Gay Polish politician asks SF supervisors to restore Lech Walesa street name

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Gay Polish politician calls on San Francisco board to reverse a street name change made seven years ago that saw a gay icon replace a former Polish president.

On October 12, Robert Biedro ?, a Polish member of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, wrote to city supervisors asking to bring Dr Tom Waddell Place back to Lech Walesa Street.

Biedro? expressed his “great sadness” for the renaming of the street because Walesa is a “symbol of the struggle for freedom and democracy” for “the Poles and many other nations,” he wrote in the letter.

In an email interview with the Bay Area Reporter, Biedro? said Walesa is a “living symbol and we should commemorate it,” he wrote, explaining that he believed every city should honor the freedom fighter.

“I think a street with the name of Lech Walesa should be found in every major city in the world,” Biedro? declared. “He is a symbol of the freedom struggle not only for the Poles, but also for many other nations in the world, including the Americans.”

BAR previously reported on the street name change in 2013, when then supervisor Jane Kim grew fed up with anti-gay remarks made by Walesa, the former Polish president. The street is a small alley near Civic Center Plaza in District 6, which Kim then represented.

The alley was renamed Ivy en Lech Walesa in 1986 in honor of the Nobel Prize winner, who founded the Solidarity Union and led the battle for democracy against the Soviet Union.

At the time, Kim proposed to change the name, stating that Walesa’s anti-gay comments were “not representative of the town I am a part of and its inclusion value.”

Waddell was an Olympic athlete and founder of the Gay Games. He died of AIDS-related complications in 1987. A health clinic named after him, the Tom Waddell Health Center, which serves many members of the LGBTQ community, especially transgender patients, is located at 50 Dr. Tom Waddell Square.

“This city is also a place that is a haven for many members of our LGBT community,” Kim said at the time. “We didn’t think it was appropriate to continue to have his name on one of our streets.”

Kim was supported by then-gay supervisors Scott Wiener (D8) and David Campos (D9), and then-supervisor John Avalos (D11).

Kim did not respond to a request for comment from current BAR District 6 supervisor Matt Haney did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Haney is running for the vacant 17th District Assembly seat, as is Campos.

LGBTQ activists have already tried to change the name of Walesa Street, but this effort was unsuccessful. The supervisory board unanimously approved the current name change in 2014. The two street names appeared together for five years, according to city protocol, until the street name change was made. completed in 2019.

Biedro? did not want to take away from Waddell’s legacy. He suggested that the street names should stay side by side.

“Dr. Tom Waddell Place should also stay on the streets of San Francisco next to Lech Walesa Street,” Biedro? declared. “I think that would be an interesting solution.”

Homophobic rant
In 2013, Walesa launched a homophobic and transphobic rant on TVN 24 when the presenter asked him about then-proposed legislation in Poland for civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

Walesa said LGBTQ politicians should “sit at the back of parliament” or even “behind a wall”. He went on to say that the queer community shouldn’t “take away” and “mess” things up for the majority.

They should “know that they are a minority and have to adapt to smaller things and not reach for the highest heights,” Walesa told the presenter, saying he would never support LGBTQ rights.

Biedro ?, a longtime politician who was a member of the Polish parliament when Walesa made his derogatory comments against the LGBTQ community, condemned the comments and supported the renaming of the street at the time.

“I found these words offensive and totally unjustified”, Biedro? wrote in his letter, but the former Polish presidential candidate changed his mind after many conversations with Walesa.

Biedro? ran in the 2020 presidential elections in Poland under his new progressive party, Wiosna (Spring), which was launched in 2019. Poland’s anti-LGBTQ stance increased during the 2020 election season and continues with the proposed new anti-LGBTQ legislation. Biedro? came in third place in the elections.

Biedro? won a seat in the European Parliament under his political party in 2019.

“As a representative of Polish gay politicians, I would like to assure you of the sincerity of our former president’s apologies and ask you to kindly consider restoring the street name Lech Walesa Street,” Biedro wrote. He thinks Walesa is very sorry and should be forgiven for his mistakes.

Biedro? highlighted Walesa’s meeting with gay British pop star Sir Elton John in 1984 and again when he honored the star with a Medal of Gratitude in 2012 for his help in bringing down the Communist regime in Poland.

Biedro? noted that Walesa has repeatedly apologized for his anti-gay comments and assured him that “he hadn’t meant to offend anyone”, Biedro? continued in the letter.

It seems Walesa changed her mind about LGBTQ rights when he told the New York Review of Books that LGBTQ rights were “non-negotiable.” His comments followed the 2020 elections and the Polish Law and Justice Party’s anti-LGBTQ campaign that led Polish cities to declare themselves “LGBT free zones,” and the country suffered a severe backlash from the European Union.

“I have always been in favor of freedom, including for LGBT people,” he said, stressing that Poles must sort out equality calls from queer activists.

However, a year ago Notes from Poland tweeted Walesa’s latest anti-LGBTQ comments.

Walesa has launched a new rant, warning LGBTQ people that they “” cannot go around town and seduce my grandchildren. This is not normal, the majority [of us] are different, and they must submit to the majority. ”

But he added in the 2019 tweet that they should “not be oppressed” because “God created them”.

Improbable street name change
It doesn’t seem like Biedro’s request? will be welcomed by the Supervisory Board.

Gay District 8 supervisor Rafael Mandelman said he was not inclined to support a change.

In an email to BAR, Mandelman wrote that he did not have to reverse the city’s decision. He said he was encouraged by Walesa’s apology for his 2013 remarks and recent support for Poland’s LGBTQ community.

“Dr. Tom Waddell is an important figure in queer history in San Francisco, and I think it’s appropriate to keep the name of the street where the Tom Waddell Health Center is located,” Mandelman wrote.

Campos and gay state senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) stand by their past decision.

“No, I do not support the name change as Lech Walesa, unfortunately, continues to hold anti-gay views,” Campos wrote to BAR.

Wiener added in his text to BAR: “Tom Waddell was a hero in our community. “

Poland introduces new anti-gay legislation
Poland’s latest anti-gay legislation that would ban pride parades and any public gatherings promoting LGBTQ rights was recently brought forward in parliament.

The right-dominated lower house of the Polish parliament successfully passed an anti-gay legislative initiative, dubbed “Stop LGBT”, to the Home Affairs Committee on October 29.

The commission will assess the legality of the bill, according to a press release from OutRight Action International.

The vote came a day after a moving debate over the bill that would ban pride parades, known locally as equality marches, and other public gatherings seen as “promoting” LGBTQ rights. .

In 2019, the Warsaw Equality March brought together 50,000 people and a record 20 pride events were held across the country, according to OutRight.

Opposition lawmakers strongly condemned the bill, the Associated Press reported.

The initiative was submitted by the Fondation Vie et Famille, a conservative anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQ organization. The foundation succeeded in restricting abortion rights in the country last year. This year, its members managed to collect 140,000 signatures, more than the 100,000 required, for its “Stop LGBT” proposal.

In recent years, Polish conservative politicians have stoked fears of LGBTQ, dubbed “LGBT ideology,” claiming that LGBTQ target children and that gay men threaten Poland’s identity and values ​​in this devout Catholic country.

Andrzej Duda, the right-wing Polish president and leader of the Law and Justice party, was narrowly re-elected last year by making the LGBTQ community in the central European country the scapegoat. He called on Polish cities to declare themselves LGBT free zones. About a hundred municipal and provincial areas in Poland were at the head of his appeal.

Poland has suffered economic backlash from the European Union for its attacks on its LGBTQ community.

Poland’s LGBTQ community has suffered continued assault from Polish leaders and in towns where proud people have been physically and verbally assaulted, according to OutRight. Poland has also seen an exodus of LGBTQs to other European countries.
Amnesty International and OutRight opposed the bill.

Nils Muiznieks, Amnesty International’s regional director for Europe, said in a statement that if passed the law would put LGBTQ Poles “at greater risk than ever”.

The human rights leader called on Polish lawmakers to “recognize that love is love and reject this hateful proposition which is discriminatory in its essence,” he said.

OutRight’s acting executive director, Maria Sjödin, called on the parliamentary committee to reject the bill in a statement.

“It is a very dark day in Poland, not only for LGBTIQ people, but for Polish society as a whole,” said Sjödin, who called the pride events “a crucial part of the equality movement. LGBTIQ “and” expression of the right to freedom of assembly and expression.

Some Polish regions have reversed their “LGBT free zone” status due to the loss of funding from the EU and sister cities of other European cities.

AP said it is not clear whether the proposed legislation will be debated by the entire house of parliament. The bill will have to be approved by the Senate and Duda. The opposition has a small minority capable of changing bills in the Senate.

Do you have any advice on international LGBTQ news? Call them or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp / Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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