Our Memories Are Too Short

Walesa’s comments underscore a truth about our humanity.


Terry Levine
March 4, 2013

A furor erupted this weekend after Lech Walesa, the founder of Poland’s Soviet-era non-communist trade union and freedom movement, Solidarity – and the country’s first democratically elected president – assailed gays and gay rights.

Walesa said gays had no right to sit on the front benches of parliament and, if they were there at all, should sit in the back “or even behind a wall.” He went on to say “[t]hey have to know that they are a minority and adjust to smaller things… A minority should not impose itself on the majority.”

The comments seem all the more shocking from a man who once fought for human rights and an end to the brutal communist dictatorship that subjugated his people for over 40 years.

But should we be shocked at all? It seems if human nature is consistent about anything, it is that our memories are too short – we demand rights and respect from those who hold power then turn around and disrespect others with even less power. Walesa fought tyranny against his people and now advocates oppression against its gay Polish minority. Egyptians lifted the shackles of dictatorship and in no time began bullying and intimidating its Coptic Christian minority. French Quebecers suffered centuries of abuse, disrespect and economic hardship then, once in power, passed laws forbidding English or propose new ones forbidding the wearing of religious symbols – except crucifixes, of course.

And gays, unfortunately, are not immune to this sort of bigotry either. As I’ve written elsewhere, many gay people expect the straight majority to treat us with respect all while espousing intolerant views of minorities within our own community – blacks, Asians, transsexuals, those with HIV and others have all experienced insensitivity, prejudice or out and out racism.

All of us need to remember that we are a majority in some aspects, but a minority in others. In either case, if we insist on being respected for who we are, we need to show others the same kind of respect in return.