Lech Walesa, Polish trade union organizer, Nobel prize winner, and former Polish president – who was instrumental in taking on Poland’s communist authorities in the 1970s and 1980s – apparently is not a great fan of the gays.
Walesa was asked on Friday about gay rights, and specifically “civil partnerships,” which I assume are a version of civil unions, and which were recently debated in the Polish parliament, and lost.
He responded with a bit of an anti-gay tirade.
From the Guardian:
Walesa said in a television interview on Friday that he believed gay people had no right to sit on the front benches in parliament and, if there at all, should sit in the back “or even behind a wall”.
“They have to know that they are a minority and adjust to smaller things, and not rise to the greatest heights,” he told the private broadcaster TVN during a discussion of gay rights. “A minority should not impose itself on the majority.”
Keep in mind, we’re dealing with a few things here: 1) Poland; 2) a huge Catholic. That doesn’t exonerate it, but it may explain it. The heroes of my generation, the Walesas of the world who took on the Soviets and their puppet states, are from another era. The man is 69. And sadly, older people are not as good as younger people on gay civil rights, especially, I suspect, when you head on over to Eastern Europe and particularly Catholic countries.
That’s not to excuse it, but perhaps to explain why a human rights advocates would be anti-gay – in his time, gay rights weren’t human rights. Which is sad.
As I’ve noted before, I think it’s particularly sad when human rights advocates, and members of minorities more generally, are bad on civil rights, no matter whose civil rights. I think those who are on the receiving end of discrimination, whether presently or historically, should have a special sensitivity – a special duty, even – to at least recognize the discrimination that other communities face.
In this case, I consider the victims of communism a “minority” even if they were the entire country – they were a minority in the sense that the government was the majority, they were little more than minions (though some were quite willing minions).
Now, having said all of that, how cool is that Walesa’s words have created an uproar in Poland. Much like in the states, the very fact that Walesa’s words caused a controversy shows that the country is changing. In the past, people would have shrugged had a former politician, and an old man, said something anti-gay.
However, much has changed. A watershed moment came in 2011 when a new progressive and anti-clerical party — Palikot’s Movement — entered Parliament for the first time. Taking seats for the party were Anna Grodzka, a transsexual, and Robert Biedron, who is openly gay. These were all historic firsts.
The two have been in the public eye while lawmakers have debated a civil partnership law. Though lawmakers have recently struck down proposals, the discussions continue. A new campaign was just launched to fight taboos.
Some predicted the consequences for Walesa could be serious.
A national committee devoted to fighting hate speech and other crimes filed a complaint with prosecutors on Sunday in Gdansk, Walesa’s home city, accusing him of promoting “propaganda of hate against a sexual minority.”
This reminds me of the protest over Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as Defense Secretary. In part, people were upset about Hagel’s nasty comments about gay people generally, and former Ambassador Jim Hormel, who is gay. The fact that the nomination of a Defense Secretary could be in part endangered by his anti-gay comments of a decade ago, and that he was basically forced to recant those words in order to get the job at Defense, is indicative of one hell of a change in our political culture. And the same goes for Poland’s reaction to Walesa’s comments.
Poland has an openly-trans member of Parliament. We don’t even have that.