A seasoned diplomat, Edgars Rinkevics, who had served as Latvia’s foreign minister since 2011, has made history as the first openly gay head of state of a European Union nation.
On Saturday, Mr Rinkevics was sworn in as Latvia’s president in Riga, assuming a role that, while largely ceremonial, grants him powers such as vetoing legislation and calling referendums.
While the European Union has seen openly gay heads of government in the past, it had not yet witnessed a gay head of state.
It’s important to note that in some countries, the roles of head of state and head of government are distinct, with separate positions such as president and prime minister.
The distinction of being the EU’s first openly gay head of government goes to former Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo.
Coming out in 2014, Mr Rinkevics, 49, has been a vocal advocate for LGBT rights ever since. Despite same-sex marriage being illegal in Latvia, the country’s constitutional court recognized same-sex unions in the previous year.
In May, Latvia’s parliament elected Mr Rinkevics as the nation’s president after the third round of voting. During his inaugural speech on Saturday, he affirmed his commitment to supporting Ukraine’s ongoing conflict against Russia.
Assuming the role of Latvia’s president, Edgars Rinkevics emphasized the importance of a diligent foreign policy, stating that there is no room for mistakes. He pledged to act swiftly, decisively, and wisely in his new position.
In his inaugural speech, Mr Rinkevics also addressed the issue of inequality, encouraging young Latvians to shatter the glass ceiling.
He acknowledged the significant problem of social division within society and vowed to advocate for the creation of a modern and robust Latvia, characterized by legality, justice, well-being, inclusivity, and respect.
He emphasized the importance of collaborative efforts in achieving these goals.
Mr Rinkevics succeeds Egils Levits, who served as president for four years.
The new president will represent Latvia at the upcoming NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Latvia, along with Lithuania and Estonia, joined the European Union in 2004 after gaining independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
These Baltic states have since played an active role within the EU.