Penny Sharpe, the lesbian mother-of-two expected to take a Labor seat in the NSW upper house next month, has played down the prospect of a parliamentary showdown following reports her candidature has angered conservative MPs.

Sharpe will become the first openly lesbian NSW parliamentarian if, as expected, she is sworn in to replace Carmel Tebbutt in the Legislative Council in mid-October, after the education minister won the Marrickville lower house seat.

The Marrickville councillor said she had been surprised by the response to her upper house ambitions and conservatives’ focus on her sexuality and family.

I expected there would be some interest, but it has taken me by surprise, Sharpe told Sydney Star Observer.

I feel that in some cases I have probably become the lightning rod for the media in terms of trying to cause conflict around those kinds of issues.

Conservative upper house MPs are said to be opposed to Sharpe’s candidature.

Christian Democrat parliamentarian Fred Nile said he had strong reservations about [Carmel Tebbutt’s] rumoured replacement, The Sun Herald reported.

Hardliners in the Liberal party and Catholic Labor MPs are also reportedly upset over Sharpe’s nomination.

Sharpe, 34, said she was surprised by conservatives’ reaction, but was more interested in law reform than confrontation.

In terms of the actual upper house members, I’m surprised that without even meeting me they’re already passing comment about my suitability or otherwise to take a place in the house and also obviously making comments about my fitness or otherwise to be a parent, she said.

If they choose to make that some sort of personal attack on me, well ultimately that will be up to them.

[But] I actually don’t think that the broader community is interested in that, and I can’t see them getting very far with that.

I’m interested in pursuing law reform. I am undeterred by [conservative MPs’] hysteria about it.

Sharpe has nominated equal status for parents in same-sex relationships and their children as a reform goal.

I’m not going to hide who I am or shy away from the issues that I think are important, she said.

But I would hope that sense will prevail and I’ll be allowed to take my place [in the upper house] with everyone else without causing too much difficulty.

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