Transsexual makes debut in new Polish parliament

By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA and VANESSA GERA | November 8, 2011 | 6:30 AM EST

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A transsexual woman and an openly gay man took seats in Poland's newly elected parliament as it held its first sitting Tuesday, historic firsts that reflect profound social change in this traditionally Roman Catholic country.

Anna Grodzka, who was born a man but underwent a sex change operation, entered the assembly hall wearing a burgundy skirt and jacket. Several men and women shook her hand, while one male lawmaker kissed her on the cheek.

Grodzka then took a seat next to Robert Biedron, a leading gay rights activist who is the first openly gay person to be elected to parliament. Both belong to Palikot's Movement, a new progressive party that became the third-largest party in parliament in Oct. 9 elections.

Palikot's Movement has vowed to push for liberal causes. It opposes the power of the church in society, promotes gay rights, and wants to challenge the country's near-total ban on abortion.

The session was opened by a former parliament 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 the ceremonial opening from a balcony.

Zych also remembered the late President Lech Kaczynski and lawmakers who died with him in a plane crash last year — words spoken as Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the late leader's twin brother, sat 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.

The 460 lawmakers to the lower house, or Sejm, gathered for the first time since the elections last month gave the center-right prime minister, Donald Tusk, a mandate for a second term. The 100-seat Senate will meet for the first time later in the day.

The elections marked the first time since Poland threw off communism 22 years ago that a government won a second consecutive term, another historic first that reflects growing stability following political turmoil and often short-lived governments in the early years of democracy.

Tusk has remained popular thanks to an image he has cultivated of moderation and because the economy has grown impressively since Poland joined the European Union in 2004. It was the only EU country to avoid recession during the global crisis of 2008-09.

President Bronislaw Komorowski addressed the newly elected body, urging them to work together to maintain Poland's strong economic performance as Europe faces a new financial crisis.

Lawmakers then rose, one by one, to take their vows.

Tusk is to formally resign with his outgoing government later in the day and will then be tasked by the president with forming a new Cabinet. The new government will then face a confidence vote in parliament in coming weeks. No date has been set yet for that vote.

Tusk plans to keep governing with his junior partner of the past four years, the conservative agrarian Polish People's Party. He also plans to keep many of his key ministers in their jobs, including Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski and Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski.