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Belgium's 1st transgender vice premier target of verbal barb

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FILE - In this Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020 file photo,the newly appointed Belgian Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Civil Services and State-owned companies, Petra De Sutter, center speaks with new Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo, and new Belgian Foreign Minister Sophie Wilmes, right, during a group photo after a swearing in ceremony for the new government at the Royal Palace in Brussels. (Danny Gys, Pool via AP, File)

BRUSSELS – Belgium's first transgender politician to reach the higher echelons of government has come under stinging attack from the country's extreme right, only days after she was appointed.

The new Belgian government sworn in Saturday includes Green Vice Premier Petra De Sutter, a professor specializing in gynecology and fertility who had been a member of the EU parliament since last year.

She posted upon her appointment that she was “proud that in (Belgium) and in most of (the EU) your gender identity does not define you as a person and is a non-issue."

“I hope that my appointment as Minister and Deputy PM can trigger the debate in countries where this is not yet the case," she wrote on Twitter.

On Wednesday though, she immediately became an issue and faced bitter criticism in the regional parliament of her native Flanders in northern Belgium.

Bart Claes of the Flemish Interest party had posted on Facebook that De Sutter “wants to destroy and replace all cornerstones of our Western civilization."

De Sutter's party colleague, legislator Bjorn Rzoska, decried attempts to “dehumanize her." Rzoska received the backing of the legislature chairperson, Liesbeth Homans on Wednesday. Even though Homans defended the right of free speech, she added that personally she found Claes' comments "extremely reprehensible."

Claes, however, would not back down, saying in another Facebook post that “I don't see the problem. I said that a transgender ... is a transgender."