Poland: Former president says the place for gay people in parliament is ‘behind a wall’

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Lech Walesa, the former President of Poland and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has come under fire for comments made in a TV interview in which he argued that gay people should “sit behind a wall” in parliament to reflect their minority status.

Although no longer active in politics, Mr Walesa is frequently interviewed by Polish press and is a devout Roman Catholic.

In an interview with news channel TVN24 Mr Walesa, who left office in 1995, was questioned about his views on LGBT rights in Poland.

Asked where in parliament he felt gay people could sit, he said: “Homosexuals should even sit behind a wall, and not somewhere at the front,” arguing that they should not be able to “climb all over the majority”.

“They must know they are a minority and adapt themselves to smaller things, and not rise to the greatest heights,” he added.

On Saturday, former conservative MP Ryszard Nowak reported Mr Walesa’s comments to prosecutors, who will examine this week whether the remarks can be classified as promoting hatred of sexual minorities.

The claim that gay people should have a minor role in politics to reflect their minority status in society has drawn criticism from politicians, who were quick to point out that democracies usually strive to protect minorities.

“Walesa’s words contradict democracy because that form of government is based on protecting minorities,” said Janusz Palikot, founder of the Palikot Movement party.

Mr Palikot reflected on Mr Walesa’s history as a champion of human rights in Soviet Poland, saying: “Lech Walesa up until now was known for tearing down walls, not building them.”

Robert Biedron, another Palikot Movement member and the first openly gay MP in the Polish Parliament, said: “Walesa was a hero. I dream of meeting Walesa and talking to him about [gay rights].”

“I think Walesa doesn’t realise the kind of society we are now. Walesa went astray somewhere,” he added.

In response to Mr Walesa’s comments, Mr Palikot has said that Mr Biedron will sit on the front bench for a three-day session this week, along with trans MP Anna Grodzka.

Democratic Left Alliance Party Deputy Speaker Jerzy Wenderlich said: “From a human point of view his language was appalling.

“It was the statement of a troglodyte. Now nobody in their right mind will invite Lech Walesa as a moral authority, knowing what he said.”

The outrage caused by Mr Walesa reflects changing attitudes to LGBT rights in Poland, where the subject was once seen as conflicting with the country’s Catholic faith.

Three separate civil partnership bills were rejected by Polish lawmakers earlier this year, although the fact that the bills were even suggested is considered by some to be a sign of progress.

A recent poll showed that support for marriage equality in Poland had doubled since 2003, but remained low at 16%.

Poland elected its first out LGBT officials to parliament in 2011, with Ms Grodzka and Mr Biedron both winning seats in the Palikot Movement.

However, last month a Polish MP said she would not support marriage equality because gay people are “of no use whatsoever to society”.