BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The woman slated to become the first openly gay government minister in highly conservative Serbia said Tuesday she hopes public attention surrounding her election will soon fade so she can focus on her new job.
Ana Brnabic, who is expected to become the minister of public administration and local government, told The Associated Press that "I would prefer to get it out in the open right now and get it over with, so that afterward I can focus on my work."
"Hopefully this will blow over in three or four days, and then I won't be known as the gay minister, I'll be known as the minister of public administration and local government," Brnabic said shortly before the start of the Parliament session on approving the new government.
Brnabic's appointment for the government has been hailed by rights groups as historic for the Balkan country whose gay community often faces discrimination, harassment and violence.
Prime Minister-designate Aleksandar Vucic, a former extremist-turned reformist, has promised to boost gay rights as part of efforts to move closer to European Union membership.
Serbia's Commissioner for Protection of Equality Brankica Jankovic said Vucic's move is encouraging for Serbia's gays, who are "exposed to discrimination and sometimes violence."
"This proposal shows it is possible to choose people based on their expertise and knowledge and not their sexual orientation," Jankovic said. "The decision by Ms. Brnabic to openly declare herself (as gay) is encouraging and good."
Serbia's gay rights groups have in the past recorded a number of attacks on gays by far-right groups, while any gay pride events in the country have been held under massive police protection. The influential Serbian Orthodox Church has openly spoken against such events, saying homosexuality is an illness.
Predrag Azdejkovic, the editor of gay magazine Optimist, said a gay government minister was "something new and totally amazing."
"I imagine a lot of young gays and lesbians in Serbia watching TV and watching a gay minister for the first time," he said. "It's a good message to them: this is your country, stay, you are accepted here."
Premier Vucic has said he included 40-year-old Brnabic, who was educated in Britain and has worked for U.S. companies and in USAID, because of her resume and "exquisite energy."
In his marathon speech Tuesday, Vucic told Parliament his government will continue its path toward the EU, but will also maintain close ties with Russia, a traditional Serbian Orthodox Slavic ally.
Serbia's liberal opposition have accused Vucic, who heads the populist Serbian Progressive Party, of crushing dissent and freedom of speech. Lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Party walked out of a Parliament session on Tuesday in protest at Vucic's policies.
Brnabic said that her job description would be to carry out complicated restructuring of Serbia's overblown public administration and local governments as part of pro-EU reform.
"If elected, I will get a very, very difficult portfolio," she added. "There will be a lot of reforms needed."
The government is expected to be confirmed later this week, more than three months after the April 24 elections.
Dusan Stojanovic contributed.