WARSAW The third-biggest party in Poland's parliament nominated a transsexual woman for the job of deputy speaker on Thursday, upsetting conservative lawmakers who said they would try to block the appointment.
The nomination of Anna Grodzka, a 58-year-old who completed a sex change three years ago, will test attitudes in Poland, a devoutly Catholic country where traditional moral values often clash with new, liberal ideas about sexuality.
The opposition Law and Justice party said it opposed Grodzka because she lacked the experience need for the job. But one of the party's lawmakers had previously said Grodzka had a "boxer's face," and questioned if she could really be considered a woman.
Speaking to reporters in parliament after Janusz Palikot, the leader of her ultra-liberal party, the Palikot Movement, announced he was putting her name forward for the role, Grodzka said she was ready to take on the challenge.
"I've been a member of parliament for over a year now and this experience is enough, I think," Grodzka said. "It's important what one represents. If there are voices against me, they are voices that are heading into the past."
A businesswoman with a psychology degree, Grodzka was elected in October 2011, becoming Poland's first transsexual lawmaker. The deputy speakership is a more visible role: it involves chairing sessions of parliament when the speaker is not available, and carrying out occasional ceremonial duties.
As one of the bigger factions in the Sejm, or lower house of parliament, Palikot has the right to assign its nominee to take up one of the chamber's deputy speakerships. There is a vacancy because the previous Palikot appointee stepped down.
Law and Justice said it would push for a rule change which would, in effect, stop Grodzka taking up the post.
"This person has very little political experience to be carrying out such a role," Joachim Brudzinski, a senior Law and Justice lawmaker, told Reuters.
"In the next few days we will announce a proposal to limit the number of deputy speakers, not every parliamentary group should have its own deputy speaker."
In video footage posted on the YouTube video-sharing site, Krystyna Pawlowicz, another Law and Justice member of parliament, talked about Grodzka's sex change.
Addressing a gathering of readers of a right-wing newspaper, Pawlowicz recounted how, when she had been on a radio show with Grodzka, she got mixed up about whether to address her as a man or a woman.
"Really, a boxer's face. How can I not make a mistake?" Pawlowicz says in the footage.
"I said: 'Ms. Grodzka, it's not like when you stuff yourself full of hormones you become a woman. The genetic code decides this. Let's do a blood test. Nothing will change that, no operation'."
Palikot, leader of Grodzka's party, said his deputies had voted overwhelmingly for her nomination and were only concerned that it would make her a target for further insults.
Poland's parliament regularly grapples with issues such as abortion, gay partnerships and in-vitro fertilisation - all of which drive a wedge between liberals and conservatives, who are backed by the still-influential Catholic church.
There were angry debates in the chamber last week over draft legislation that would have given legal status to same-sex partnerships.
Prime Minister Donald Tusk backed the initiative, but several of his own supporters crossed the aisle and joined the conservative opposition to vote it down.
(Additional reporting by Chris Borowski and Adrian Krajewski; Editing by Sophie Hares)