The Rise and Rise of Gay Politicians: Ireland, Italy and Elsewhere

David Norris

In Ireland, there is a storing possibility that an openly gay senator, David Norris, could become the next Irish president, in elections due later this year.

A poll has found that openly gay Irish Senator David Norris leads the pack seeking to be the nation’s next president.

The Red C poll conducted in early January found that Norris, 66, is favored by 27 percent of voters, followed by Member of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness at 13 percent, former Prime Minister Bertie Ahern at 12 percent, Dáil member Michael D. Higgins at 11 percent, and MEP Brian Crowley and charity executive Fergus Finlay at 10 percent.

Meanwhile, Silvio Berlusconi’s current troubles have again led to public speculation that Nichi Vendola, the openly gay president of the Apulia region could be the man most likely to unite the presently fractured left wing opposition parties and lead them to victory, and so become Italy’s first openly gay prime minister.


Nichi Vendola

Last year,  Iceland’s Johanna Sigurdardottir became the world’s first openly gay prime minister.

My immediate response was to note the possibility (no more) of the first openly gay head of state, and the first gay male head of government, to follow Ms Sigurdardottir into LGBT history, just a year later. So, I did a little bit of digging, in search of other gay or lesbian in senior government ranks. To my pleasant surprise, I found that impressive though the achievements will be, if Norris and Vendola are successful, they will not be quite as ground-breaking as I thought. Norris will not be the first head of state, and Vendola will not be the first gay Prime Minister of Italy (just the first to be open about it).

In the US, last year’s mid – terms brought the fourth openly gay member of Congress – out of a total of five hundred and thirty eight, less than 1%.  There are still no (openly)  LGBT Senators. Elsewhere, progress has gone much further. Here are just some of the openly gay men I found in just a few hours research who have reached high office in government, at cabinet level, as provincial governors, or mayors of large cities.  (I will be researching the women later).

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Heads of State /Government

Emilio Colombo was Prime Minister of Italy from 1970 to 1972.  Later he became President of the European Parliament  served two terms as Foreign Ministerof Italy.  Later, he was nominated Senator for life. He never acknowledged his sexuality out while in office, but did so in retirement, in 2003.

Claude Janiak was President of the Swiss National Council for the 2005/2006 term. As such, he was the highest ranking representative of the Swiss federal state (but in the intensely decentralized Swiss system, not technically the head of state).

Cabinet Ministers

Per-Kristian Foss was  Minister of Finance in Norway from 2001 to 2005 . He also acted as Prime Minister very briefly in 2002.  Foss has received much attention for being the first openly gay minister in a Norwegian government and lives in registered partnership with Jan Erik Knarbakk

Herman Tjeenk Willink was president of the Dutch Senate from 1991 until 1997. In 1997 he became vice-president of the Dutch Council of State, and therefore the most important advisor to queen Beatrix.

Scott A. Brison served as the Canadian Minister of Public Works and Government Services from 2004 until 2006 in the Paul Martin government. He is now a senior Liberal Party spokesperson on economic issues and currently serves as the Finance Critic for the Official Opposition in the House of Commons

Andreas Carlgren has been the Swedish Minister for the Environment since 2006.

Chris Carter was a senior Cabinet Minister in the Fifth Labour Government of New Zealand, serving lastly as Minister of Education, until his expulsion from the Labour Party in 2010.

Chris Finlayson is a Cabinet minister and the Attorney-General of New Zealand. He holds the ministerial portfolios of Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations and Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage

Roger Karoutchi is a former Secretary of State to the French Prime Minister, with responsibility for Relations with Parliament. He is currently the French Ambassador to the OECD.  In January 2009, Karoutchi publicly announced that he is gay. As such, he was the first French Minister to come out while in office.

Gustáv Slame?ka was the Czech  Minister of Transport in the caretaker government of Jan Fischer.

Gábor Szetey is a Hungarian politician and former Secretary of State for Human Resources in the Gyurcsány government, a role he held from July 2006

Party Leaders

Bob Brown is an Australian senator and leader of the Green Party, and was the first openly gay member of the Parliament of Australia, first elected in 1996.

Elio Di Rupo has since 1999 been the leader of one of the two Belgian social-democratic parties, the Socialist Party (Parti Socialiste, PS), and is one of Belgium’s most powerful politicians.

Boris Dittrich rose to become party leader of D66 in the Netherlands in 2003 after Thom de Graaf stepped down after disappointing results in the 2003 general elections. Dittrich negotiated the participation of D66 in the Dutch coalition government, but decided not to become a minister, devoting himself instead to party business.

Chris Lea is notable for being the first openly gay political party leader in Canadian history, as the leader of the Green Party of Canada from 1990 to 1996.
Provincial Governors / Mayors of major cities

Bertrand Delanoë has been the mayor of Paris since 2001.

Erling Lae was the Governing mayor of Oslo from 2000 to 2009. In 2008 he became a deputy leader of his party, and in 2010 he was announced as the new County Governor of Vestfold,

Jerónimo Saavedra served as President of the Canary Islands from 1983 to 1987, and again from 1991 to 1993.  In 1996 and from 1999 to 2003 he was elected Spanish Senate. In 2007 was elected mayor of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in a landslide victory, bringing the twelve-year rule of his conservative People’s Party predecessors to an end.

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