Latvia has elected a gay man, Edgars Rinkēvičs, as president, a first for Baltic nations and the European Union.
In Latvia, as in many other nations with parliamentary systems, the president is elected by Parliament and serves a largely ceremonial role as head of state. Rinkēvičs, currently the country’s foreign minister, is the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community to be head of state in the E.U., according to major media sources. There have been out prime ministers — usually a more powerful position and head of government — in both E.U. and non-E.U. countries, such as Elio di Rupo in Belgium, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir in Iceland, Leo Varadkar in Ireland, and Ana Brnabić in Serbia. (In the U.S., the president is both head of government and head of state.)
“The president represents Latvia abroad, acts as the supreme commander of the armed forces, signs bills into law, nominates the prime minister and has the right to dissolve the Parliament, among other responsibilities,” the Associated Press explains.
The election of Rinkēvičs is significant for many reasons. The Baltic nations — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — are all former Soviet republics, which are not as LGBTQ-friendly as countries in Western Europe. But Rinkēvičs, who came out in 2014, has held a prominent position as foreign minister — the top diplomatic post in his country — and “has enjoyed high popularity among Latvians because of his hard stance toward neighboring Russia and his unwavering support for Ukraine,” the AP reports.
Speaking after his election Wednesday, he pledged to continue to back Ukraine in its war with Russia and promised to “serve the people of Latvia well,” The Washington Postnotes. Latvia has given much military aid to Ukraine and has helped the embattled nation gain more aid from Western countries. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, called Rinkēvičs a “true friend of Ukraine.” His election “highlights the widening gulf” between Latvia and staunchly anti-LGBTQ+ Russia, according to the Post.
Still, civil rights groups have ranked Latvia as one of the worst countries in Europe in terms of LGBTQ+ rights. It remains to be seen if the new president will be able to improve the situation, although when he came out, he vowed to work for marriage equality, but that has yet to come to the nation. In any case, LGBTQ+ groups celebrated Rinkēvičs’s election, which came as Pride celebrations were starting in Riga, the capital of Latvia.
Rinkēvičs was elected over Uldis Pilens, a businessman, in a runoff for president. The incumbent, Egils Levits, did not seek reelection. Rinkēvičs will be inaugurated July 8 for a four-year term.