The appointment of Petra de Sutter, a trans woman, as the Belgian deputy prime minister is a huge step forward for trans representation in politics. She is now the most senior trans politician in Europe, and one of the very few trans politicians in the world. Throughout her career, she has been a strong advocate for LGBTQ rights. However, with an increasing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in Europe -especially regarding gender identity – it is hard to be pleased with these milestones for too long.
Petra de Sutter is a great asset to the Belgian government, as she has consistently proven her competence in both politics and science. It is no surprise she has gained her position, as before becoming deputy prime minister she served as an MEP, senate member and worked on several committees. She has tackled an impressive amount of issues, including surrogacy and independent clinical research. She has achieved her position through her intelligence and ability. De Sutter is also a registered gynecologist,and has spent much of her career working towards the acknowledgement of reproductive rights. She has done exceptional research into the effect of the environment on fertility, and contributed to the country’s government knowledge of this field. The lack of offensive or shocking news headlines regarding her newly earned position is a step in the right direction. Her exceptional work and experience should be the spotlight of this story, and not her status as a trans woman, as is largely the case when it comes to Belgian media.
Yet, the situation in Europe is far from perfect. The rise of anti-LGBTQ sentiment in countries such as Poland and Bulgaria is terrifying for members of the collective. The bitter anti-transness of UK personalities such as JK Rowling and Piers Morgan is more than enough to make European trans citizens feel completely unsafe and uncomfortable. On top of this, the legislation to stop LGBTQ education in schools which is currently being introduced in Bulgaria, Romania and the UK means that people are even more likely to be misled and uninformed, which will continue to spread transphobia and homophobia throughout the continent. The rhetoric surrounding gender identity, particularly on social media, is becoming increasingly mocking and condescending. I can’t count the amount of times I have come across a post or a tweet speaking about ‘1000 genders’ or ‘identifying as a penguin’ – trans or non-gender conforming people are being constantly ridiculed and made the butt of a new ‘anti political correctness” joke. It is hard to be excited about these steps forward when so much of Europe is actually going backwards.
Nonetheless, this is still a historic moment for Belgium, not only because it provides more representation, but also because it normalizes trans people being in power without every bit of their identity and policy relying on their transness. De Sutter is an exceptional role model for everyone due to her skills and dedication to politics; her appointment as deputy prime minister should be celebrated equally by everyone. However, this shouldn’t create an illusion that Europe is a progressive haven, when so many LGBTQ folks are made to live in fear.
Featured Image Source: Petra De Sutter Twitter