Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A New York Activist, a Wedding Photo and the Future of Poland - City Room - Metro - New York Times Blog

A New York Activist, a Wedding Photo and the Future of Poland - City Room - Metro - New York Times Blog

March 19, 2008, 1:24 pm
A New York Activist, a Wedding Photo and the Future of Poland
By Sewell Chan

Updated, 2:42 p.m. | Brendan Fay, a well-known gay activist in New York, has found himself, however improbably, a volatile symbol in a political struggle in Poland over equal rights for gay men and lesbians that could affect the nation’s integration into the European Union and the balance of political power in Warsaw.

On Monday, President Lech Kaczynski delivered a nationally televised address, warning Poles that the nation’s autonomy could be threatened if Poland ratifies the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty. The president’s conservative Law and Justice Party believes that ratification will inevitably lead to the incorporation into Polish law of the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
As part of his five-minute speech, Mr. Kaczynski displayed a wedding photograph of Mr. Fay and his partner, Dr. Thomas A. Moulton; showed a video clip of their 2003 wedding in Canada; and even pointed to a photo of their wedding certificate. The Polish president also showed a map of pre-World War II Poland, linking his anti-gay rhetoric to historic Polish anxieties about German encroachment.
Mr. Fay, 49, a producer of documentary videos, and Dr. Moulton, 50, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist, have been stunned about being caught up in the political brouhaha. The couple celebrated their partnership with a Roman Catholic priest at an Episcopal church in Brooklyn in May 2003. They were married two months later in Toronto, after Ontario legalized gay marriage. The two men, who live in Astoria, Queens, have been outspoken advocates for marriage rights for gay men and lesbians; images of the couple and their wedding have been widely disseminated on the Internet.
Mr. Fay, who was born in Drogheda, Ireland, has never been to Poland. In New York, he is probably best known as a leader of a long-standing effort to allow gay and lesbian groups to march in the official St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which this year was held on Monday.
The Irish Lesbian and Gay Organization won support from Mayor David N. Dinkins in 1991, but the following year, a federal judge refused to force the parade’s organizers to permit the group to march. Mr. Fay subsequently organized a gay-friendly St. Patrick’s parade in Queens that has been held every year since 2000.
Mr. Fay said he first found out about Mr. Kaczynski’s speech on Tuesday morning, when he received a call from a Polish radio station. A flood of media inquiries, from as far away as Ireland and Canada, have poured in since then.
Later on Tuesday, Mr. Fay dashed off a letter to Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, Poland’s consul general in New York. “We are frustrated to hear that images from such a joyous day are used to spread intolerance,” Mr. Fay wrote. “I request a meeting to discuss the matter of civil rights raised by the Polish political leader’s remarks and the uses/misuse of our wedding photographs. I ask that you meet with myself and representations of the New York gay community working in the area of human and civil rights. For much of the day I have been fielding calls from Polish reporters. Some wondered if we had granted permission for use of our wedding photographs. We would never have agreed to permit our photographs as part of a homophobic campaign.”
Today, Mr. Kasprzyk called Mr. Fay and agreed to a meeting. In a follow-up e-mail message sent shortly after noon today, Mr. Kasprzyk wrote, “I wish to express my gratitude for your conciliatory approach and the empathy you have demonstrated from the first moment this pitiful incident surfaced.” (Mr. Fay provided a copy of the e-mail message to The New York Times.) The two men agreed to meet next week, since this week is Holy Week, a major event for Irish and Polish Catholics.
Czeslaw Karkowski, the editor in chief of Nowy Dziennik, or Polish Daily News, which is based in Manhattan and one of the leading Polish newspapers in the United States, said in a phone interview that the speech — and Mr. Fay’s role in it — have been the subject of national discussion in Poland.
Last October, voters ousted the president’s identical twin brother, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and his right-leaning party in parliamentary elections. Lech Kaczynski remained president, with the power to veto legislation, but his political status was diminished. The new prime minister, Donald Tusk, and his pro-business Civic Platform party generally favor E.U. integration and draw support from the western and more urbanized half of the country, Mr. Karkowski explained, while President Kaczynski’s appeal on Monday was intended to speak to his rural, Catholic, conservative base in eastern Poland.
“Polish society is deeply divided,” Mr. Karkowski said. “The prime minister and his party, which rules right now, represent the pro-Western movement. The other side is represented by the president, who is very conservative and playing on the fears and expectations of the other Poland — more conservative, more suspicious, especially toward the West.”
Mr. Karkowski said he had no idea how President Kaczynski’s staff members decided to use Mr. Fay’s image to represent gay marriage. “Probably they were just looking for a useful picture,” Mr. Karkowski said, “a visible sign of what he and his followers are against and what, supposedly, his political opponents are for.”
Meanwhile, the Lisbon Treaty needs ratification by 27 member countries of the E.U. to take effect. Partly in response to Mr. Kaczynski’s criticism, Prime Minister Tusk has proposed holding a national referendum on the treaty.
Ewa V. Zadworna, a spokeswoman at the Polish Consulate in Manhattan, said the consulate did not have any further comment on the matter and she declined to elaborate on Mr. Kasprzyk characterization of the incident as “pitiful” in his e-mail message to Mr. Fay.
“We are in contact with Mr. Fay,” Ms. Zadworna said, noting that Mr. Kasprzyk will meet with Mr. Fay and other gay activists next week.

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