Today, Serbia’s parliament confirmed Ana Brnabic as prime minister, making her the first woman and first openly LGBTQ person to hold the position.
Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic nominated Brnabic, who was minister of public administration, as the prime minister-designate of the Eastern European country last week.
Brnabic is a U.S. and U.K.-educated former businesswoman who speaks English and Russian and is considered a technocrat with no political party affiliation.
According to the Independent, Brnabic became Serbia’s first openly LGBTQ government minister in 2016, a remarkable feat in the socially conservative former Yugoslav republic.
The parliamentary vote today to confirm Brnabic was a formality as the president’s coalition has an overwhelming majority in parliament.
Some human rights groups hailed the appointment of an openly LGBTQ head of government in a country where LGBTQ people encounter discrimination, harassment and violence on a regular basis. Others had mixed reactions as they believe her appointment is an effort to portray Serbia as a country tolerant of minorities and therefore ready for accession to the E.U., for which Serbia is currently a candidate.
Despite widespread homophobia and transphobia in Serbia, Brnabic’s elevation to a minister and now as prime minister has not generated much opposition. She has downplayed her sexuality in the past such as when she declared in an interview that “I’m not spokesperson for the LGBT community….I don’t want to be branded as a gay minister.”
Homosexuality was legally considered an illness in Serbia until 2008, yet a study in 2010 found that two-thirds of Serbians still considered homosexuality to be an illness. More than half wanted the state to “actively suppress” it. Same-sex couples and transgender people have no legal protections in the country.
Marko Karadzic, a Washington-based former state secretary for human and minority rights in Serbia, described Brnabic’s nomination as “good for visibility and almost impossible to believe because Serbian society is incredibly homophobic,” in a message to HRC. He urged caution saying that despite this encouraging and progressive development. “Serbia remains far from welcoming of minorities, including LGBTQ people and Roma,” he said. “There remains a lot to be done to ensure the safety and rights for these groups.”
Earlier this month, Ireland made history when it elected its first ever openly gay and ethnic minority prime minister, Leo Varadkar. Besides Brnabic and Varadkar, one other country in the world – Luxembourg – currently has an openly gay head of government.
Read more about HRC’s work around the world here.