Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, prospective Liberal Democrat candidate for the European Parliament Giles Goodall assesses whether Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel could soon become Europe’s second openly gay prime minister.
Calm, wealthy and well-organised, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg does not usually grab international headlines. Its politics are similarly stable, with continuity tending to triumph over change. Until this month, Jean-Claude Juncker looked like a dead cert to continue as prime minister for a fifth successive term, cementing his position as the EU’s longest serving leader.
But the country’s general election on 20 October delivered a small political earthquake by local standards, with Juncker’s centre-right Christian democrats losing seats to the opposition liberal Democrats. Together with the socialists and greens, the liberals lost no time in proposing a new centre-left coalition, pushing the Christian democrats into opposition for only the second time since the Second World War.
In doing so, their leader Xavier Bettel placed himself in pole position to become the country’s next prime minister. Currently mayor of Luxembourg City, Bettel also happens to be openly gay. If he can successfully form a new government – currently expected by December – he would therefore join Belgium’s Elio Di Rupo as the European Union’s second LGBT prime minister.
Di Rupo, Bettel and Iceland’s former prime minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (who is openly lesbian), are blazing a trail for LGBT communities in Europe. The fact that they have reached the highest echelons of power in their respective countries is highly symbolic.
But perhaps the most remarkable part of the whole story is how unremarkable their sexuality has been for voters and media alike. When Di Rupo came out publicly in 1996, he was reported to have answered a journalist’s question as to whether he was gay with a simple “Yes. So what?” Bettel has said that “voters chose me for my record and my personality, not my sexuality.” He is regularly seen in public with his partner at official events, as was Sigurðardóttir.
Perhaps the true measure of progress is therefore not that a gay man or woman can be elected to lead their country, but that their sexuality is simply no longer an issue. Sadly, this is not yet the case everywhere in Europe. A 2012 survey found that while most Europeans (a majority in 17 countries) feel comfortable with a gay, lesbian or bisexual leader, ten countries were to some extent uncomfortable with the idea. Denmark, Sweden and Luxembourg were most positive, followed by Catholic Ireland and Spain, while Latvia, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria were least likely to be comfortable.
Next year’s European Parliament elections represent a good opportunity to put the issue of equality at the top of the EU’s political agenda – and to help to make the sexuality of political leaders a non-issue everywhere in Europe.
Giles Goodall is a prospective Liberal Democrat candidate for the European Parliament and a campaigner on equality issues.
He tweets @GoodallGiles