BY ANDY HUMM | Polish President Lech Kaczynski picked on the wrong geje – gay people – when he used a 2003 wedding photo of New Yorkers Brendan Fay and Tom Moulton to spice up a televised March 17 speech against a European Union treaty that he said would force the recognition of same-sex marriages and “challenge the moral order of Poland.”
Kaczynski also wove a clip from the couple's wedding video and a picture of the couple's marriage certificate from Canada into his nationally televised speech.
Anti-gay attacks are Kaczynski's stock and trade, but he did not bargain on an international uproar from New York to Ireland, where Fay grew up, to Poland itself. Locally, the story was given big play in the New York Post and Times, which reported that the editor of the leading US Polish newspaper “said that the speech, and Mr. Fay's role in it, have been the subject of much discussion in Poland.”
Fay, a documentary filmmaker, and Moulton, a pediatric oncologist, are also gay activists who are members of Dignity, the LGBT Catholic group, organizers of the inclusive Queens St. Patrick's Day Parade, and involved in the campaign for marriage equality here.
“We're disappointed and upset that images from such a joyous day were used to promote intolerance,” Fay said at a March 24 press conference at the office of Human Rights Watch (HRW), flanked by Scott Long, the group's LGBT Rights Project director, veteran civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel, and Daniel Domogala, a US resident and Polish native who is a member of the Campaign Against Homophobia in Warsaw.
The group from the press conference plus Moulton and HRW's Iwona Zielinska were granted a meeting late Tuesday evening with Krzysztof Kasprzyk, consul general of the Republic of Poland, at the Madison Avenue consulate. Fay described the 90-minute meeting as “friendly, hospitable, cordial, and constructive,” saying that the consul agreed to forward a letter from Fay and Moulton to the president and Donald Tusk, who is from a more moderate party and replaced Kaczynski's identical twin brother Jaroslaw as prime minister after elections in October.
Tusk has publicly criticized Kaczynski's speech, accusing him of abetting “the anti-Europe row.” That statement suggests the prime minister's concern dealt primarily with the politics of the EU treaty.
On March 19, Elzbieta Radziszewska, the Polish government's plenipotentiary for equal legal status – an ombudsperson of sorts – said on Radio RMF FM, Poland's largest private station, “I think that a civil servant, in the name of the president, should send an apology to the person whose image was used without his approval or knowledge.” But she did not think a meeting between the president and Fay and Moulton was “necessary.” She said that she was open to meeting with them herself.
Kasprzyk, the consul, who did meet with Fay, Moulton, and their supporters, had no comment on the March 25 meeting.
Domogala, the immigrant Polish gay leader, called it “a very positive atmosphere, but very little progress was made in achieving anything.” In the meeting, he put forward the goals of the Polish LGBT movement, including the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected category in anti-hate speech laws, broadening gay inclusion in anti-discrimination laws, and reform of sex education in the schools. “Textbooks still refer to homosexuality as 'deviant,'” he said.
On these issues and on recognition of gay relationships, Dromogola said, “the consul was supportive and understanding but in no position to make promises. He told us Polish society needs time to get there.”
Long of HRW said that they raised issues of freedom of assembly and speech for Polish gay people as well as protections in schools and training for criminal justice officials. “The follow-up will come from the Campaign Against Homophobia,” he said.
Doug Ireland, writing in Gay City News, reported on the efforts last year of notorious anti-gay demagogue Roman Giertych, who served as education minister and deputy prime minister in Jaroslaw Kaczynski's former government, to enact legislation prohibiting any discussion of homosexuality in schools and requiring that any teacher who violated the ban be fired. Giertych is the leader of the Catholic nationalist, anti-Semitic League of Polish Families party, a key partner in the former prime minister's coalition government. The actions and rhetoric of figures such as Giertych led the European Parliament last spring to condemn Polish politicians for “inciting discrimination and hatred based on sexual orientation.”
Last May, the European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously that Lech Kaczynski, when he was mayor of Warsaw, violated three articles of the European Convention on Human Rights by banning the Warsaw Gay Pride March in 2005.
Siegel said he emphasized in the meeting “the need to figure out concrete steps to move the clock forward.” He is exploring legal recourse for Fay and Moulton if the Polish president does not respond to their grievance, but is hopeful it can be resolved by dialogue and action by the government.