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Homosexuals set sights on parliament

Bernhard Pulver, a homosexual standing for the Green Party in canton Bern. Bernhard Pulver

A record 16 openly gay and lesbian candidates are standing in this year’s parliamentary elections.

This content was published on October 15, 2003 - 17:58

Most of them represent parties of the Left or Centre-left but there are also three standing for the rightwing Swiss People’s Party.

The 16 candidates do not include the one openly gay politician in the Swiss parliament, who is standing for re-election.

Moël Volken of the gay rights organisation Pink Cross hopes one or maybe two more homosexual candidates will win seats after the October 19 vote.

He says it would mark a significant step forward for the gay community within Switzerland.

Visible presence

“We think gay men and lesbians should be visible in all parts of society,” he told swissinfo.

“It would be a real sign of integration if people elected openly gay and lesbian candidates,” he added.

Bernhard Pulver, a homosexual standing for the Green Party in canton Bern, also believes it is useful for young people still coming to terms with their own homosexuality to see high profile gay men and lesbians.

“It’s not just important that there are openly gay and lesbian politicians,” he told swissinfo, “but anyone in the public eye who is able to set a positive example.”

Numbers

Although there is only one openly gay member in the House of Representatives, Volken insists that does not mean there are not more in parliament.

He says politicians in Switzerland are more reticent about declaring their homosexuality than their counterparts in other countries such as France, Britain and Germany.

“We are generally more conservative in Switzerland because we don’t really have major cities that act as a melting pot where all parts of society can meet and where everything is tolerated,” he said.

“There may well have been past members of the parliament or the government who were gay or lesbian, but they never spoke about it and neither did we.”

New way of thinking

But Pulver believes the Swiss are becoming more open minded, certainly in the country’s more urban areas, and he feels that there has been a shift in thinking.

“I am sure it is easier to be more open about your sexuality in cities such as Bern, Zurich, Basel or Geneva, whereas in the rural areas it is much more difficult,” he said.

“But there has been a change even in rural areas over the last decade and I really believe our country is at a turning point.”

He also thinks that some candidates may be unwilling to reveal their homosexuality in public because they fear becoming labelled as one-issue politicians.

“If you are a representative of a gay movement whose main concern is working for gay rights then of course you are more likely to be openly gay,” he said.

“But someone who belongs to one of the parties and has a range of political ideas – including gay rights – may be less inclined to be open about their sexuality because they fear perhaps being reduced to that element.”

Politics

While Volken welcomes the number of gay and lesbian candidates standing in this year’s elections, he admits that sexuality in itself is not a good reason for being elected.

He maintains it says nothing about political opinions, a view backed up by the fact that while most of the candidates standing come from the centre-left or left of the political spectrum, there are also three candidates from the rightwing Swiss People’s Party and one from the centre-right Radical Party.

“People will elect somebody who has the same political opinions and thinks the same way,” he said.

“Perhaps it isn’t important if they are gay or lesbian, and we are pleased about that.”

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

Gay politicians

Claude Janiak, a Social Democrat from canton Basel Country, is the only openly gay politician in the Swiss parliament.
Thomas Fuchs from the People’s Party in canton Bern is thought to stand a good chance of being elected.
In the 1999 elections there were fewer openly gay and lesbian candidates than this time around.

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