A TRANSSEXUAL WOMAN and an openly gay man have taken their seats in Poland’s newly-elected parliament today – historic firsts that reflect profound social change in the traditionally Roman Catholic country.
Anna Grodzka, who was born a man but underwent a sex change, entered the assembly hall to warm greetings. Several men and women shook her hand, while one male lawmaker kissed her on the cheek. She was later introduced to Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who also shook her hand.
Grodzka sat next to Robert Biedron, an activist who is the first openly gay person elected to Poland’s parliament. Both belong to Palikot’s Movement, a new progressive party that became the third-largest party in parliament in the election on October 9.
Grodzka said she felt overwhelmed by emotion as the session opened with the national anthem and when she later took her oath of office.
“It is a symbolic moment, but we owe this symbolism not to me but to the people of Poland because they made their choice,” Grodzka told the Associated Press.
They wanted a modern Poland, a Poland open to variety, a Poland where all people would feel good regardless of their differences. I cannot fail them in their expectations.
Palikot’s Movement, led by outspoken entrepreneur-turned-politician Janusz Palikot, has vowed to push for liberal causes. It opposes the influence of the church in political life, promotes gay rights, and wants to challenge the country’s near-total ban on abortion.
First female speaker
Ewa Kopacz, the outgoing health minister, was then elected the new parliament speaker — the first time a woman was chosen for a post that the constitution defines as the second most powerful political position, after the prime minister.
The seventh parliament since communism fell was opened by a former speaker, Jozef Zych, who invoked words spoken by the late Polish pope, John Paul II, and acknowledged the presence of archbishops and other church leaders who observed from a balcony.
Zych also remembered the late President Lech Kaczynski and the lawmakers who died with him in a plane crash last year — words spoken as Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the late leader’s twin brother, sat solemnly with other conservative lawmakers.
Kaczynski heads the country’s largest opposition party, the nationalist Law and Justice party, which is riven by deep divisions and internal turmoil after expelling three key leaders on Friday who had called for a more democratic leadership style from Kaczynski.
Last month’s election gave Tusk, of the centre-right Civic Platform party, a mandate for a second term. It was the first time since the end of communism 22 years ago that a government won a second consecutive term.