Taking On Polish Prez's Baiting

BY ANDY HUMM | New Yorker Brendan Fay and his husband Tom Moulton, both gay activists, were flown to Warsaw by Poland's private TVN television network this week for a round of political meetings, press conferences, and interviews that have substantially advanced the discussion of LGBT rights there, according to a Polish gay activist.

Fay and Moulton got sucked into Polish politics when President Lech Kaczynski used footage of their 2003 wedding in Canada in a March 17 televised speech to the nation warning that adoption of the European Union's Lisbon Treaty would compel Poland to recognize same-sex marriages, which he linked to the end of “moral order.”

The media frenzy that surrounded Fay and Moulton this week, from the moment they landed in Warsaw, certainly did not hurt the cause of gay visibility in Poland.

The Polish parliament voted overwhelmingly to adopt the treaty on April 2, an outcome that New York-based Polish gay activist Daniel Domagala of the Campaign Against Homophobia, the leading LGBT rights group in Poland, said was going to happen anyway.

But the media frenzy that surrounded Fay and Moulton this week, from the moment they landed in Warsaw, certainly did not hurt the cause of gay visibility in Poland.

“They gave a human face to the issue,” Domagala said.

Fay and Moulton, who live in Astoria, Queens, and have long records of gay activism, attracted considerable media attention in New York in the wake of the president's attack, especially from Polish news outlets. The couple held a press conference at the Manhattan offices of Human Rights Watch last week calling on the president to apologize.

A spokesperson for Kaczynski said, “Mr. Brendan Fay, who invited the media to his quasi-wedding, should not be surprised that his image was used,” CWNews.com reported. The spokesperson said the president would not meet with them.

Two TV networks sought to bring the men to Poland and Fay and Moulton settled on TVN, the private network, over public television. Fay said they were in close contact with Polish gay leaders about all aspects of the trip and had stipulated that local leaders be included in any meetings they had there.

“Now the story is shifting from New York to Warsaw,” Fay said by telephone from Kennedy Airport just before boarding their flight.

The effects of the attacks on the couple have been dramatic.

“It has brought visibility to the issue,” said Domagala. Before this, he said, “No only had a lot of LGBT people been in the closet, but all of our supporters had been in the closet.”

The incident drew out the government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, elected in October to replace that of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the president's identical twin brother and leader of the right-wing Law and Justice Party. Jaroslaw Kaczynski was exposed in the Polish media as a closeted gay man in 2006.

“We knew the new government wasn't anti-LGBT, but also not out in support,” said Domagala. “This has made them declare themselves.”

The government's plenipotentiary for equal legal status, Elzbieta Radziszewska, did not come out for gay partner rights, but “she said there should not be discrimination in Poland” against LGBT people, Domagala noted, and “offered to look after the LGBT community” through the powers of her office.

On March 28, more than 600 Polish intellectuals signed a letter “saying they were embarrassed by Kaczynski's speech, assuring the US couple of their support and solidarity,” the UK Gay News reported.

With Polish gay leaders, Fay and Moulton joined with leftist members of the Polish parliament to meet Monday with the chair of the Commission for Justice and Human Rights, Ryszard Kalisz. At a press conference afterwards, Tomasz Szypula of the Campaign Against Homophobia, said, “Thanks to the invitation that Fay and Moulton got to visit the Parliament, we were offered a great opportunity to propose recommendations to the government which work towards gaining equal rights for LGBT people,” according to the UK Gay News.

The contingent also met with the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights to try to advance a dialogue with the Polish president, noting that the principal of dialogue is enshrined at that nation's Constitution.

At a reception for Fay and Moulton Monday night with progressive Poles, among the guests was retired Supreme Court Judge Teresa Romer and members of Lambda Warsaw. They dined with Poland's most famous gay couple, the film critic Tomasz Raczek and the writer Martin Szczygielski.

Fay and Moulton then appeared on the primetime TVN news program, “Now Us” with Marta Abramowicz of the Campaign Against Homophobia, who spoke about “the dire consequences of hate speech, especially on LGBT youth,” the UK outlet said.

On Tuesday, Fay and Moulton did “Good Morning TVN” and held another press conference with LGBT leaders, including Yga Kostrzewa of Lambda Warsaw who “expressed hope that the couple's visit would inspire a national dialogue for legal recognition of same-sex couples in Poland,” according to an email from Szypula. While the US State Department is under attack here for insensitivity on LGBT issues – most notably from a new group formed by the out gay former US ambassador to Romania, Michael Guest -Fay and Moulton got a meeting at the US embassy in Warsaw with Michael Steven Tulley, counsellor for management affairs, and vice consul Andrea Gorog. They then met with a program head at the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It should be noted that Fay and Moulton are not professional gay activists, paid for the work they do on the community's behalf. They are active members in Dignity, the gay Catholic group, and organize the annual inclusive Queens St. Patrick's Day Parade, both as volunteers.

Moulton is a pediatric oncologist and Fay works as a documentary filmmaker. He produced a film on the life of Father Mychal Judge, the gay Fire Department chaplain who was killed at the World Trade Center on 9-11, and is completing another on Reverend John McNeill, Dignity's founder. Through the volunteer Civil Marriage Trail, Fay and Moulton also assist American couples who travel to Canada as they did, to legally marry.

“We leave Poland inspired by the many meetings and conversations,” Fay said in an email. “We feel confident that a brighter day of equality is closer at hand.”

“We leave Poland with the hope that the dialogue that has begun in earnest will continue,” Moulton added.