"The Prime Minister and his husband": Gay leaders around the world
In the United States, women only got the vote in 1920. Racial segregation only ended in 1964, and same-sex marriage was only legalised in 2015. As recently as 2003, same-sex sexual activity was illegal in fourteen US states.
Given that 50% of Americans are women, 28% are non-white, and around 5% are LGBTI, there seems to be a logical progression of acceptance of minorities. So you might say that same-sex people in positions of power is the final frontier of representation.
While the United States has a strong conservative streak, many European nations are far more progressive, with a stronger history of diversity and equality. And since 2009 (just 10 years ago!) they’ve been proving it by electing LGBTI leaders in a variety of countries. While there’s other LGBTI people in positions of power around the world, today let’s take a look at those that have reached the pinnacle of political power in their countries - a potent and highly visible indicator of minority acceptance.
The Prime Minister of Luxembourg and his husband. Sounds nice doesn’t it? Xavier Bettel married the incredibly named Gauthier Destenay in 2015, and they’re an adorable couple. While we can only hope their lives are full of puns about being each other’s destiny, the word destiny in Luxembourgish is “Schicksal”, but they probably still get the joke.
Prime Minister since 2013, Xavier’s government worked on reforms to allowing same-sex marriage, removing religious education from schools and replacing them with ethics classes, and cutting spending to reduce government debt.
Frequently appearing together at public functions, the pair are open about their relationship: holding hands, hugging, and otherwise publicly displaying their affection. Controversy was sparked when a photo of the spouses of NATO leaders was posted by the White House, with only Mr Destenay’s name missing from the caption. It was later updated to include him after an uproar in the media.
In June 2017, Ana Brnabić became Prime Minister of the small European country of Serbia. Eastern Europe is a bit more conservative than Western Europe, so as an openly Lesbian woman, this was no small feat. The political climate in Serbia is a bit complicated; although she leads a conservative government, her stated priorities are modernisation, education reform, and digitisation in an effort to fight corruption.
She became the first leader of any country in the Balkans to attend a gay pride march, saying “For me, this is a way to make an active contribution to dealing with stereotypes and prejudices.” Her partner is Doctor Milica Đurđić, and the two frequently attend official events together, so the web is littered with pictures of them being way too cute together.
It’s hard not to be impressed by this hero of representation. Meet Leo, the openly gay, half-Indian Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland. It’s even more impressive that Catholic, very white, very straight Ireland are happy to have him.
Elevated to the post at just 38 years old, he’s the youngest person to hold the title. One of his first acts as Taoiseach was to launch a referendum on allowing abortion across Ireland, which passed with a resounding 66.4% of the vote. Now you can admire the Taoiseach and his partner, Matthew Barrett, knowing that he’s a man of values who fights and wins.
Elio Di Rupo
Elio Di Rupo was the Prime Minister of Belgium, and the first openly gay man (and the second LGBT person) to lead a country. He came out of the closet publicly in 1996, while Vice Prime Minister of Belgium.
Known for his charming bow-ties and no-nonsense attitude, Elio led a successful government through difficult economic challenges. One of the most striking moments was when a journalist in a media pack chasing him down the street cried, “Yet they say you’re a homosexual!” He fired back with the immortal reply, “Yes. So what?”
All hail Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the first gay Prime Minister of Iceland, and the first LGBTI leader of a country anywhere in the world. 10 years ago in 2009, she earned her place in the history books with her elevation to the top post in the country. During her time in office, she presided over efforts to reform the constitution, fought for women’s rights by banning strip clubs and other businesses that profited from women’s nudity. She also led Iceland through it’s recovery from the Global Financial Crisis.
In 2010 Iceland legalized same-sex marriage, and soon after she married her civil partner, Jónína Leósdóttir (that’s Jónína not Jóhanna).
The shape of things to come?
LGBTI people are increasingly visible all over the world, and nowhere more so than in Europe. In many of these countries, acceptance and tolerance has such a strong history that someone’s sexuality isn’t considered relevant in political debate. As one would expect, most gay world leaders have belonged to progressive parties and pursued progressive agendas, mirroring the beliefs of the people that elected them.
While some countries stick to the white, straight man formula for leaders, (even though women comprise half the population!) others have shown us that racial, gender, and sexual orientation minorities can, and do, make successful leaders.
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