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LGBTQ groups celebrate Latvia electing E.U.’s first openly gay president

Lawmakers in Latvia have chosen Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics as the country’s new president, making him the first openly gay head of state in the European Union.

The 49-year-old’s election — which was finalized as the Latvian capital of Riga was kicking off Pride celebrations — was celebrated by gay rights activists across Europe. It also highlights the widening gulf between Latvia, which was occupied by the Soviet Union for about a half-century, and Russia.

The war in Ukraine has brought increasingly harsh tactics against gay Russians at home. The Kremlin has tightened restrictions on LGBTQ “propaganda,” and Russian lawmakers are considering legislation that would ban gender-reassignment surgery. The notion of defending traditional Christian beliefs has also been used to justify Russia’s illegal invasion, The Washington Post has reported.

Attitudes toward gay people and others of non-heterosexual orientations have historically been less tolerant in the three Baltic nations — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — than in Western Europe.

Rinkevics — a center-right politician who has served as foreign minister for more than a decade — came out in 2014, announcing on Twitter that he was “proud to be gay.” At the time, he pledged to fight for a legal framework for same-sex marriage, which remains illegal in Latvia.

The nation of about 1.9 million people ranks among the worst places in Europe to be an LGBTI citizen in terms of legal rights, according to an index published by the rights group ILGA.

The president in Latvia holds a largely ceremonial role and is elected by members of its 100-seat parliament.

Rinkevics received 52 of a possible 87 votes in a runoff round of voting on Wednesday — one more than required to win the post. His closest rival, businessman Uldis Pilens, got 25 votes. The populist For Stability party, which is associated with Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority, voted against both finalists.

He is set to assume office on July 8.

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Rinkevics, who in his previous role as the country’s top diplomat won favor with many Latvians over his unwavering stance against Russia in support of Ukraine, pledged Wednesday to “serve the people of Latvia well.”

In a news conference after the votes were tallied, he said there would be “no surprises, no changes” in Riga’s support for Kyiv, and its backing of the E.U. and NATO “as the cornerstones of our foreign policy,” state media reported.

Latvia and Estonia have supplied more military aid to Ukraine as a percentage of their economy than any other country, according to a tracker by the Kiel Institute in Germany. The Baltic countries, along with Warsaw, have also been instrumental in helping Kyiv secure military aid from the West.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky congratulated Rinkevics on his appointment, describing him as a “true friend of Ukraine.”


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