We’re all aware of LGBTQ+ figures like Marsha P. Johnson, Harvey Milk or Audre Lorde. These individuals have challenged systems of oppression, making way for progress not just in terms of queer visibility, but also substantive representation and systemic change. As we celebrate Pride month, let’s explore recent examples of such icons (or icons-in-the-making) from across Europe. Get ready for your dose of contemporary queer history!
The first openly gay person in Poland to become an elected official.
Poland may be known as EU’s least LGBTQ+ -friendly Member State, but diamonds are made under pressure. This is certainly true for Krystian Legierski, a Polish activist, entrepreneur, political figure and attorney. Born to a Polish mother and Mauritian father, Krystian was the first openly gay person in Poland to become an elected official after winning a seat at the Warsaw City Council in 2010. He founded clubs and cultural spaces in Warsaw that would become a refuge to the community, such as subsequently shut down Le Madame. Politically, Krystian advocates for the right to civil unions and is a co-founder of Fundacja Panoptykon, which opposes state surveillance.
The first transgender mayor in Italy.
Gianmarco Negri made waves when he became the first transgender mayor in Italy in 2019. Citizens of Tromello, a town south of Milan with a population of just 3,700, defied political trends and voted for Gianmarco as opposed to a far-right League candidate by over 10 percentage points. In a true ‘kill them with kindness’ moment, the former lawyer’s election showed that despite the nationwide support for the League, the populist party may be contested at the administrative level. It also gave hope that LGBTQ+ politicians can succeed in smaller, conservative communities while upholding their left-wing platforms.
The first Hungarian politician to came out as lesbian.
The story of Hungarian politician and economist Klára Ungár is that of many twists and turns. She was a co-founder of a radically liberal, LGBTQ+ friendly party in the early 90s, set to overhaul Hungarian political landscape dominated by right-wing political groups of the time. Along the way, the alliance encountered roadblocks, with some members deciding to go down the conservative route. This forced Ungar and some of her peers to leave their creation behind. The party, Fidesz, is now led by Viktor Orbán, constantly spearheading new anti-LGBTQ+ measures. As for Ungár, she came out as lesbian in 2001, becoming first in Hungarian politics to do so.
The most senior transgender politician in Europe.
Belgium’s Deputy Prime Minister, Petra de Sutter, is the most senior transgender politician in Europe. Her political career started at the Belgian Senate in 2014 and took her all the way to European Parliament, where she canvassed her climate-conscious agenda within the confines of the Flemish Green party. Petra’s platform is enriched by her academic and professional background as a gynaecologist, with sexual and reproductive health as her top expertise and focus. She is also an active advocate for LGBTQ+ rights across the EU.
The first non-binary mayor of Wales.
Hailing from Wales, Owen Hurcum is Bangor’s youngest mayor at 23 – also, the first non-binary (agender) person to hold the office. Outspoken about Welsh independence, they are a strong advocate for trans rights at both local and national levels. Owen started their political career in Bangor City Council, where they served for five years before being elected to take over as mayor in 2021. Despite ongoing online harassment, they have been optimistic about the political climate in Bangor and its government. Although they have not sought re-election, who knows what the future holds?