Magazine article New Internationalist

Interview with Krystian Legierski

Magazine article New Internationalist

Interview with Krystian Legierski

Article excerpt

'I feel something's changing in Poland,' says Krystian Legierski, the first openly gay elected official in a country once notorious for state homophobia.

Activists saw Legierski's election to Warsaw City Council last November as a turning point in a political culture long characterized by discrimination against minorities. Not only is Legierski gay, he is also black - in one of the most ethnically homogenous countries in the world.

Legierski recognizes his election as a milestone, but is quick to point out that he could not have won on an LGBT rights platform alone. 'What is even more important is that many people who are not gay or lesbian voted for me too.'

The 32 year old first came to prominence when Poland's 'official homophobia' reached epic proportions in 2005. The ultra-conservative Law and Justice Party (PiS) took power, supported by clerical-nationalists and rightwing populists. PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski was sworn in as prime minister and his twin brother Lech was elected president two months later.

Lech Kaczynski had already built a reputation as a pugnacious homophobe. During his term as mayor of Warsaw, he banned two Gay Pride marches, referring to the organizers as 'perverts', while encouraging a counter-demonstration entitled The Parade of Normality. When he assumed the presidency, the anti-gay rhetoric of the ruling parties went into overdrive: politicians publicly linked homosexuality with paedophilia and called for gays and lesbians to be banned from teaching.

It was only a matter of time before Le Madame, the legendary Warsaw gay club run by Legierski, became a target. 'We were the enemy,' he recalls.

But Le Madame was much more than a gay club. It hosted plays, music, performance art and political events - it even housed the headquarters of the Polish Greens, the party Legierski now represents. 'The club was openminded,' Legierski recalls with some pride. 'And those in power didn't like it. They considered us dangerous.' Just how dangerous is demonstrated by the lengths to which the authorities went to crush it.

On 27 March 2006, Warsaw police blockaded Le Madame and prepared to shut it down. But the club's defiant patrons refused to leave. Legierski led more than 200 activists in a sit-in, which lasted five days until police stormed the club in the early morning, brutally beating and dragging out the remaining protesters. …

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