Zurich in the spotlight: How to queer it up through politics?

Thursday, January 16, 2014
Samuel Müller is the Co-chair of the Task Group for LGBTQ Rights of the Green Liberal Party in Switzerland and Gregori Schmid is who leads this group. But what actually brings them into this interview is their dedication to channelling city policies into better services for LGBT inhabitants and bringing local officials into the civil society scene for effective results.
Working on the local, regional and national level simultaneously and collaborating with key LGBT sections of various political parties to advocate for the active engagement of young and older LGBTs is the backbone of what Samuel and Gregori are striving to achieve. They are now here to tell us more.
Please tell us about your journey into local and national politics as a member of the LGBT movement. What guided you into this field?
Gregori: I was already a member of the GLP when I had the idea to engage in the LGBT movement. It was the time when I had my coming out and I was surprised that none of my family or acquaintance had any problem with it. So I wondered: If there is no problem, why haven’t I got the same rights as heterosexual people? That was the moment when I had the idea to actively do something about this situation and engage in the political process in order to achieve a better future for LGBT people.
Samuel: I was always interested in history, and this gradually led me to be interested in Swiss and international politics as well. One of my first votes interested me in particular, it was the vote on the registered partnership law in June 2005. I had come out as gay to my mother –not yet to my father. Being in favour of the new law, I realised that while granting limited rights to same-sex couples, it also restricted their freedoms when it came to adoption, reproductive medicine and citizenship. Also, marriage would still not be an option for us. But it was an important step in improving the visibility and acceptance of LGBT people in Switzerland. Back then, I wasn’t thinking of joining a political party or actively engaging in the political process apart from participating in referendums and elections. Having moved to Vienna, Austria, for my first university semester after finishing school in 2005, I followed Austrian politics as well with a particular interest in LGBT politics. Unfortunately, a very conservative government was in power then. And after the elections of 2006, the Social Democrats did not fulfil the hopes of many of their voters. Entering a coalition with the conservative party, they did not manage to have a registered partnership law adopted -that was a big disappointment.
And what happened after returning back to Zurich?
Samuel: Returning to Switzerland at the beginning of 2007, I first became aware of the newly formed Green Liberal Party (GLP) when the cantonal elections of Zurich took place in the spring. The GLP was able to celebrate one of its first big successes, winning several seats in the cantonal parliament. I quickly became convinced that the GLP’s core idea of combining economic and social liberalism with a green policy was right and worthy of my support. So I decided to become a member of this party and found a political home. Today, I feel very satisfied with my choice and I’m convinced that there is really no other party I could possibly vote for.
At first, however, the GLP, being a very young movement, didn’t really have a position on LGBT rights. This issue caused me to become a politician myself. Namely, when Rahel Walti, a regional GLP politician, publicly spoke out in support of Swiss Rainbow Families, I decided to support her. She really was a pioneer concerning the LGBT issue in the party, and she convinced others who had no or even a rather negative opinion on LGBT rights to become fully supportive. At first, there was certain hesitancy, but now my party’s become unequivocally pro LGBT equality, and it’s Rahel who deserves a big part of the credit. So I contacted her, we met and decided to represent the GLP at a demonstration for equal adoption rights for same-sex couples in Bern. Rahel asked me if I was interested in becoming a candidate on the list of the newly constituted Young Green Liberals, the youth wing of the party. Having become even more convinced of the Green Liberals’ political approach, I was willing to do so. I feel strongly about contributing to the common good and sympathise with the figure of speech: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” After the national election, in which we achieved an excellent score that allowed us to win 6 % of the seats in the national council and form a Green Liberal group in parliament, I got to know Gregori Schmid better, another active member of the Young GLP. We came out to each other, and together with Rahel we decided to form a task group in order to work on LGBT issues both within the GLP and externally, meaning with other political parties and LGBT associations as well as the public.
How do you plan to affect the outcomes of political processes with the engagement of LGBT sections of political parties? And how did this idea surface in the first place?
Samuel: We are not sure where the idea originated, but obviously there are LGBT persons in every political party. This is amply demonstrated by the fact that all major parties from the left to the right have LGBT groups. The new centre-right party, BDP, constitutes an exception, but given its recent formation, we think that it will eventually have a group as well. Just recently, the young section of the BDP came out for marriage equality. LGBT groups can give a voice to human rights within every political party, and exert influence on other party members. They can usually do so more effectively than outsiders, because they, as party insiders, speak the same language. They can find the right tone, which helps to advance our cause within the parties.
Gregori: In the case of the LGBT group of the GLP, the collaboration and communication with the national party management works very well, as we agree on all of the major issues such as marriage equality and adoption rights. In other parties, LGBT advocates should do what Rahel has been doing in the GLP: Enlighten people, make them understand that LGBT people are just like everybody else, and make them aware of the fact that their ideas of being LGBT are to a large extent based on clichés and stereotypes. In many cases, it’s all about dispensing with ignorance and fears. Visibility as well as actively reaching out to hearts and minds is key.
What are the parties you work with within this LGBT Network? Please tell us about how the groups found each other.
Samuel: We work with all the major political parties, though their level of activity varies. We invited all LGBT groups of the parties by email to our first meeting at the beginning of January 2013, and most sent representatives. At this first meeting, we decided to work together, organise common events, activities and press releases concerning issues on which we agree, in order to strengthen our voice and political weight.
There seem to be 11 political parties represented in the National Council of the Swiss Parliament. When we are talking about discrimination and violence against LGBT people, which are so easily justified in the name of many things, how easy or hard is it really to make an impact with all these 11 different edges?
Gregori: It’s easy with the GLP and the left, because they are already on our side with possibly very few exceptions. Also the BDP has demonstrated a willingness to support certain steps in the direction of full equality such as step-child adoption. It’s similar with the Liberal Party, which, however, has a very conservative wing, whose adherents are sceptical when it comes to the issues of marriage and adoption. Thankfully, there are some more progressive ones such as Christa Markwalder, who seem to be strongly in favour. Others are not decidedly anti-LGBT rights, but they are still hesitant or insecure, so we can try to convince them. It’s similar with some members of the conservative right-wing SVP, but collectively this party is not open for LGBT equality. However, we hope that this will change and that the Gay SVP group will become more successful.
Samuel: There are also the Christian parties, EVP and CVP. Most of their representatives are in part or fully opposed to LGBT equality. Some of them will not change their stance, I fear, but some might eventually, if we keep reaching out to them.
Please tell us about the “agreed” topics as well as the “hot” topics in this network. For instance, SVP has a clear opposing stance on topics such as asylum and immigrants. How do you plan to get them on board for LGBT rights, when asylum is just as human rights related as LGBT rights?
Samuel: You’ve already mentioned one of the “hot potatoes”. The gay SVP does not support the right of asylum on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, but this is because the SVP has a very restrictive immigration policy in general, so I’m not sure if this position has any direct connection with the LGBT issue. We also have different approaches when it comes to protection against discrimination, especially concerning the question of the role that the state should play in this.
For almost a year, the LGBT movement in Switzerland is talking about the initiative presented by the Christian Democratic People’s Party (CVP). It was on defining marriage between a man and a woman, whereas the Swiss Constitution has never defined it that way before. How do you expect this process to conclude?
Samuel: The Swiss people seem to be relatively open when it comes to LGBT issues now, that’s what we perceive and what recent polls have shown. Also, we have witnessed a wonderful dynamic and progress in the last few years both in Europe and other parts of the world such as the Americas. LGBT equality is advancing at an amazing pace.
At the same time, the Swiss have a conservative tendency: Some things tend to change slowly here, especially in politics. So while I think we would and will win a popular vote on marriage equality or adoption, I cannot exclude the possibility of a conservative backlash. Another danger is that the issue is successfully played down by our opponents and portrayed as being of secondary importance. This means we have to keep reaching out to hearts and minds – to employ the motto of ILGA Europe’s last conference in October – and never stop fighting. Even if we lose a vote, we will not give up of course, because we know that our rights are human rights, that our love is the same, and that it has always been so. Only full equality is acceptable, everything else will not do, never, ever.
The GLP is working on a “policy paper” for its position on the LGBT issue. How do you expect the party to get ready the upcoming national election in October 2015?
Gregori: Let’s begin with the positive aspects. Most or all of us seem to agree on crucial issues such as marriage equality and adoption. But then again, the gay SVP, Radigal, Renato Pfeffer (EVP) or the CVP’s group may in fact not be representative of their respective parties, whereas this is more clearly the case with our group as well as those of the Greens and the Social Democrats.
Samuel: Our party’s core topics are the environment, energy as well as a green economy because these were the issues we started with and which brought many people to support us. It is our aspiration, however, to offer solutions for all political questions, and we are working hard to do so, also in view of the next national elections. The LGBT issue will be one of the crucial topics besides the ones already mentioned, because it distinguishes us very well from other parties. This is namely because we are the only non-left-wing political party who supports full LGBT equality and thus aspires to be liberal in the comprehensive sense. Recently, our parliamentary group has demonstrated this by announcing that it will come up with a counter-proposal on the CVP’s initiative which seeks to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman in the constitution, and shortly thereafter with parliamentary initiatives in support of full marriage equality. We are very strong on LGBT issues also because we have many people within the party such as Gregori, Rahel, Michael Läubli, Niels Rickert and myself who care passionately about LGBT equality and will always fight for it. So you can expect us to promote this issue, which will rank high on the agenda.
Photo by Amsel
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