Openly gay lawmakers influential though outnumbered
The study identified 67 openly gay legislators or members of parliaments (MPs) in the 18 countries at the end of 2008, compared with 22 in 1998. "The current crop of 67 is undoubtedly the largest collection of openly gay MPs in history," Reynolds said.
(Media-Newswire.com) - The number of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered ( LGBT ) representatives in the national legislatures of 18 countries around the world has tripled since 1998.
That finding is among those in research by political scientist Andrew Reynolds, Ph.D., of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His paper, “The Presence and Impact of Openly Gay and Lesbian Politicians in the Parliaments of the World,” finds that although these representatives are in the minority in the legislatures in which they serve, their presence correlates with passage of more gay-friendly laws.
Reynolds, who teaches in the College of Arts and Sciences, said that openly gay representatives must build coalitions with heterosexual colleagues to succeed in passing gay-friendly laws in such areas as same-sex marriage and partnership, adoption rights and hate-crime law.
“Gay members of parliaments have never been numerous enough to act as a voting block with leverage, but they can be legislative entrepreneurs who help set agendas and educate their colleagues on related issues,” said Reynolds, associate professor of political science and chair of the international and area studies curriculum. Familiarity appears to breed tolerance.
“When the gay person becomes a person with a name, human talents and foibles, aging parents and young children, sport team obsessions and opinions about the latest TV show, it becomes more difficult for their parliamentary colleagues to overtly discriminate against or fail to protect them through legislation,” Reynolds said.
The study identified 67 openly gay legislators or members of parliaments ( MPs ) in the 18 countries at the end of 2008, compared with 22 in 1998. “The current crop of 67 is undoubtedly the largest collection of openly gay MPs in history,” Reynolds said.
Of the 67, 50 identified themselves as gay men, 14 as lesbians, two as bisexual and one as transgendered. The largest number per legislature was 14 in the British House of Commons; the largest percentage was six percent, in the Netherlands.
Reynolds found that legislatures with the most LGBT members – 60 of the 67 – were in established democracies of Western Europe, North America or Australia and New Zealand. There were two each in Africa and Latin America and one each in the Middle East and Asia.
Reynolds’ cited the American-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, which looks at local, state and national elected bodies. The fund reported last August that there were about 20 out-of-the-closet gays and lesbians in elected office in the United States in 1987. By 2003, the fund noted, 218 of the roughly 511,000 Americans in elective office were openly LBGT – less than .05 percent. Three served in Congress, 47 in state legislatures and the rest in local government. As of 2008, the total number of LGBT officeholders had tripled to 602, including 79 state legislators and 28 mayors.
Legislatures are not the only offices in which LGBTs have made gains, Reynolds’ paper noted. Last year, there were nine openly gay cabinet ministers in the countries Reynolds studied. And last February, Iceland elected the world’s first openly gay prime minister, Jóhanna Siguróardóttir.
Reynolds assigned numeric values ranging from minus two to two for the presence or absence of gay-friendly policies in each of seven areas:
legal relationships marriage civil unions adoption rights laws against discrimination sexual orientation as part of a hate-crime law gays not banned from military service “Each variable represents a distinct legal right or denial of a right,” he said.
Reynolds then used these values to determine combined scores for all seven areas for each of 76 countries – 18 with openly gay legislators and 58 without. He notes now that this year, six nations have begun offering same-sex marriage: Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Spain.
Three states of the United States had gay marriage laws in 2008: Massachusetts, California and Connecticut. California’s was struck down by referendum in November 2008, but Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire passed gay marriage legislation in 2009.
Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands and Spain were the highest-scoring in Reynolds’ tallies for the most gay-friendly nations, each with five out of a possible six points. The least tolerant of gays, scoring minus two each, were Egypt, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Singapore. The average score was .96 and the standard deviation was 1.73.
The highest-scoring nations tended to have the most LGBT legislators, Reynolds found: “Having even a few openly gay legislators is linked with a significant improvement in the legal rights of gay people.” Advocacy by LGBT groups also is influential, as is the level of social acceptance of LGBTs in each country.
“The presence of minority members in a legislature aids in breaking down intolerance and in building alliances that cut across pre-existing cleavages within society,” Reynolds said. “Globally the trajectory is clear. More and more openly gay candidates are winning office, and legal equality, across a variety of domains, is gathering momentum.”
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