WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A gay rights activist in Poland said he ended a meeting with the country’s conservative president without saying goodbye Wednesday after the politician defended recent remarks about an alleged LGBT “ideology” by citing his right to free speech.
President Andrzej Duda invited several activists to meet after a weekend event where he described the LGBT rights movement as more dangerous than communism and endorsed another conservative official’s observation that “LGBT is not people, it’s an ideology.”
Duda, who is seeking a second term in Poland’s presidential election this month, also signed a “Family Charter” last week that pledges to “ban the propagation of LGBT ideology in public institutions” and oppose same-sex marriages and adoption.
The president’s actions came amidst a competitive campaign for Poland’s presidency. The election is scheduled for June 28, with a likely runoff on July 12 between Duda and Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who has voiced support for LGBT rights.
After angry protesters greeted Duda at a campaign stop on Monday, he invited activists and a left-wing presidential candidate who is gay, Robert Biedron, and the candidate’s mother to the presidential palace.
Only one activist showed up to meet with the president. Biedron and his mother refused to go unless Duda made a public apology.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Biedron accused the president of using language about LGBT people that was offensive to many Poles.
Duda’s spokesman, Blazej Spychalski, described the meeting with the LGBT activist, Bartosz Staszewski, as “good and constructive.”
Staszewski gave a different story. He said he arrived at the meeting with photos of young LGBT Poles who had died by suicide while under the psychological strain of discrimination.
He laid them on a table along with a book about homosexuals imprisoned at Auschwitz, and told him of how gay people in Poland have been attacked at pride marches.
“I wanted to show him those pictures, look in his eyes and show him that I am not an ideology,” Staszewski, a 29-year-old filmmaker, told The Associated Press.
He said he and the president spoke for about an hour but that when Duda cited freedom of speech to defend his words about “LGBT ideology,” he became angry and stood up and left without shaking the president’s hand.
U.S. Ambassador to Poland Georgette Mosbacher said on Twitter on Tuesday that “the U.S. condemns discrimination or hatred based on race, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.”
Mosbacher denied a report in a Polish newspaper saying that the U.S. Embassy had intervened directly with Duda over his recent comments.