Robert Biedroń shakes up most stereotypes one would have about Poland and its politicians. Born in the city of Rymanów, Mr Biedroń has been active in politics since the early 2000s. His electoral victory in the October 2011 parliamentary elections meant that he was the first openly gay member of the Sejm (lower house of the Polish Parliament). Being victim to homophobic attacks during his tenure did not stop him from also breaking the record as the first openly gay mayor in Poland. Earning 57% of the vote in 2014, he became Mayor of the city of Słupsk, and still holds the post to this day.

I was looking for a political party, which was close to my political beliefs, and I found the Social Democrats and got engaged in the Social Democrat movement.

When did your interest in politics begin? Was it something ever-present since your youth?
I must say, it was not just an interest in politics, it was an interest in society and solving its issues. Since I can remember, I was involved in school and local causes; I collected money for the Polish Medical System as a young volunteer. There was no motivation from a specific person in my activities; I was just motivated by the willingness to change the world and fix the problems around me – that’s why I started getting involved in politics. Politics was a consequence of these kinds of activities. I knew politicians had the power and tools to change the world, and I understood that if I wanted to be effective I needed to engage in politics, and so I did.

What prompted you to start a political career?
I think undoubtedly, personal experiences. I thought that, as an atheist and openly gay person, I would not have an easy life in conservative Poland. I did not agree with many things that I saw happening around me, and thought that if I wanted to live in a better country – in a more open, tolerant, and diverse Poland – I had to engage. This prompted me to start a political career.

I was looking for a political party, which was close to my political beliefs, and I found the Social Democrats and got engaged in the Social Democrat movement.

What was it like serving as an openly gay member in the Polish Parliament ?
It was very hard for me, because people were constantly judging and insinuating that the only reason I was elected and in the parliament was because I am gay. I did not think this was fair, and had to prove all the time that I was capable and deserved to be a member of the parliament. I know that, unfortunately, this is a similar struggle sometimes for female politicians, who have to constantly prove their capabilities in the political sphere. I worked much harder than my straight colleagues to prove that I had the knowledge, energy and experience, alongside a willingness to engage. Unfortunately, this is a reality for many marginalized people in our society.

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What was it like being the victim of homophobic aggression several times since your election to the Sejm?
To put it mildly, it was not easy. There were no other members of parliament that were being beaten up or were victims of physical aggression. I faced not only psychological aggression and hate speech – I was beaten up and spat at. It was not an easy time but I knew I had to survive and persevere, especially if I wanted people to get used to the presence of LGBTQI people in the public space. If we want to change people’s minds, people have to meet us, touch us, look at us; to see that we are, indeed, part of this society.

While we make decisions in the parliament, we don’t see the immediate impact of our decisions on people.

How has your experience in the Sejm been different to that in the mayoral office?
The Sejm was less practical. Being a mayor is a practical job; you have decisions to make about the holes in the road, the revitalisation of streets and neighbourhoods, and the building of schools. I have to say that being a member of parliament was more theoretical. While we make decisions in the parliament, we don’t see the immediate impact of our decisions on people. While I enjoyed being a Member of Parliament, I also enjoy being involved in local government, which I find is closer to the people.

What is it that you are trying to do differently as Mayor of Słupsk?
I’m trying to show that Słupsk is a medium-sized city that deserves equal attention from the central government in Warsaw. Unfortunately, large cities such as Warsaw, Krakow, or Gdansk seem to receive more attention from the authorities, leaving medium and small sized cities in Poland with few resources and no sustainable development plans. I’ve tried to make my mayorship different by not only being closer to my electorate, but also being amongst them. I talk a lot and consult regularly with them, with the hope that all of this leads to better decision-making.