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Gay politicians stay in the closet

Saturday marks the 12th Swiss Coming Out Day Keystone

Switzerland’s gay politicians are still holding back when it comes to coming out.

This content was published on October 11, 2003 - 13:48

While Paris and Berlin have gay mayors, in Switzerland it is still rare for high-ranking gay politicians to openly talk about their sexuality.

There are about 400,000 gays and lesbians living in Switzerland, making up about six per cent of the population. Saturday marked the 12th Swiss Coming Out Day.

Sociologist Martin Abele said although homosexuality had in general become increasingly accepted in Switzerland, there was still limited acceptance within the political sphere.

“It would still be a sensation if a gay or lesbian ran for the post of cabinet minister,” Abele told swissinfo.

Moël Volken of the gay rights organisation, Pink Cross, said he knew of only one openly gay parliamentarian.

“I am not sure whether someone who is openly gay would actually make it into the Swiss cabinet,” said Volken.

Parliamentarian Claude Janiak explained that he had never really come out as such – he was simply open about his sexuality.

“I take my partner to public engagements in Basel, which has never caused any problems,” revealed Janiak.

Double life

“Many politicians believe that their private lives should be separate from their political lives,” said Brigitte Röösli of Switzerland’s lesbian organisation, LOS.

“Many gay politicians lead a double life as they are too afraid of the public’s reaction and not getting re-elected."

She added that only 16 of the more than 3,000 candidates standing for the parliamentary elections on October 19 were openly gay.

However, Abele thought this was a huge step in the right direction, as four years ago the number was significantly lower.

“It is important for the gay-lesbian community that politicians come out, as it gives them somebody to identify with,” said Abele.

Less progress

Pink Cross also claims that the French-speaking parts of Switzerland are less progressive when it comes to accepting homosexuals.

“It is almost impossible to launch a pro-gay campaign in western Switzerland. There, homosexuals are not as widely accepted as they are in the German-speaking part of the country,” Volken told swissinfo.

And the situation was worse, he added, in the Italian-speaking part of the country: “In Ticino homosexuals are even more hidden away.”

Two years ago, however, Geneva became the first canton to pass a law that gives homosexual couples almost equal rights. And earlier this year, homosexual couples gained official recognition in canton Zurich.

Parliament is due to debate the nationwide registration of gay couples, their legal status and whether homosexual couples should be allowed to adopt children and use artificial reproduction techniques.

Urban life

Abele said homosexuals were more likely to be accepted in urban areas, pointing out that those who were in contact with gays or lesbians were more open towards them.

“Young gay and lesbians still have to struggle with the fact that they are ‘different’,” he said.

“This is a long-winded process and young people have to get over the negative clichés and the jokes about gays.”

swissinfo, Alina Kunz Popper (translation: Billi Bierling)

In brief

There are around 400,000 homosexuals in Switzerland, making up about six per cent of the population.

However, gay rights campaigners say politicians are still reluctant to come out.

Of the 3,000 candidates standing for the parliamentary elections on October 19, only 16 are openly gay.

Over the past two years, cantons Geneva and Zurich have passed laws granting homosexual couples more rights.

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