Ana Brnabic, nominated as the prime minister-designate, arrives at the municipality building and waves to her supporters in Vrnjacka Banja, Serbia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Serbia is not known for its gay-friendly policies.

More than half of the country's residents consider homosexuality a “sickness,” and 48 percent said they'd try to find their son or daughter a “cure” if they came out. Nearly three-quarters of the country's openly gay residents say they've faced discrimination or violence because of their sexual orientation.

In 2009, Serbian Orthodox Bishop Amfilohije Radovic compared Pride parades to "Sodom and Gomorrah." A year later, a lawmaker described homosexuality as an "illness, perversion, deviance and aberration, and a social problem which caused a confrontation between the representatives of a healthy, heterosexual Serbia."

This week, though, the country's president, Aleksander Vucic, made a historic decision: naming Ana Brnabic prime minister. If her cabinet is approved next week, she will become a double first: the country's first female and first openly gay head of government.

“I will run the government with dedication and responsibility and I will do my job honestly and with love,” Brnabic told the state Tanjug news agency, adding that she will focus on goals “bigger and more important than all of us individually.”

If approved, Brnabic will join a handful of other openly gay leaders in Europe. Earlier this month, Ireland selected Leo Varadkar, the openly gay son of an Indian immigrant, to head its governing party. Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel is also out of the closet. And Iceland, ever ahead of the curve, elected its first openly gay prime minister in 2009.

Brnabic attended school in Britain and has a background in business and marketing. Before being named minister of public administration and local government last year, she worked for several U.S. companies in Serbia on wind power.

Since joining the government, she has been celebrated as a beacon for Serbia's gay community. Though the government passed a deeply controversial anti-discrimination measure in 2009, LGBT people routinely face discrimination, harassment and violence. In interviews, one man recalled how people on the street threw stones at him and shouted “f-----.” Another woman said a man attacked her with a knife because she was wearing a shirt with a rainbow flag.

A 2010 survey found that 14 percent of Serbians believe that violence and beatings are legitimate ways to respond to homosexuality. Belgrade's Pride parade is regularly suspended over “security concerns.” In 2010, the procession of about 1,000 participants faced off against a mob of 6,000, who throw bombs and bottles at police.

Brnabic is aware of this history. But last year, she told the Associated Press that she doesn't want her identity to define her. “Hopefully this will blow over in three or four days, and then I won't be known as the gay minister,” she said.

The subject may be difficult to avoid. The decision has infuriated the country's Orthodox church, along with its ultranationalists. The Dveri group, a conservative political party in the minority, blasted the decision as one made under Western pressure. “Is it possible that the ruling majority has no other candidate for the prime minister-designate but the one imposed by the West, which dictates all the moves by this government?” the party asked, according to the Associated Press.

Nationalist official Dragan Markovic-Palma, who previously said that he wouldn't approve anyone for the job who didn't have at least two children, told the Beta news agency simply, “Ana Brnabic is not my prime minister.”

President Vucic's selection of Brnabic is seen by many as a nod toward broader equality, and an effort to nudge his country closer toward the West. Vucic has committed to pushing for membership in the European Union as soon as 2020. Brnabic's appointment may also help Vucic maintain power, even out of office.

In theory, Serbia's prime minister is more powerful than its largely ceremonial president. But Brnabic has little political experience and no real base of power, limiting her ability to achieve change. “I do not believe that Brnabic will lead or have an impact on foreign policy,” Boban Stojanovic, a political scientist at the University of Belgrade, told the Guardian. “This will remain the exclusive domain of President Vucic.”