Poland’s first transgenderMP has lost out in a bid to become a deputy speaker in parliament after other parliamentarians voted to keep the incumbent in place.
Anna Grodzka, who attracted huge attention when she was elected in 2011, garnered even more headlines in recent days when she became a potential candidate for the post.
Even though the job appears out of reach for now, the 58-year-old has already had a huge impact on the political scene, becoming perhaps the most prominent symbol of liberal change in a traditionally conservative and largely Roman Catholic country.
Ms Grodzka became a candidate for a deputy speaker post after the current holder of the post for her party, Wanda Nowicka, drew the ire of its founder and leader, Janusz Palikot, for accepting a bonus of 40,000 zlotys (€9,567) for her work as a leader in the legislature last year.
The bonuses have been controversial because they come as Poland’s economy faces a slowdown and the government raises taxes and forces other austerity measures on the public.
Politicians, however, voted overwhelmingly against a proposition to dismiss Ms Nowicka. Ms Nowicka then addressed the assembly, saying she was encouraged by their support and that she would not resign. A prominent activist who has worked for years for women’s causes, Ms Nowicka said there was no merit to the case against her and that she still had work to do for women and her constituents.
Ms Grodzka had sex change surgery in 2010 in Thailand after a lifetime of feeling she was born the wrong sex.
Serious news magazines have featured her on their front covers, with analytical pieces examining the role of gays and other sexual minorities in society.
Ms Grodzka said before the vote that she is still sometimes surprised that she garnered 20,000 votes in her conservative home city, Krakow, to win a seat in Parliament for the Palikot Movement. People have attacked her office, throwing things at the windows or ripping her rainbow flags. But all in all, she feels a growing acceptance from society.
She is aware she is a symbol of historic change in Poland, she said, and is trying to meet that challenge by doing the best work possible as a parliamentarian.
“I am above all trying to be a normal politician, like any other person, but maybe even better. I am really trying so that people who observe me will know that transgender people are no worse in any way than any others,” Ms Grodzka said.
Poland’s social transformation has been visible in other areas too, including growing support for the state to fund IVF, despite conservative Catholic opposition. But it is particularly notable for the new attention given to the rights of sexual minorities, an issue suppressed in communist times and after the fall of communism in 1989, as many Poles looked to the powerful Catholic church for guidance through the economic and social turmoil.
The church’s role was long bolstered by its reputation for standing up to the communists and because of the authority of the late Polish Pope John Paul II. But its influence has waned since John Paul’s death in 2005 and as Poland joined the EU in 2004 and became more closely integrated with the West.
A key turning point came as a new progressive party – Palikot’s Movement - swept into power in 2011 as Parliament’s third-largest force, one fighting for gay rights and against the church’s traditional influence over public life. Its representatives include Ms Grodzka and Poland’s first openly gay MP, Robert Biedron.