Supe proposes end to Walesa street

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday March 20, 2013
Share this Post:

A San Francisco supervisor is fed up with anti-gay sentiment from former Polish President Lech Walesa and wants to rename a city street that was named for him decades ago.

District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim this week proposed that Lech Walesa Street, a small alley located near Civic Center in her district, be renamed for the late gay rights advocate Dr. Tom Waddell.

The alley was renamed from Ivy to Lech Walesa in 1986 to honor the Nobel Prize-winner, who founded the Solidarity union and led the battle for democracy against the former Soviet Union.

Kim's proposal was in response to Walesa's recent televised homophobic and transphobic rant. During a March 1 appearance on TVN 24 responding to questions about current proposed legislation for civil partnerships for LGBT individuals, Walesa stated that LGBT politicians should "sit at the back of the parliament" or even "behind a wall."

"They have to know that they are a minority and must adjust to smaller things and not rise to the greatest heights, the greatest hours, the greatest provocations, spoiling things for the others and taking [what they want] from the majority," he told the newscaster. "I don't agree to this and I will never agree to it."

Kim's proposal to change Lech Walesa Street to Tom Waddell Place was supported by gay Supervisors Scott Wiener (D8) and David Campos (D9), along with Supervisor John Avalos (D11).

Waddell was an Olympic athlete and founder of the Gay Games. He died of AIDS-related complications in 1987. A health clinic named for him is located at 50 Lech Walesa.

Kim's staff said that members of the LGBT community and others have contacted the supervisor's office requesting the change.

"His recent comments [are] not representative of the city that I am a part of and its value of inclusiveness," Kim said as she introduced the proposal Tuesday, March 19. "This city is also a place that is a refuge for many members of our LGBT community. We didn't feel it was appropriate to continue to have his name on one of our streets."

Kim also acknowledged the importance of the Tom Waddell Health Center, which serves many in the LGBT community, particularly transgender patients.

"Tom Waddell is a commendable choice for the street, both because of his contributions to the LGBT community, and because the health center there bears his name," said Jeff Cretan, a legislative aide to Wiener.

The resolution will now undergo a 30-day review and a public approval process before the Board of Supervisors vote on it. If approved it would be sent to Mayor Ed Lee for his signature. Lee was out of the country this week on a sister city visit to Cork, Ireland, and Paris.

If approved, Walesa's name won't fully be gone from the street, which would bear Waddell and Walesa's names for five years during a transition period, according to city policies.

The Bay Area Reporter was unable to reach Jessica Waddell Lewinstein, Waddell's daughter, for comment by press time.


Long time coming

This isn't the first time Lech Walesa Street has come under attack.

More than 20 years ago, in August 1990, activists from Queer Nation's affiliated group Queer Planet tried to take down the street sign in protest of Walesa's homophobic comments earlier that spring. Photographs from the action showed one of the signs hanging after activists succeeded in removing one screw.

The activists were outraged after Walesa said that if he were elected president of Poland he would "eliminate" homosexuals from Polish society, reported the Los Angeles Times.

The group also petitioned gay Supervisor Harry Britt, who was on the board at the time, to rename the street, but the attempt failed.

A little more than 20 years later, Walesa spewed another round of anti-gay comments without apology. Instead of taking to the streets, LGBT activists and San Francisco city officials are looking to change the street name.

"I'm very supportive of it," said Mark L. Duran, 57, a gay man who was one of the original Queer Planet protesters in 1990. The activists were disappointed that the city didn't take up the cause then, he said.

"It's wonderful, it's late, but hooray, it became an issue for them again," said Duran.

In spite of Kim's statement during Tuesday's meeting that the street name change doesn't take away from Walesa's achievements, some LGBT activists feel that Walesa's decades of homophobic and transphobic comments will forever tarnish his legacy. Others are relieved that the change is being made.

Polish gay activist Gregory Czarnecki, the LGBTI program officer of Open Society Foundations, approved Kim's proposal.

"The international condemnation is very important," Czarnecki said in an email interview. "In a city known for championing LGBT rights, having his name on there is a scandal. It's like naming a street Mugabe in Harlem: although he was a freedom fighter in Africa, his current record almost negates the past."

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has long been a vocal opponent of LGBT rights.

"[Walesa] needs to understand that the world is watching and his balloon needs to be deflated a bit," Czarnecki added.

San Francisco resident Julie Dorf, senior adviser of the Council for Global Equality, agreed.

"I doubt that the name change will do much to change the bias of Lech Walesa, but it could provide solidarity to the LGBT movement in Poland," said Dorf. "It's so unfortunate that President Walesa has tarnished his long-standing, pro-democracy reputation with his regressive views on LGBT people."

She praised Poland's elected LGBT members of parliament: Robert Biedron, who is gay, and Anna Grodzka, who is transgender.

"They are fantastic politicians who not only deserve Walesa's respect �" but are symbols of the best of Polish democracy, which is what he fought so hard to achieve," said Dorf.


UN appoints new human rights commissioner

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Flavia Pansieri of Italy as the new deputy high commissioner for human rights on March 15.

Pansieri will replace Kyung-wha Kang of South Korea.

Pansieri is a 30-year veteran with the U.N., and most recently served as the executive coordinator of the U.N. Volunteers Program, according to a news release.

The appointment comes at a time when the U.N. Human Rights Council is debating a report by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that found discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity continues to be persistent and widespread throughout the world.

It is anticipated the council will pass a resolution on the matter within the coming week, reported Gay Star News.

The council's move is timely due to pending anti-LGBT legislation in Uganda and Russia and threats of copycat legislation in a number of other countries.


Nepal hosts UN LGBT rights seminar

A U.N. seminar on LGBT human rights will be hosted March 22-23 in Nepal. The country was selected for its progressive movement toward LGBT acceptance.

While Nepal hosts the seminar, leaders have decided to deny the renewal of an operational license to the country's only LGBT rights organization, the Blue Diamond Society, reported Gay Star News.

To add insult to injury, gay activist Sunil Pant, founder of BDS, is scheduled to speak at the conference.

Speaking to the media outlet, he called Nepal hosting the seminar and denying BDS' license "embarrassing" and "causing big crisis to the LGBTI community in Nepal."

Without official status BDS' staff and programs across Nepal are "suffering" as funding is frozen. Pant has reportedly given up his salary back to the organization, reported GSN.


Transgender win in South Korea

Five transgender men received a favorable ruling March 15 from Seoul Western District Courts to have their families register their gender identity as male without undergoing sex-change operations, reported the Hankyoreh .

The five unidentified plaintiffs filed their complaint with the court in December 2012. They claimed the surgery requirement violated the constitutional rights of transgender individuals. The legal barrier to change their gender status "constituted the main barrier to approvals and violated the spirit of the legal gender modification system," reported the newspaper.

Transgender South Koreans have legally been able to change their gender status since 2006. A year later, however, the rule was changed so that individuals had to possess the "external genitalia of the opposite sex."


Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at 00+1-415-221-3541, Skype: heather.cassell, or [email protected].