Out in the World: Gay European leaders make headlines

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Monday January 22, 2024
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French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, left, and Irish Transportation Minister Jack Chambers both made headlines in January. Photos: Attal, AP; Chambers, X
French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, left, and Irish Transportation Minister Jack Chambers both made headlines in January. Photos: Attal, AP; Chambers, X

Two European political leaders have made headlines in January.

In a historic moment, French President Emanuel Macron appointed Gabriel Attal as France's first gay and youngest-ever prime minister.

Elsewhere, Ireland's minister of transportation came out as gay to start the new year.


Attal joined the small list of one of the world's highest-ranking and powerful LGBTQ politicians during a cabinet reshuffle in Macron's administration that was announced January 9.

Attal, 34, who previously served as education minister, received praise and congratulations from LGBTQ+ Victory Institute President and CEO Annise Parker in a January 9 statement from the organization.

"France is sending a powerful statement by appointing its first out LGBTQ+ prime minister — one of the highest-ranking positions held by an LGBTQ+ person anywhere in the world," Parker stated, noting the rising global attack on LGBTQ people, as the Bay Area Reporter previously reported.

"Democracies are stronger when LGBTQ+ people can participate at every level of government and Prime Minister Attal's appointment will inspire even more LGBTQ+ people to consider public service," Parker added. "[I] urge him to use his power and influence to advance equality for all France's residents."

Thomas E. Horn, the former publisher of the B.A.R. and chair of the San Francisco-Paris Sister City Committee, said he was happy for Attal.

"He advanced very quickly in the government, beginning as spokesman and then advancing to minister of education and now prime minister," Horn stated in an email. "He has never hidden that he is gay, nor does he let it define him. He is a very likely successor to Macron as president of the French Republic. That would be very exciting."

The previous youngest appointed French prime minister was French leftist Laurent Fabius, who was 37 years old when former President Francois Mitterrand appointed him to the position in 1984, reported Reuters.

Speaking at the handover ceremony in Paris, Attal described his appointment as "the symbol of audacity," reported the Associated Press.

Attal replaced Elisabeth Borne, 62, France's first woman prime minister in three decades when Macron appointed her to the office in May 2022 shortly after his reelection, reported CNN. She resigned January 8 after a tumultuous nearly 20 months in the position that ended with a controversial immigration law that strengthened the French government's ability to deport foreigners, reported The Hill.

Borne's tenure was marked by retirement reforms, one of which was raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, and the police shooting of a teenage boy of Algerian descent. Both political events sparked months of violent riots across France.

At the ceremony, Borne said she was proud of what she was able to accomplish: passing the budget and reforms for immigration, pension, and other laws "to meet the challenges faced by our country," reported The Hill. She was able to push through more than 50 bills using special constitutional powers after her party failed to win an absolute majority in parliamentary elections hindering the administration's ability to pass new laws a month after Macron's reelection, reported CNN.

Political experts noted Macron's reshuffling of his cabinet comes ahead of the European Union's elections in June and Paris hosting the Summer Olympics in July.

Macron's moves also come as his political opponent, far-right conservative Marine Le Pen's National Rally, has gained political influence, reported The Hill. Le Pen lost her bid for president to Macron in 2022.

Attal was born in 1989 in Clamart, Île-de-France. His father is a Tunisian Jewish man, according to the Los Angeles Blade, who is a lawyer and video producer, according to the AP. His mother is of Russian descent working for a video company.

The AP reported Attal posted on Instagram a photo of himself as a baby with a caption stating he was born using IVF. His statement was in support of the country's 2021 legalization of the procedure for single women and lesbians.

Attal spent his formative years in Paris, where he attended a private high school. He went to Panthéon-Assas University before earning his master of public affairs at Sciences-Po Paris in 2012, reported Mamba Online.

Attal, who has been discreet about his private life, was reportedly outed in 2018 by a former classmate, Juan Branco, while he was in a relationship with Macron's former political adviser Stéphane Séjourné, reported Reuters.

Sejourne is currently serving as France's minister for Europe and foreign affairs under Attal, reported Mamba Online. The media outlet reported the couple split in 2023.

In an October declaration to the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life, which vets high-ranking officials for potential conflicts of interest, Attal reported having no partner, reported the AP.

Political record

Attal is one of France's most popular and well-liked politicians, polling higher than Macron, according to the AP. The media dubbed him as a "mini Macron" for his youth and dashing looks, reported the South Morning China Post, and he could make a presidential bid in 2027.

Political analyst Jerome Jaffré told the AP that Attal's appointment by Macron is a "real change" in the president's politics. He told the news outlet that Macron "didn't want a prime minister with political weight and an existence in the eyes of the public," in the past.

CNN described Attal's politics as "drifting" right at times, but like his boss, Macron, he has been able to maintain a "shape-shifting political identity."

However, he has gained some critics on the left and the right who have attacked his Paris upbringing, stating he is out of touch with the French people in the provinces, reported the AP, and Le Pen, who called the move a "childish ballet of ambitions and egos," on X, reported CNN.

Attal has enjoyed a meteoric rise in French politics.

His political career began in 2012 when the former Socialist Party member became an adviser to the health minister for former Socialist President Francois Hollande. In 2016, he joined Macron's Renaissance Party.

The AP reported in 2017, Attal was elected to France's lower house of parliament from the Paris region in the National Assembly. In 2018, he became the youngest member of the French government at the age of 29 when Macron tapped him as a junior minister in charge of education and youth.

In 2020, he became a government spokesperson. The French public started to take notice of him, especially after he became the first French government official to widely use social media in his position. He continued in that role until 2022 when he was named the ministry of public works and public accounts before being appointed as education minister, one of France's most prestigious government positions, in July 2023, reported CNN.

As education minister, Attal implemented a controversial ban on the Muslim abaya dress in state schools that took effect last September, reported the AP. The move garnered him points with conservatives, according to Reuters. He also launched a plan to introduce school uniforms in France's public schools.

A target of bullying in middle school himself, which he spoke about in an interview with French national television, TF1, he also championed an anti-bullying campaign in schools, reported The Hill.

Attal faces the same challenges as Borne. In his speech following his nomination last week, he stated his priorities are France's security, strengthening public services, especially education; controlling immigration, inflation, freeing the French economy, and youth development.

While he has his agenda, France's agenda is forming a new government and ensuring the passage of legislation of Macron's government's agenda, CNN noted.

Irish minister comes out

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Jack Chambers, the minister of state at the Department of Transport, came out as gay January 14.

The 33-year-old politician announced in an Instagram post, "I am starting 2024 by telling you all that I am proud to say that I am gay."

Political party Finanna Fail TD for Dublin West noted Ireland progressed on LGBTQ issues in recent years. After receiving the blessing of his family and friends, Chambers decided to be publicly open, reported the Irish News.

"As a politician it can sometimes be difficult to speak about my own personal life and that can lead to things drifting," Chambers wrote in the post. "However, it's important for me to be true to myself firstly — and to you all in my public service role."

Gay Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who became Ireland's first openly gay head of state in 2015, congratulated Chambers in a comment on Instagram.

"You'll have no regrets and life is going to get so much better for you," Varadkar wrote.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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