Polish lawmakers protest Walesa's anti-gay rant

By the Associated Press | March 6, 2013 | 8:29 AM EST

Poland's first openly gay lawmaker, Robert Biedron, right, and first transsexual lawmaker, Anna Grodzka, center, took seats in the front bench of the parliament in Warsaw, Poland, Wednesday, March 6, 2013 to protest recent anti-gay remarks by former President Lech Walesa. Biedron and Grodzka usually sit in the third row, but their parliamentary floor moved them to the prestigious front row in a sign of support for them. Walesa said last week that gays belong in the back rows of Parliament, or even “behind the wall.” Sitting at left is Leszek Miller. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's first openly gay and transsexual lawmakers took seats on the front bench of Parliament Wednesday to protest hostile remarks by former President Lech Walesa.

Walesa, the leading hero in Poland's successful anti-communist struggle in the 1980s, said Friday that gays belong on the back rows of Parliament, or "even behind the wall."

The words sparked huge outrage among liberal Poles, with some questioning whether the Nobel Peace Prize winner has permanently damaged his legacy as a champion of democracy. But Walesa has said he has always proven himself as a democrat and had been misunderstood. He didn't elaborate and refused to apologize.

On Wednesday, Robert Biedron, a gay rights activist, and Anna Grodzka, who had a man-to-woman 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 pair to take the seats, 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 staunch Roman Catholic and a father of eight, is known for strong views and a distinctive way of expressing himself.

Palikot told the AP that he is still to decide whether the transfer of the lawmakers will be long-term.

The first row in the semi-circular lower chamber, or Sejm, is reserved for party leaders and prominent lawmakers. Biedron and Grodzka — who are lawmakers since 2011 — usually sit in the third row.