As Belgium put its new federal government in place this week, Petra De Sutter, an openly transgender woman, was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister - something that went almost unremarked upon by Belgian media.
De Sutter, a former MEP, was appointed as Deputy Prime Minister for Groen (Flemish green party) as well as Minister for Public Enterprises and Public Administration in the new De Croo government.
On Sunday, she tweeted that she is proud that in Belgium and most of the EU, "your gender identity does not define you as a person and is a non-issue," adding that she hopes that her appointment as Minister and Deputy PM "can trigger the debate in countries where this is not yet the case."
I am proud that in ?? and in most of ?? your gender identity does not define you as a person and is a non-issue. I hope that my appointment as Minister and deputy PM can trigger the debate in countries where this is not yet the case. #fighttransphobia pic.twitter.com/WdgHu2gyy6— Petra De Sutter (@pdsutter) October 4, 2020
De Sutter is a gynaecologist and the head of the department of reproductive medicine at Ghent University. While she has never hidden her trans identity in her political career and is an activist for LGBTQ and trans rights, she has repeatedly stressed that she does not want to be reduced to her gender.
De Sutter's appointment has been described as a milestone by LGBTQ organisations in Belgium, mainly because it did not cause a media frenzy in the country.
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While the news made headlines in several other EU countries, the UK and even the US, Belgian media only mentioned De Sutter's trans identity in passing, mostly when remarking on the diverse make up of the new government - which consists of 50% women, includes several ministers with a migration background, and is relatively young.
Additionally, Belgium's new coalition agreement states that "legislation (regarding gender registration) will be adapted to be in line with the decision of the Constitutional Court," meaning that the government will effectively take steps to optimise the transgender law, so that people who do not identify as male or female will not be discriminated against in their gender registration.
Not only is De Sutter now the first openly transgender minister in Belgium and Europe, she is also the most senior transgender politician in Europe.
In France, Marie Cau became the country's first transgender politician when she was elected Mayor of Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes earlier in 2020, and Italy's first transgender politician Gianmarco Negri took office as mayor of Tromello last year.
The Brussels Times