A transsexual politician is challenging Poland’s reputation as a bastion of conservative Catholic mores by making a bid to become deputy speaker of the country’s parliament.
Anna Grodzka, who lived life as Krzysztof Begowski for most of her life before undergoing surgery in 2010, is one of just a handful of trans-gender politicians in the world, and, if she wins the vote, she will become the most powerful.
The nomination of the MP, who stands over six-foot tall, was put forward by her party the Palikot Movement. Led by Janusz Palikot, an idiosyncratic politician, it has pursued clear anti-clerical and socially liberal policies, calling for crucifixes to be removed from public buildings and a relaxation of the Poland’s strict abortion laws.
In a country where some 93 per cent of the population declares itself as Catholic and regular church attendance still manages to hit 55 per cent, the prospect of Ms Grodzka stepping into one of the most high-profile jobs in Polish politics has caused a stir.
“It’s not like a man can stuff himself full of hormones and turn into a woman,” said Krystyna Pawlowicz, an MP from the socially conservative Lawn and Justice party. “The genetic code is the decisive factor.
“When I see a man next to me, how can I address him? Mrs ?”
One newspaper commentator even suggested that Ms Grodzka should undergo psychiatric testing because, he suggested, she might suffering from a “disorder” and asked “would it be good to have such a person as speaker?”
Other critics of Ms Grodzka’s nomination have a described the move as nothing more than a ruse to force the country into an unwanted debate over different forms of sexuality.
At the same time the vote for the speaker comes when the battle lines between Poland’s conservative and liberal blocks have become even more apparent. Last week 46 MPs from the ruling Civic Platform party defied the wishes of Donald Tusk, the prime minister, and voted against a bill legalising gay civil partnerships. There have also been moves to further tighten the abortion law.
But while the possibility that Ms Grodzka could step into the speaker’s shoes has ruffled some conservative feathers, she has also received the weighty backing of senior figures in Polish politics.
Donald Tusk has said he would have no problem voting for the transsexual MP, and even socially conservative hawks from Mr Tusk’s own party have no objections to backing Ms Grodzka.
“I see no problem in voting for the nomination of Anna Grodzka as deputy speaker of the lower house,” said Jaroslaw Gowin, the justice minister. “That she is a transsexual is not a problem for me. That is a private matter. Though I do wonder if she has the necessary experience for the role of deputy speaker.”
But the fact that a mainstream Polish party can even consider nominating a transsexual for speaker has been seen as evidence of changes to Poland’s society and culture. The once mighty influence of the Catholic Church has begun to wane as Poles, now enthusiastic members of the European Union, adopt a more cosmopolitan life style and question Catholic values.