Current Affairs

The gay world leaders who broke down barriers on LGBT rights

Nick Duffy April 4, 2016
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Scotland is the gayest country on the planet according to Labour’s Kezia Dugdale – who just became the fourth Scottish political leader to come out.

Scotland has indeed seen a remarkable concentration of LGB leaders – Tory leader Ruth Davidson is a lesbian, Greens leader Patrick Harvie is bisexual and UKIP’s David Coburn is gay.

But Scotland it is not alone in seeing more politicians open up about their sexuality – and across Europe, a few LGB people have even made it to the very top.

While plenty of past world leaders are rumoured to have stayed in the closet, recent years have seen a growth in openly LGB world leaders… as electorates and parties decide that sexuality simply shouldn’t be an issue.

Since 2009, three world leaders have been openly LGB:

1. Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland

The gay world leaders who broke down barriers on LGBT rights

The leader of the Iceland’s Social Democratic Alliance, Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir came to power in 2009 following the financial crisis.

Ms Sigurdardóttir has two children by her ex-husband Þorvaldur Steinar Jóhannesson, and entered a civil union with author Jónína Leósdóttir in 2002.

Her sexuality was common knowledge in Iceland, but was largely un-remarked upon in the country despite attention internationally.

The Icelandic leader was widely respected for pioneering a number of reforms during her time in office, implementing same-sex marriage back in 2010 and becoming one of the first people to take advantage of the new law.

She retired from politics in 2013, opting not to stand for re-election.

Out comic Sandi Toksvig has spoken of her unorthadox friendship with the former leader, citing her as a political role model and personal friend.

2. Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo, Prime Minister of Belgium

The gay world leaders who broke down barriers on LGBT rights

Elio Di Rupo became the first openly gay man to lead a country in 2011, heading up a coalition government after a year and a half in which no government could be formed.

His private life was called into question years earlier in 1996, when he was falsely accused of having had sex with under-age males.

The leader – seldom seen without his signature bow tie – came out when a heckling journalist shouted: “They say you are a homosexual.”

Mr Di Rupore recalled: “I turned around and shot back: ‘Yes. So what?’ I will never forget that moment… for several seconds there was silence.

“People were so surprised by my reply they stopped jostling each other. It was a sincere, truthful reply.”

By the time Mr Di Rupo came to power, the country had already had gender recognition laws, same-sex marriage, and LGBT adoption for several years.

He was branded “shameless” in the Belgian press after he was seen without his shirt on in a documentary… unlike any heterosexual world leader ever.
The gay world leaders who broke down barriers on LGBT rights

The Belgian leader served just one term as Prime Minister, and was ousted in the 2014 elections.


3. Xavier Bettel, Prime Minister of Luxembourg

The gay world leaders who broke down barriers on LGBT rights
The tiny European state of Luxembourg has a population of just over half a million, and it is so small you can walk across it in a day.

But it is also home to the world’s only currently-serving openly gay Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel.

Mr Bettel was elected the head of the country’s Democratic Party in 2013, and became Prime Minister the same year by brokering a coalition with Socialist leader Étienne Schneider, who became his Deputy Prime Minister.

As both the leaders are openly gay, Luxembourg is the first country to have a gay Prime Minister and gay Deputy Prime Minister at the same time – giving Scotland a run for its money for that “gayest” title.

Under Mr Bettel’s leadership, Luxembourg passed equal marriage by a landslide vote of 56-4, and the law came into effect last year with remarkably little attention.

The Prime Minister was one of the first people to take advantage of the changes in May 2015, tying the knot himself… though not to Mr Schneider.

He married his long time partner Gauthier Destenay in a private ceremony with a strict ban on press. A number of other European leaders are rumoured to have been on the guest list, including Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron is said to enjoy a warm working relationship with the leader despite their differing political views, and was bizarrely photographed tickling the leader.

Yes, you read that right.

Mr Cameron probably didn’t make it to his wedding, however – sources suggested the PM was in London all day.

Mr Bettel endured a homophobic tirade from a notoriously homophobic Greek MP in 2014, when the far-right politician branded Mr Bettel and his partner “faggot mates” on Twitter

Ever the diplomat, the Luxembourgish leader replied: “Hello, I heard you want to tell me something, but I don’t speak Greek. Sorry.”

More: Belgium, Belgium, Europe, Gay, Iceland, Iceland, leaders, LGBT, Luxembourg, Luxembourg, PM, politician, Politics, Prime Minister, Scotland, Sexuality

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