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Transsexual politician reflects a changing Poland

Anna Grodzka Anna Grodzka

The before and after photos of Anna Grodzka show how much she - and her country - have transformed.

As a man, she once wore a thick beard. Now, Poland's first transsexual lawmaker favours big dangly earrings, her hair in a bob.

Grodzka attracted huge attention when she was elected in 2011, and earned even more recently when she became a candidate to be a deputy speaker for her leftwing party.

She lost that chance on Friday when lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to keep the incumbent in the job. Even so, 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 country that has traditionally been deeply conservative and overwhelmingly Roman Catholic.

"Certain taboos are being dismantled," said Jacek Kucharczyk, a political analyst and the president of the Institute of Public Affairs in Warsaw.

Serious news magazines have featured Grodzka on their front covers, with analytical pieces examining the role of gays and other sexual minorities in society. The tabloids zero in on more frivolous things, like the difficulty the nearly six-foot-two Grodzka faces finding pretty clothes. Or how she freezes in pantyhose in the frigid Polish winters, but still refuses to wear pants.

Grodzka said she herself is still sometimes surprised that she garnered 20,000 votes in her conservative home city, Krakow, to win a seat in Parliament. 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 told The Associated Press in an interview Thursday.

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 lawmaker.

"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," Grodzka said.

The social transformation has been visible in other areas too, including growing support for the state to fund in vitro fertilization, 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.

Last modified onMonday, 10 March 2014 19:19
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