Belgium's deputy PM is Europe's highest-ranking trans official

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday October 7, 2020
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Petra De Sutter was sworn in as Belgium's new deputy prime minister October 1. Photo Petra De Sutter via Twitter
Petra De Sutter was sworn in as Belgium's new deputy prime minister October 1. Photo Petra De Sutter via Twitter

Belgium's new deputy prime minister is also now Europe's highest-ranking transgender official.

Petra De Sutter, 57, was appointed as one of seven deputy prime ministers in Belgium's new coalition government last week.

De Sutter will also be the minister for public administration and public enterprise.

Belgium's King Philippe swore De Sutter into office October 1, along with new Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and 18 other members of the country's 20-member federal cabinet.

The new leaders take over following the 2018 collapse of Belgium's former government. A caretaker government has led the country for nearly two years.

De Sutter expressed gratitude for being appointed as deputy prime minister following the swearing in ceremony, tweeting, "[I am] incredibly grateful for the confidence I have received from my party!

"Now, I can do whatever it takes to relaunch our country and work on a new future for all Belgians together with that government!" she added.

That includes ensuring the new coalition follows through on its agreement to adopt gender registration legislation that will be in line with the Constitutional Court.

If passed, the country's non-discrimination law will be extended to protect all gender-nonconforming individuals on their gender registration.

De Sutter is a member of Groen, the Flemish Green party. She was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, where she chaired the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. De Sutter was elected as senator in Belgium's upper house of parliament in 2014, where she served for several years.

A gynecologist and fertility expert at the University of Ghent, De Sutter is vocal in advocating for transgender and reproductive rights and has spoken openly about her own experiences as a transgender woman.

De Sutter, who transitioned when she was 40, spoke about losing friends and colleagues, according to an interview published on her website that was quoted by CNN.

Despite those loses she was accepted professionally and personally. She recognizes her fortune.

"Not everybody has had the luck in life that I had, in being accepted in my working environment, being accepted by my partner and love. In fact, very few people in my situation had this luck," she said in the interview.

"This is why I need to do something, for those who lacked this luck," she continued. "I have a very strong feel of justice and find it so unjust that people in the world suffer simply because of who they want to be."

De Sutter joins the company of Marie Cau, France's first elected out transgender mayor of Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes, and Gianmarco Negri, Italy's first elected openly transgender mayor of Tromello.

Out transgender members of parliament have previously held seats in Germany, Poland, Spain, and Sweden.

On Sunday, De Sutter tweeted hope that her appointment as deputy prime minister "can trigger the debate in countries where this is not yet the case."


De Sutter's appointment in Belgium drew praise from Europe's LGBTQ community.

Terry Reintke, a lesbian German member of the European Parliament, congratulated De Sutter on Twitter. Reintke expressed De Sutter will be missed, calling her a "wonderful colleague."

"Petra, you have been such an inspiration to work with. We will miss you," she tweeted.

Cian�n Russell, senior policy officer of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association of Europe, also congratulated De Sutter in a tweet.

Russell praised De Sutter "for constantly showing us a path in which trans people can be people first, valuable as whole persons, with transness as just one piece in the whole."

All Out Executive Director Matt Beard called her appointment "an inspiration to governments across the world to increase trans representation in senior positions," he told Reuters.

New government

De Croo, 44, leader of the Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats party and a representative of Dutch-speaking Belgium, succeeded the caretaker government's Sophie Wilm�s, the country's first female head of state.

De Croo served as finance minister in the temporary government.

In another first for Belgium, Wilm�s, leader of the Francophone Reformist Movement, is now the country's first female foreign minister.

De Croo tweeted in French (translated by Google Translate) following the swearing in ceremony, "We are ready to protect all those in difficulty but also to give confidence and momentum to those who want to move forward."

Belgium's government collapsed in December 2018, and the leadership transition was prolonged by inconclusive election results in May 2019.

It was Belgium's second longest period without a government within a decade since the 2010-2011 government formation that lasted 541 days.

History making

Belgium's new government is historic in a number of ways. It is the first time ever there is gender equity, with an even representation of men and women in the government, which was led by De Croo.

De Croo, author of "The Age of Women. Why Feminism also Liberates Men," is an advocate for gender equity in Belgium and abroad, reported the Brussels Times.

De Croo's push of the new seven-party government, the so-called Vivaldi coalition, led to the first-time women have held so many positions in the country's federal government.

The Vivaldi coalition was named after Italian composer Antonio Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" concerti. The coalition brought together Belgium's political parties, the socialists (Francophone socialist party and the Flemish Socialist Party Differently), liberals (Open VLD and MR) and Greens (Dutch-speaking Groen and French-speaking Ecolo) from both Wallonia and Flanders as well as the Flemish Christian Democrats, reported EuroNews.

The Times noted the government's core cabinet remains predominantly male. Only two of the eight positions went to women: De Sutter and Wilm�s.

Two more women could potentially be named to high-ranking positions in Belgium's government. The Times reported that infectious disease expert Erika Vlieghe is a possible candidate for the country's corona commissioner to coordinate its COVID-19 policy. Eliane Tillieux, a member of the Francophone socialist party, will become the first woman to be appointed to the chairmanship for the Chamber of Representatives.

The new government also equally represents Dutch- and French-speaking representatives in its cabinet with 14 ministers and five secretaries of state (10 Francophone and nine Dutch-speaking), reported the Times.

Historically, Belgium's government has been heavily made up of Francophone members, reported EuroNews.

Canada reintroduces bill to outlaw most conversion therapy

Canada's Liberal Party reintroduced legislation to outlaw conversion therapy last week.

This is the party's second attempt this year introducing the bill.

The bill was introduced last spring right before the global novel coronavirus pandemic and died in August when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discontinued Parliament.

Justice Minister David Lametti introduced the bill October 1.

Conversion therapy is the attempt to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity through a variety of practices. A number of medical organizations have denounced the controversial practice.

CTV News reported that it's estimated that more than 20,000 LGBTQ and two-spirit Canadians have experienced or been exposed to conversion therapy treatments to repress or change their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a report published by the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

Canada's bill proposes five new amendments to the country's Criminal Code offenses. Criminalizing the practice for minors in the country and when taken abroad, causing individuals to undergo the procedure against their will, profiting from conversion therapy, and advertising conversion therapy services. Courts would be able to seize conversion therapy marketing materials and order practices to remove digital content from the internet.

The 11-page legislation stops short of outright banning conversion therapy. It allows for adults seeking reparative therapy under limited circumstances.

If passed, individuals and organizations that provide support for sexual orientation and gender identity would be exempt from the law.

"What we're trying to do is create an architecture where the young person is comfortable saying: 'No, you can't do this. We've had the conversation. Stop. Done. This is the way I am,'" Justice Minister David Lametti told reporters after introducing the bill, reported the Ottawa News Bureau.

"It becomes destructive when it becomes compelled," said Lametti.

The law has many caveats. It does not include gender identity. It does not end counseling provided by teachers or school counselors, faith leaders, doctors or mental health professionals, or friends and family members, and conversations where "personal points of view on sexual orientation or gender identity are expressed," reported the ONB.

Those convicted of violating the law could face between two and five years in prison.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole asked why the Liberals reintroduced a bill without including any of the proposed revisions noted from the "drafting failures" of the first bill.

He accused Liberals of wanting to force Conservatives to seek amendments to or vote against the bill.

"Why do you think the Liberals have reintroduced the exact same bill they did last year, having totally ignored the well-known drafting failures from their first bill?" asked O'Toole speaking to the House of Commons about the proposed bill, reported ONB. "They did this not because they want to get it right for the LGBTQ community."

Representatives of the New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois parties threw their support behind the Liberal's proposed bill.

Gay MP Randall Garrison supports the bill but has concerns.

He was critical of the bill's lack of inclusion of practices directed at gender-nonconforming people.

"There needs to be more attention to those practices directed at the transgender and nonbinary community," he told ONB.

Garrison said that changes can still be made to the bill due to it being in draft form, he said.

Several countries, provinces and states, and cities around the world — including Canadian cities Vancouver and St. Albert — have banned conversion therapy. Canadian provinces Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia have restricted the highly controversial practice, reported Thomson Reuters Foundation.

California is one of several states that has banned the practice for minors.

The United Nations, the LGBT Foundation in partnership with the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at John Hopkins, and OutRight Action International published reports documenting the practice around the world and called for the end of the practice.

The practice has also been denounced by the Canadian Psychological Association, World Health Organization, the Pan American Health Organization, and other human rights organizations around the world.

Canada isn't the only country taking action against conversion therapy, New Zealand's center-left government pledged October 5 to also ban the practice if reelected later this month, reported Reuters.

To read about the laws, click here.

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

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