Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics announced he is gay on Thursday, in what has been hailed as a barrier-breaking move by an Eastern European politician.
In a tweet to his 15,000 followers, he said "Our country has to create a legal status for all kinds of partner relationships, and I will fight for this. I know that there will quickly be mega-hysteria, but #proudtobegay."
Rinkevics, 41, has been Minister for Foreign Affairs since October 2011. His declaration was met with support from fellow politicians, including Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves.
Not everyone responded to the news positively, though. One Latvian Catholic priest, Ilmar Tolstovs, stated that: "as a Latvian citizen I am sad that a minister is proud of sin."
Latvia's constitution currently bans same-sex marriage, and the country does not recognize any form of same-sex partnership. A Eurobarometer poll from 2006 showed that 12 percent of Latvians believed same-sex marriage should be legal, the lowest percentage of any country in the EU.
Kristine Garina, the chairperson of Mozaika, Latvia's biggest LGBT rights organization, told VICE News that his announcement was a huge breakthrough for Latvia, and for LGBT people there. " Obviously we are very happy and very excited that this is happening in our country."
"I think the society is still very homophobic, and that's not just reflected in LGBT rights, but anything different is looked upon as something weird and something to be scared of," she said.
When asked what the biggest challenge facing LGBT people in Latvia is at the moment Garina said, "We have very few out people, and as a result there is no community. There are no role models for kids to look up, no one who is well-liked, respected, popular."
Therefore, she said, this is real progress. "This is it. This is what we need," adding that people are talking about his announcement a lot. "Social media basically exploded last night."
While the comments on sites like Twitter were predominantly positive, she said that one of Latvia's most popular news websites had to close down its comment section because of the level of abuse that was being posted.
As a foreign minister, Garina said that Rinkevics is well respected, and she hopes nothing will change. "I think this could be a proof to other people that you can do this and not lose your career and all your friends. "
Latvia will take over the EU rotating presidency in January, something that could give Rinkevics a higher platform from which to advocate for same-sex unions.
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