Germany’s Guido Westerwelle will open the 2010 Gay Games in Cologne. To Americans, the name means almost nothing. To historians, the name is a milestone almost as big as Obama’s.
Westerwelle, 49, is a liberal politician, currently serving as the Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of Germany. He is the first openly gay man to hold either of those positions.
Women have already achieved this distinction, Johanna Sigurdardottir, is the current openly gay Prime Minister of Iceland.
That their elections, to such high office, passed almost unnoticed is a testament to how far Europeans have gone in accepting gays or simply not caring about sexual orientation.
A member of parliament going back to 1996, Guido Westerwelle has been the chairman of the Free Democratic Party of Germany since 2001. He became Foreign Minister & Vice Chancellor in October 2009.
There were isolated nasty remarks and innuendos uttered by the opposition during the campaign, but apologies were quickly made and civility reigned once again. Things never turned ugly, his election became business as usual and accepted as a matter of fact.
Germans, in general, have always been fair toward openly gay politicians. Others paved the way for Guido, like the Mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, who in 2001 declared: “Ich bin Schwul, und das ist Gute” (I’m Gay, and that’s Good).
In a pre election interview with the gay magazine “Siegessaeule,” Westerwelle addressed the young German LGBT community with the following words : “Do not despair, this society is changing for the better … towards tolerance and respect... albeit at a pace slower than I would like...” His official coming out occurred in 2004 when he attended the 54th birthday of Prime Minister Angela Merkel with his partner, Michael Mronz.
“I was never in hiding, I just lived my life” he said afterwards.
Now Guido and Michael are the new “Power Couple” of Germany.
Most newspapers chose to grace their font pages with photos of the happy pair hugging and celebrating the victory. The highly influential daily, “Bild”, went as far as stating that “what makes Guido Westerwelle so strong is his man.” Mronz, 42, was a big factor during the election campaign acting as manager and, as the newspaper continued... giving Westerwelle, confidence, security and support.”
As most newly appointed gay politicians do, Guido has gone out of his way to reassure his countrymen that his sexual orientation will not be the driving force, or most important issue, of his mandate. However, Lesben und Schwulenverband Deutschlands, (the Lesbian and Gay Association of Germany), after the celebrations were over, made it very clear they were counting on the new Foreign Minister to speak up, on the international stage, in favor of human rights for all and against the ongoing persecutions of gays in other countries.
Sixty five years ago Germany was a pariah on the world scène. Today it has a woman Prime Minister and an out gay man as Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor.
We have some catching up to do with the country we rebuilt from scratch after 1945.This does not imply that “all is forgiven and forgotten” but it is a small, and great, step in their continuous search for redemption.
In the US, a candidacy of this caliber, would have sent the political and media fields into another one of their bizarre three ring circuses, peppered with predictions of Armageddon, the exact date and place of the incoming Rapture complete with assorted Fox News reporters having apoplectic attacks. Glenn Beck, Anne Coulter and Rush would have suffered multiple strokes.
In the meantime, we have been told, the sky over Germany is still blue on any given day and it will be shimmering and sparkling for sure when Guido cuts the rainbow ribbon on July 31st, officially opening the 2010 Gay Games.
Have your Stein at the ready or, if you are so inclined, a pair of Lederhosen. Auf Wiedersehen.
Cologne, well-known as one of Germany’s gay-friendliest cities, will strut its stuff when it hosts the VIII Gay Games with a series of sporting and cultural events from July 31 through August 7.
It’s the perfect time to visit this open-minded city and celebrate all things LGBT.