Recent Comments

    Could a Gay Phoenix Rise from the Ashes in Poland?

    By Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis–

    On January 14, the nation of Poland was rocked by the horrific stabbing to death of Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz—on stage in front of thousands of people participating in the “Light to the Sky” ceremony, celebrating the culmination of an incredibly popular national charity event to raise funds for sick children. 

    The assassination shook Poles from all walks of life, but in particular the LGBTIQ community, immigrants, other minorities and their supporters. Adamowicz was an outspoken advocate for minorities, in the face of the rise of the far-right Law & Justice Party of President Andrzej Duda, who narrowly won election in 2015.

    We traveled in Poland just months after Duda come to power, and we remember how LGBTIQ Poles feared his ascension. After the assassination, a Polish journalist friend of ours told us that the ruling Law & Justice Party has “brought the warmongering, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, homophobic, anti-EU narrative to a level Poland has not witnessed in this century.” In the face of such hostility, Adamowicz, who was not gay, boldly supported marriage equality and LGBTIQ rights and took the public step of marching in last year’s Pride Parade in Gdansk.

    Although publicly available evidence to date suggests the assassin’s motives were not overtly political (media reports claim he suffered from paranoid schizophrenia), many believe the ruling party’s hate-filled rhetoric could have inspired the assassin’s violence. The day after the killing, thousands marched in cities across the country, urging an end to hate.

    Poland, like America, the United Kingdom and a number of other countries, may be at a crossroads. Our journalist friend observed how some Poles believe the assassination sadly may signal a new level of violence in Polish society, while some “think it is high time for politicians to wake up and stop warmongering—that the assassination is a tragic wake up call.”

    In the wake of these horrific events in heavily Catholic Poland, we learned of a seemingly unimaginable ray of hope that could lead the country out of this darkness: Robert Biedron, the first openly gay member of the Polish Parliament and then popular progressive mayor of the city of Slupsk, Poland. Many consider him to be a formidable potential candidate in the 2020 Polish presidential elections.

    What? A gay president of Poland?!  

    Our journalist friend, who has interviewed the 42-year-old Biedron for her work, told us she thinks Biedron “absolutely has a chance” to become president. Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski has urged Biedron to run, and a 2018 public opinion poll shows him third and within striking distance of President Duda. Our friend said Biedron could be the strong favorite of the relatively weak political left but also has “the capacity to win over the general electorate, too.” When Biedron won the Slupsk mayoral election, the “whole of Poland was stunned, except for Slupsk, where citizens stressed (that) he was the best candidate and he did his job.”

    In our friend’s words, Biedron “has done a marvelous job coming from an activist background to become a nationally recognized politician.” She described how in the early 2000s, Biedron founded and led the LGBTIQ organization the Campaign Against Homophobia. The Campaign tracked anti-LGBTIQ hate crimes and initiated the “Let Them See Us!” campaign, which placed pictures of same-sex couples holding hands on billboards. Biedron marched in the first Polish Pride Parade as well as subsequent parades, one of which was banned by the mayor of Warsaw.

    Biedron is credited with helping reduce homophobia in heavily Catholic Poland. Biedron has often recounted how several years ago, as an openly gay Member of Parliament, he was beaten up a number of times in public. He told Politico two years ago that he took this risk to raise the visibility of gay people in Poland to help change people’s minds. 

    Together with his partner for 16 years, Biedron is a strong marriage equality supporter. Last year he told the BBC: “It’s not fair that in 2018 two adults cannot get married if they love each other and are committed to each other.” And when Biedron conducts weddings for heterosexual couples, something he does often as a local mayor, “I’m extremely jealous because I see their happiness.” We and many other same-sex couples know that feeling as well, having gone to San Francisco City Hall with Marriage Equality USA for years to ask for marriage licenses only to be turned down.

    Our journalist friend described the handsome Biedron as “charismatic, natural, and authentic. He walks to work and chats with people on the way.” And he is also very “professional” and strategic, while still exuding his earlier “activist enthusiasm and energy.” Some have likened his appeal to that which propelled French President Emmanuel Macron’s election. Biedron chose not to run for re-election as Slupsk Mayor to devote himself to building a national movement. He is currently on a national tour to solicit people’s input on their priorities. As mayor, Biedron sometimes took a red sofa out on the street to sit and listen to constituents.

    Biedron’s rise to popularity to a level another Polish journalist describes as a “prophet” to some is testament to the power of “coming out.” His popularity in such a seemingly unexpected place as Poland illuminates the subtle, complex and seemingly contradictory ways the LGBTIQ movement progresses in different cultures—never giving up and always looking to rise from the ashes.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for over three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. Their leadership in the grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA contributed in 2015 to making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.