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Poland: Progress and Prejudice

Posted: 05/02/2013 16:22

During a recent parliamentary debate about civil unions in Poland, member of parliament Krystyna Pawlowicz gave a speech in which she pummeled same-sex relationships. She was also recorded cruelly mocking her transgender colleague in parliament, Anna Grodzka. On 6 February, Ms. Grodzka may become deputy speaker of the lower chamber.

When I first started writing this post, fuelled by no small dose of emotion and sense of injustice, I used the word "shame" four times in one sentence. But now I'm just confused. If progress is supposed to be a process or journey towards, let's say, an open and tolerant society, Poland is in a deep, painful split with one foot in one universe, and the other many parsecs away.

The first foot is in a world where a young democracy and overwhelmingly Catholic, conservative country elected gay and transgender members of parliament (a whopping two out of 460, but still). The second is in a cold, insensitive place where subsections of the society are denied their basic rights and a person is publicly attacked and mocked because of their gender identity by a representative of the political elite.

Several weeks ago, the lower chamber of the Polish parliament rejected a legislation proposal for the introduction of civil unions, which would allow non-married couples regardless of their gender to inherit property without paying taxes and to receive medical information about their partner, among others. They would not be able to adopt children.

Three drafts of the legislation, even one put forth by the ruling Civic Platform party, were dismissed.

The country was, and continues to be stirred by this controversy. My Facebook news feed was overflowing with a mixture of anger and sadness of my generation, with livid and embarrassed posts coming from a political cross-section - mostly people whom I would call either moderate or centrist in their convictions, far from just the usual suspects on the left side of the spectrum.

Members of the Civic Platform who voted for rejecting their own party's legislation proposal got inundated by a flood of 700,000 emails in just a few days from citizens protesting their decision.

I was not among those who were surprised the legislation was rejected, but I was not expecting the public's very vocal reaction. I was glad that it engendered some form of widespread conversation and a push to hold our politicians accountable.

But the bittersweet feeling of witnessing at least a slight change in Polish mentality became overwhelmed with embarrassment and shame. Shame for a level debate that is lower than low, for words that are hurtful as knives. Shame for defending Poland as a country that is changing, developing, becoming more open.

Like every other story, this one has a face. And the anti-hero of the story of the rejection of civil unions in Poland, Krystyna Pawlowicz, member of parliament, had her face and voice coming at you from every TV program, radio show and website.

During the parliamentary debate on civil unions, Ms. Pawlowicz, member of the conservative Law and Justice party, a law professor, former justice of the State Tribunal of Poland (which holds some of the same prerogatives as the United States Supreme Court) called same-sex relationships "hedonistic," "egotistical," and "harmful." "Society can't be paying for the sweet existence of unstable, barren relationships between people who are of no use to society," she furiously said from the stand.

These words met with public condemnation, including letters of protest from both professors and students. The internet reacted with a proliferation of memes, some of them viciously pointing out that Ms. Pawlowicz is herself unmarried and childless, implying "barren." But Ms. Pawlowicz's political circles offered no criticism, reprimand or apology on her part.

And while her comments in parliament alone proved to be unacceptable for many, she had even more degrading and insulting remarks up her sleeve.

A video surfaced online where Ms. Pawlowicz is shown giving a speech at a meeting with the readers of a right-wing paper. Chuckling, she recalls how she addressed Anna Grodzka, her transgender colleague in the parliament, as "Sir" during a joint radio interview, "because how is she supposed to say Ma'am when she sees a man next to her?" The audience is chuckling along with her. She then proceeds to say, smirking, that "if someone devours a bunch of hormones, it does not make them a woman," and how Ms. Grodzka "has the face of a boxer."

A member of parliament. An academic instructor. A former judge on a prominent court's bench.

In at least three ways, Ms. Pawlowicz is supposed to be a role model. Instead, she is mortifying the younger generation by brutally mocking her colleague, by her transphobia, her intolerance and insensitivity.

I am turning 24 years old this year, as is the Polish democracy, and I sincerely hope that as I grow older, Poland releases itself from that painful split and comes to my universe.

Here's the first step - Ms. Grodzka, the transgender member of parliament, is now a candidate for deputy speaker. The election for the position will probably be held on 6 February. Dear politicians, put aside your prejudice, listen to what she has to say, and do not prevent Poland from taking a step forward by immediately rejecting her candidacy.

Above all, even though you have the right to choose any candidate you wish and dismiss any legislation you desire, please have some decency and basic respect for someone's personal identity.

It won't do you any harm.

And it can bring your blood pressure down.

 

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