Gay and transsexual MPs in Polish parliamentary protest over Lech Walesa
Reposted from The Guardian/Associated Press in Warsaw: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/mar/06/gay-transsexual-politicians-poland-front-bench
Two politicians sit on front bench to contest Walesa's assertion that homosexuals belong on backbenches at best.
Poland's first openly gay and transsexual parliamentarians have taken seats on the front bench of the national assembly to protest against hostile remarks by former president Lech Walesa.
Walesa, the leading hero in Poland's successful anti-communist struggle in the 1980s, said last Friday that gay people belonged on the back benches of parliament, or "even behind the wall".
The words sparked outrage among liberal Poles, with some questioning whether the Nobel peace prize winner had permanently damaged his legacy as a champion of democracy. But Walesa said he had repeatedly proved himself as a democrat and had been misunderstood. He did not elaborate and refused to apologise.
On Wednesday, Robert Biedron, a gay rights activist, and Anna Grodzka, who had a male-to-female sex-change operation, took seats in the front row of the assembly. Both are members of the progressive Palikot's Movement party, and party leader Janusz Palikot arranged for the two to sit in, relinquishing his own seat to Biedron.
"Lech Walesa is an important symbol for us all and for the whole world," Biedron told the Associated Press before attending the session. "I respect him and I'd rather he used other words – words of acceptance and of respect for other people."
Walesa, a Roman Catholic and a father of eight, is known for his strong views and distinctive way of expressing himself.
The first row in the semi-circular lower chamber, or Sejm, is reserved for party leaders and prominent lawmakers. Biedron and Grodzka – who have been in parliament since 2011 – usually sit in the third row.