This Country's Foreign Minister Bravely Came Out

by Clarissa-Jan Lim

Just as his country gears up to take over the six-month rotating EU presidency in January 2015, Edgars Rinkevics, the Latvian Foreign Minister, announced on Twitter that he's gay. In a region known for its lack of acceptance of the LGBT community and their rights, his announcement signals the first and — so far — only coming out of a high-ranking lawmaker in Latvia and the Baltic states.

Since favorited over 2,000 times, Rinkevics' tweet read: "I proudly announce I am gay... Good luck all of you." Moments earlier, he had tweeted in Latvian: “Our country must create a legal framework for all types of partnerships, I will fight for it, I know that there will immediately be mega-hysteria but #Proudtobegay.”

Considering the heightened profile Rinkevics will occupy when Latvia assumes the EU presidency, his coming out so publicly has immediately propelled him to the forefront of the gay rights movement in Eastern Europe.

Lest the skeptics among you think it was a hoax, the authenticity of the tweets have been confirmed by a spokesman, reported Michael Birnbaum at the Washington Post. Birnbaum added that Rinkevics is one of the most popular politicians in the former-Soviet bloc, and has long refused to discuss his personal life — until now.

Soon after regaining independence from the Soviet Union, Latvia decriminalized homosexuality in 1992. The country remains socially conservative, though, and in 2006 amended its constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Gays and lesbians are legally allowed to adopt if they are single, but non-married partners cannot adopt the same child.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The announcement will test the tenacity of Latvia's relationship with Russia, a nation who largely seems to have zero tolerance for the LGBT community. Hours before his coming out on Twitter, Rinkevics took to the social media platform to denounce President Putin's stance on the Nazi-Soviet Pact, a non-aggression treaty signed by both powers in 1939 that suggested Britain and France were to blame for Hitler's advance into Europe.

According to The Guardian, Rinkevics' sexuality has been the subject of rumors, most recently in the lead up to the parliamentary elections in October. His personal declaration was made a day after being confirmed as foreign minister. However, the very branch of government he now serves also advanced a bill — the same month he was elected — that would "limit sexual education to the traditional understanding of marriage, meaning the union of one man and one woman," said a Human Rights Watch report. It also mentioned that anti-LGBT groups in the country were on its way to collecting 30,000 signatures for a referendum that would ban "gay propaganda."

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However, the Latvian capital Riga will be host to EuroPride in June 2015. The contrast possibly indicates equally strong pro- and anti-LGBT movements in the country, setting the stage for an intense struggle in Latvian society for years to come. But in his country of two million people, Rinkevics will no doubt face some kind of opposition to his sexuality now made public.

Images: Edgars Rinkevics/Twitter; Getty Images (2)