Petra De Sutter has been named one of Belgium’s seven deputy prime ministers, making her the highest-ranking out transgender official in Europe and the first trans person to hold such a position on the continent.
As Prime Minister Alexander De Croo formed his new government last week, he appointed De Sutter as deputy prime minister for Groen (the Flemish green party) and minister for public enterprises and public administration, The Brussels Times reports.
De Sutter is a gynecologist and head of the department of reproductive medicine at Ghent University. She is also a veteran politician, having been a member of the European Parliament, the Belgian Senate, and the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. She has championed LGBTQ+ rights, women’s equality, and reproductive freedom.
She has never hidden the fact that she is transgender, but that “went almost unremarked upon by Belgian media,” the Times notes. She tweeted that she hopes her appointment will advance trans acceptance elsewhere.
LGBTQ+ rights activists expressed that hope too. “De Sutter did not attain her powerful position in the new Belgian government because she is a trans woman who brings expertise on specific issues related to LGBTQ rights and trans rights. She was appointed because of her competence as a politician and experienced policymaker,” Katrin Hugendubel, advocacy director at ILGA-Europe, wrote in Politico’s European edition.
“That’s a validation of her identity both as a politician and as a trans woman — and it’s a rebuke to the attacks against trans identities happening in other parts of Europe.” Many of those are happening in Eastern European countries, with moves to ban recognition of trans identity or remove information on trans people from school curricula.
Belgium has long been in the forefront of LGBTQ+ representation. Elio Di Rupo, prime minister from 2011 to 2014, was the first out gay man to head any nation’s government on a full-time basis. Iceland’s Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir, elected prime minister in 2009, was the first lesbian and first member of the LGBTQ+ community to hold the position on anything but an interim basis anywhere in the world.