Poland is scheduled to vote for a new President on June 28 and an openly gay politician will be one of the candidates on the ballot paper in a country that has in recent years slipped to the bottom of LGBTQI rights rankings in Europe.

Forty-four year old Robert Biedroń, is a candidate for The Left, a pre-poll alliance of three parties Democratic Left Alliance, The Left and the Spring party, that will take on incumbent Andrzej Duda, who has the backing of the right-wing populist Law and Justice party.

Biedroń is a Member of the European Parliament and the first openly gay politician in Poland when he was elected Mayor of Splusk, a city in northern Poland, in 2014. An LGBTQI rights advocate since his early years in public life, he was part of the British NGO OutRage!, participated in Poland’s first gay pride march in 2001 and founded the Campaign Against Homophobia

Biedroń has been in a relationship since 2002 with Polish lawyer, university lecturer, LGBTQI activist Krzysztof Jan Śmiszek, who made his political debut in 2019.

Homophobia and LGBTQI rights have emerged as major campaign issues in the country which was ranked by ILGA-Europe in May 2020 as the worst country in Europe for LGBTQI rights. At the beginning of this year around 100 towns across Poland had declared that they were “LGBT-free zones” or “free from LGBT ideology.” Hate against LGBTQI people has emanated both from the government and the Catholic church, and pride parades have been often attacked by right wing groups in the country.

President Duda, who is looking for a second term, has repeatedly taken aim at what he terms as “LGBT ideology.” He has promised to enact a “family card” that will “ban propagation of LGBT ideology” in schools and in public institutions – very similar to Russia’s “gay propaganda law”. Duda has pledged to ban same sex marriages and gay adoptions calling them “foreign ideology.”

Duda, who started as a favourite to win the elections has seen his lead decrease and is likely to head into a second round with his main rival, Rafał Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw, who represents the main centre-right Civic Platform party.

Trzaskowski has been a supporter of LGBTQI rights and had participated in the pride parade in Warsaw in 2019. The same year he has signed a declaration supporting equal rights in the country’s capital city and has supported introduction of education on LGBTQI issues in Warsaw schools. Trzaskowski has said he supports civil partnerships for LGBTQI couples but has not taken a stand on same sex marriages or gay adoptions.

Right wing parties have targeted Trzaskowski  for his pro-LGBTQI stands. Recently, a pro-government weekly had an image of Trzaskowski on its cover sporting a rainbow arm-band and black hoodie with the caption “the extremist candidate.”

Though Biedroń’s electoral chances appear slim, he has emerged as an important minority voice taking on an increasingly homophobic establishment. Biedroń has positioned himself as a “openly gay, atheist, leftist, anti-coal candidate” in a profile published in the Los Angeles Times.

Biedroń has supported marriage equality, has sought enactment of hate crime laws to tackle anti-LGBTQI attacks, taxing of Catholic churches, secular education in schools, relaxation of abortion laws, increasing minimum wage and closing of all coal mines by 2035.

With his lead decreasing in the polls and international condemnation for his anti-LGBTQI rhetoric, President Duda this week invited Biedroń and his mother along with other activists. Biedroń initially accepted the invitation on a condition that the President would apologise.

“I accepted the invitation to meet President Duda on one condition: that he would apologise for his words. In such situations, it is not enough for the head of state to take a selfie with LGBT activists to improve electoral polls,” Biedroń posted on Twitter.

Later, he backed out of the meeting. Explaining why he did not go to the Presidential palace, Biedroń said: “I wanted to meet with the president, but the head of state should know more than a preschooler. Every preschooler knows that there are three words that need to be used at the right time – ‘please, thank you, sorry’. The President should apologise not only to me, not only to the parents of LGBT people, but to millions of Polish women who felt simply offended by these words.”

The Presidential elections will be held on June 28. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the votes, a second round of elections will be held on July 12. President Duda will meet President Donald Trump at the White House on June 24, a meeting that is seen as a move to boost his election campaign.

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