Now we have, in the land of Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa (who wears a pin of the Virgin Mary in his lapel and is a staunch opponent of abortion) an elected official who's transgender. Anna Grodzka, elected in 2011, is the only transgender member of any parliament in the world. Recently, she had the chance to be the deputy speaker for her left-wing party. However, last Friday, lawmakers voted to keep the incumbent in that post.
Still, the mere presence of Grodzka is seen as emblematic of the changes that are taking place in Poland. The rights of gays, lesbians and transgenders was in issue suppressed during the Communist regime. The fall of the Berlin Wall did little, if anything, to change that: In fact, some argue that it made, until recently, an even more oppressive atmosphere for LGBT people as many Poles--including Walesa himself--saw the Church as a powerful ally in the fight against Communism.
It's often been said that Poles' relation to their church is much like that of people in another country that was, until recently, conservative: Ireland. There, people saw their Catholicism as one of the few forms of identity they were able to keep (if in secret) during centuries of British occupation. While the situation for gays has improved in Eire, it's still very, very difficult to be trans on the Emerald Isle.
The optimist in me says that things could improve for Irish trans people. I am certain that better days for trans people are coming in Poland, if for no other reason than Ms. Grodzka's indomitable spirit in the face of the backlash she's incurred. "I am above all trying to be a normal politician, like any other person, maybe even better", she explains.