State of Gay

Beyers de Vos
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Hey Martin Luther King, guess what? I have a dream too. Here it is: I dream of a world where politics and sexual orientation are totally divorced from one another; of a world where a politician’s abilities and policies aren’t tied up in, down by, or around his sexual preferences. If the last few weeks have proven anything it is that we definitely don’t live in that world yet, but it has also showed us that we definitely can.

First, the good news. Two weeks ago the tiny European duchy of Luxembourg elected its first ever openly gay Prime Minister. Xavier Bettel will join the Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo (who first came out in 1996) and Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, the current Prime Minster of Iceland, who became the world’s first lesbian head of state, as one of only three openly gay leaders in the world. Luxembourg’s new deputy Prime Minister is also gay.

That Europe can now boast three gay heads of state is, of course, a very positive reflection of the changing tides towards the issue of homosexuality.  But then, it isn’t exactly that hard to believe: the most liberal countries in the world (Canada, all of Scandinavia, The Netherlands, Britain etc), have all had members of national government or cabinet be openly gay (some of them for decades) without it ever being problem. In fact, if you look at the list of openly gay members of government, you’ll find most of them serving in Europe. With the exception of Russia, which is perhaps the most hostile anti-gay government in the Western world.

Even the sharply divided United States of America recently elected its first openly lesbian senator and has had many gay men and women serving in local and state governments. Of course, it is a country that still has major strides to make (even with the very important Supreme Court ruling earlier this year in defence of gay marriage). Barack Obama is only the first elected president to openly support gay marriage (and this AFTER he came into office) and America has never had a gay man or woman serving in the national executive. Aside: there are rumours that James Buchanan, the fifteenth president of America was gay and plenty of evidence to support this theory, with some fairly heavyweight academics endorsing it, but given that he served in 1857 it isn’t really relevant. Buchanan, incidentally, has also repeatedly been voted the worst American president ever.

As for the rest of the world, there are a couple of noteworthy countries that have gays serving in government, such as Mexico and New Zealand, but it remains mainly a more conservative and hostile political environment.  We saw two significant examples of that last week. Tellingly, the Australian court system, supported by a new conservative government, has just denied the right to gay marriage.  I admit that when I began research for this article, I assumed Australia was one of the more liberal countries in the world as it has quite an impressive list of openly gay members of government, although none of these people served in the national government. Given that it is a country that was under the rule of a self-styled liberal party, it seemed natural that it would be a country that put this issue to rest a long time ago.

I have since been disappointed by Australia as the government’s lack of support for this issue is disgusting and damaging. Similarly, India, which has no openly gay people serving in national or local government, also had a major setback this week after the courts there recriminalised gay sex. In that county’s defence though, the Indian government responded to this news by saying they are considering issuing a quick-fire law negating that particular court ruling. The gay rights record in the rest of the pan-Asian area remains disappointing, as it does in the Middle East and Africa, where there are only two openly gay people serving in public office on the entire continent, both from South Africa.

It boggles my mind that in one week we have one country electing two openly gay men to its two top jobs without batting an eyelid while another criminalises gay sex. Of course, it shouldn’t matter what the sexual orientation of any head of state or member of government is, and it is good news that at least in some parts of the world we see openly gay people being elected and supported and trusted without their sexual orientation being an issue. Hopefully one day this will be a worldwide trend. A boy can dream.

About Beyers de Vos

I am a South African book-sniffing pants-wearing coffee-drinking scarf addict and journalist. I believe that everyone has the right to be exactly who they want to be and no one should be anyone someone else has told them to be. I awkwardly try to marry nerdy with rock 'n roll. Sometime I get it right.