski’s long-running attempt to highlight “LGBT-free zones” by plastering warning signs around every applicable region has drawn national attention, and made him the target of anti-LGBT organizations. Staszewski, along with other LGBT activists in Poland, is facing legal action over his demonstrations.

“This is a witch hunt, where we are the victims,” Staszewski tells CNN. “We are second-category citizens. It’s never happened before — we were simply not the subject. And now we are the subject, we are the public enemy.

“They all are against us.”

Istebna’s rolling hills and houses lie draped in fog.

Homophobic legislation and resolutions have forced many Poles to make a choice: leave town or stay quiet.

But the wave of resolutions has inspired many more to join Staszewski and find their voices. Zuber, Duzniak and Głowacka count themselves among those newfound activists, ordinary Poles for whom merely existing is an act of defiance.

“To be honest, I can move to a bigger town,” Głowacka says. “But there are many people who are younger, and cannot just move out from their families, and parents, and school.

“I think we have a job to do here.”