World's First Full-Time Gay Male Leader: Belgium's Elio Di Rupo

BY Neal Broverman

December 06 2011 2:50 PM ET

Elio Di Rupo takes over Tuesday as Belgium's premier, making
him the first openly gay man to head a nation on a full-time basis.

Di Rupo, 60, is making more headlines in Belgium for his native tongue than for his sexual orientation. He's the first French-speaking politician to lead the country in 30 years — the majority speak Dutch — and the first Socialist leader since 1974. Di Rupo is heading a nation that has gone more than 500 days without a formal government, and one that's wrapped up in the debt crisis currently roiling the European Union. A downgrade of Belgium's credit made it urgent for the nation to find a new leader, which propelled Di Rupo to the prime minister's seat.

Di Rupo was born to poor Italian immigrants — his father was killed when he was a year old, leaving his illiterate mother to raise seven children on her own. Di Rupo said his childhood was not unhappy, though. Di Rupo studied to be a pharmacist, but got into left-wing politics in the 1980s.

"In 1999, he took the [Socialist] party's helm, winning consecutive seats as member of parliament, senator, European MP, deputy premier, head of the southern government of Wallonia and mayor of the city of Mons," the Telegraph reports. 

The politician, fond of colorful bow ties, is revered for his brilliant speaking skills. His sexuality only became an issue in 1996, when he was falsely accused of engaging in sex with underage boys. During the accusations, Di Rupo was asked by reporters if he was gay. He responded, "Yes. So what?" Read more here. 

While Johanna Sigurdardottir, a lesbian, is prime minister of Iceland, Di Rupo is the first out gay man to lead a nation after Per-Kristian Foss, a Norwegian politician, briefly served as prime minister of his country in 2002.

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