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Around the world, LGBTQ politicians have been coming into office and, in doing so, shaping the policies of their countries. While in the past, many LGBTQ politicians would have to hide their sexuality in order to gain public acceptance, politicians in the US can now be out and still celebrated and respected as leaders. In other countries, too, we're seeing an increase in LGBTQ politicians and candidates that use their public platform to work progressively to change public perceptions and the law. Here are 15 people who made the list of top influential LGBTQ politicians.
Xavier Bettel was elected Prime Minister of Luxembourg in 2013 and has remained in office since. After several failed attempts to legalize gay marriage, Luxembourg finally passed legislation in 2015 allowing it; Bettel promptly married longtime partner Gauthier Destenay, making him the first leader in the European Union to marry a person of the same gender. Bettel's trailblazing actions set a precedent for citizens of Luxembourg to embrace and celebrate same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights.
Johanna Sigurdardottir became Prime Minister of Iceland in 2009, and so emerged as a modern LGBTQ icon. When she assumed office, she was not only Iceland's first female prime minister, but also its first lesbian prime minister. Furthermore, she became the first openly gay leader of a country, paving the way for leaders like Luxembourg's Xavier Bettel. While Iceland has historically proved rather progressive in its LGBTQ laws–it was one of the first countries to allow civil partnerships and to allow adoptions by gay couples–it took Sigurdardottir's national leadership to bring about gay marriage. She married her longtime partner in 2010, the very year that Iceland legalized it.
Coming of age in the United States in the middle of the twentieth century, Harvey Milk faced discrimination for his sexual identity, just like so many others. He left the Navy as a result, and worked instead in a variety of jobs which ultimately helped to make him well-known and popular. His popularity propelled him into political office as one of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. At the time, he was the first openly gay politician in the United States. There, he worked to oppose anti-gay laws, including one proposal that stated LGBTQ people should not be able to work as teachers. While he was tragically and famously murdered about a year into his tenure in office, he was able to begin to change the mindset of the American public with regard to LGBTQ politicians. His legacy was rightfully honored in a biographical film, with Sean Penn portraying Milk.
Stu Rasmussen was elected mayor of Silverton, Oregon in 2008. He has served in various political offices in Silverton for a quarter of a century, but his 2008 win attracted the most national attention. Although he uses the pronouns He and Him and was born genetically male, Rasmussen has breast implants, occasionally dresses as a woman and uses the name Carla. Rasmussen once said he never knew what it meant to be transgendered until the advent of the internet, but he has made huge strides for trans people everywhere ever since. Becoming mayor made him the first transgendered person serving in a public office in the United States.
An American senator since 2013, Tammy Baldwin is one of the most recognizable LGBTQ politicians in the world. She is, in fact, the first LGBTQ politician to ever be elected to the US senate. In an interview with CNN following her election, she stated that she hoped to help America move toward equality in all areas. Notably, coverage of Baldwin's election rarely referred to her sexual identity, which reflects the ideological change the country was going through during this time. She has since worked to improve Wisconsin's manufacturing and agriculture and to make education more accessible and affordable. Many LGBTQ groups continue to support Baldwin and her righteous agenda.
Daniel Hernández Jr.
When US State Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in 2011, her then-intern, Daniel Hernández Jr., stepped in to help save her life. Hernández gained recognition throughout the country, and even garnered public praise from President Obama for his heroic actions. He has since moved from his internship to a seat on a school board, where he has faced harassment for being gay. Several people in his community argued that because he identified as gay, he could not truly care about and serve schoolchildren. Hernández has worked tirelessly toward equality for LGBTQ people in his hometown, and he has also started campaigning for state political office.
Barney Frank was a member of the US House of Representatives for over thirty years. When he was first elected, he was not yet openly gay. His friendship with a male escort (who lived with him for some time while he held office) prompted a massive scandal with Frank at the center. When the escort reported that he ran his escort service from Frank's home–and more, that Frank was aware of it–both the public as well as Frank's peers were shocked. Barney Frank became the first LGBTQ politician to be publicly outed in the United States. He eventually married his partner in 2012 while still in office, yet another first for a politician in the US House of Representatives.
Once a stripper and prostitute, Georgina Beyer climbed the political ranks until she became a member of New Zealand's Parliament in 1999. As such, she not only became the first transgender person to hold national office in New Zealand, but the first transgender person to hold any national office in the world. While in office, she has worked to make life safer and guarantee more rights for LGBTQ people as well as for female sex workers. Her work has led her to speak internationally about LGBTQ equality.
Althea Garrison was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives for a single term in the early 1990s. As a trans woman during this time, Garrison transitioned quietly and did not talk about her gender status during the election. However, just two days after her election, a reporter published an article spilling details about her previous male name and made Garrison the subject of cruel jokes. During this time, Garrison was not comfortable talking about LGBTQ issues, and she mostly tried to ignore the jeering. She was not reelected for a second term. Simply put, Garrison's story is an unflattering depiction of an unenlightened American ethos, but illustrates well the leaps and bounds America has made since then in terms of its acceptance.
Elio Di Rupo
Elio Di Rupo recently served four years as Prime Minister of Belgium following a prolific political career leading up to that position. In the mid-1990s, reports had suggested he might be guilty of inappropriate sexual behavior solely because he identified as gay, but the claims were later found to be untrue. He consistently admitted to being gay, but also added, "so what?" when asked about it by the press. His political influence helped to make Belgium the second nation in the world to legalize gay marriage, and he continues to be highly regarded for his work in bolstering Belgium's economy.
Even before Harvey Milk was well-known, Kathy Kozachenko was making waves as the first LGBTQ person to win an election to public office in the US. In 1974, she was elected to the city council in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Kozachenko was openly gay in a time when many cities in the United States left its legislation vague enough so that LGBTQ people could face discrimination without much repercussion. Without Kozachenko, many of the LGBTQ politicians who followed in her wake would not have been able to achieve as much success in the fight for equality.
When most people imagine coming out, they usually don't go about it by writing a book. Nikki Sinclaire was the first ever trans member of UK Parliament. When she was first elected in 2009, few people knew about the gender reassignment surgery she had gone through decades earlier. After becoming famous through her political work, she published a book, Never Give Up, that reveals personal details of her life including her surgery and gender transition.
Sean Patrick Maloney
Sean Patrick Maloney is an openly gay member of the US Congress. He and his partner were married in 2012, after having already been together for decades and adopted three children together. His decision to marry while in office followed Barney Frank's example. Although a Democrat, Maloney has been a very moderate Democrat in his voting history, demonstrating that supporting LGBTQ rights is not tied to political leaning.
Ruth Davidson is a well-known Scottish LGBTQ politician. She is open about her sexuality and her relationship with her partner, stating that she thinks talking about being gay will lead to more acceptance of gay people in the future. Davidson asserts that being upfront in answering questions pertaining to her sexuality will hopefully normalize the concept so that future LGBTQ politicians will be able to go about their jobs without the press focusing heavily on their private lives.
As Uruguay's first transgender senator, Michelle Suárez has played an instrumental role in shaping LGBTQ policy for her country. Her name change after graduating from university required her to gain permission from the university to transfer her degree to her new name, which set a national precedent. She has referred to gaining LGBTQ equality in areas like legal marriage as "sad" and "dubious" because of the difficult roadblocks and frustrations one usually endures to attain the rights; it is precisely these sentiments that make Suárez one of the most honest and hardworking LGBTQ politicians ever.