Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Movin' on Up, to the TOP

Europe's Gay Leaders: Out at The Top - via TIME

When Iceland installed Johanna Sigurdardottir (pictured) 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 (pictured), 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."

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