Sunday, 9 January 2011

Europe's Out in Front Politicians : Time Magazine

From  a perspective from across the Atlantic, it is sometimes hard to believe how far the US still has to go in achieving political and legal equality. (Do I need to remind you yet again that even at the south of the Atlantic, it was South Africa that was the first country anywhere to enshrine LGBT protection in its constitution? ). Conversely, we Europeans sometimes suffer from the prejudice that the Americans are so parochial that they just don't realize what is happening on this side of the pond. Whether that perception is sound or hopelessly false, I make no comment (remember, I'm African not European). I still thought though, that it would be helpful to share with you some observations from Time magazine about the abundance of out politicians here in Europe.  (This is not to be smug, you understand:  just to remind you what rich prizes still await.)

Lord Peter Mandelson: Labour Kingmaker, possible (future) PM?

(Before passing you over to Time, I would just add that here in the UK, a politician's orientation is hardly worth a mention. There are senior lesbians and gay men in the front ranks of all three major parties; for years there have been gays in every cabinet; and several of these could reasonably be seen as potential future Prime  Minister's.  In last year's race for mayor of London, the openly gay candidate came in third:  not because he was gay, but because he was the weakest candidate, and did not represent one of the two major parties. )
Now Time:
When Iceland installed Johanna Sigurdardottir as Prime Minister last February, newspapers around the globe printed variations of the same headline: ICELAND APPOINTS WORLD'S FIRST GAY LEADER. Everywhere, that is, except Iceland. The Icelandic media didn't mention Sigurdardottir's sexuality for days, and only then to point out that the foreign press had taken an interest in their new head of state — a 67-year-old former flight attendant turned politician whom voters had consistently rated Iceland's most trustworthy politician.
Sure, she was gay and had entered a civil partnership with another woman in 2002. But Icelanders hardly seemed to notice. "The media silence echoed the sentiment of the public. Nobody cared about her sexual orientation," says Margret Bjornsdottir, the director of the Institute for Public Administration and Politics at the University of Iceland. "Being gay is a nonissue here. It's considered unremarkable."
Buoyed by liberal attitudes such as those, politicians across Western Europe are stepping out of the closet and into their country's highest political offices. Eleven openly gay men and women now serve in the British Parliament, including two in the Cabinet. Last June, Nicolas Sarkozy appointed Frédéric Mitterrand, a gay television presenter, to the post of Minister of Culture. Paris' Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, tipped by some to contest the 2012 presidential race, is gay. And Guido Westerwelle, chairman of Germany's Free Democratic Party, has just become his country's Foreign Minister, joining a gay élite that includes the mayors of Berlin and Hamburg, Germany's two largest cities. Klaus Wowereit, Berlin's mayor, says coming out ahead of the 2001 mayoral race while under pressure from tabloids strengthened his campaign. "My confession might have contributed to my popularity," he says. "Many people appreciate honesty." (See a history of gay rights.)

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