"You can't use this lavatory. This is the women's bathroom," Vladimir Luxuria reported being told by centre-right lawmaker Elisabetta Gardini on Friday, triggering a spat that forced the speaker of parliament to intervene.
Born male, Luxuria wears women's clothes but has not had sex-change surgery. Elected for the centre-left in April, the 40-year-old former drag queen and defender of gay rights prefers to be called "she". "I have been using women's bathrooms for years. I would have never expected an attack with such violent tones," Luxuria said. "It would be very embarrassing for me to use the men's bathroom. For me, and for the men themselves."
Gardini, spokeswoman for Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party, said she was shocked to bump into Luxuria in the bathroom. "I saw him there and I really felt sick," she said, adding she had written a protest letter to parliament officials.
"He should have a bathroom just for himself," she said. Gardini is backed by fellow centre-right lawmakers who call for the creation of a third, special "transgender" lavatory.
In the unlikely event this proposal were pursued, it would push parliamentary bathroom costs, already the subject of controversy, even higher. The belt-tightening 2007 budget sets aside over 2 million euros ($2.5 million) for soap, toilet paper and cleaning products just for the upper house, the Senate.
Centre-left MPs leapt to Luxuria's defence, with one accusing Gardini of discrimination tantamount to racism.
Parliament speaker Fausto Bertinotti called for tolerance. "I am sorry that we should be discussing this," he said.
It is not the first time Luxuria has clashed with the centre right. Alessandra Mussolini, grand-daughter of Italy's wartime fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, was once asked by Luxuria on television whether she wanted to lock up homosexuals.
"Better a fascist than a faggot," Mussolini snapped