Former German Foreign Minister, Vice Chancellor and chairman of Free Democratic Party (Freie Demokratische Partei, FDP) Guido Westerwelle, born on December 27th, 1961 in Bad Honnef, died on March 18th, 2016 in Cologne of acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of cancer that affects blood cells.
The first openly gay person to hold any of these positions, Westerwelle on July 20th, 2004 attended the 50th birthday party of then opposition leader Angela Merkel (born 1954) of the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) accompanied by his partner, Michael Mronz (born 1967).
The first time he showed up by Mronz at the formal celebration was considered his public coming-out. The couple registered their partnership on September 17th, 2010 in a private ceremony in Bonn.
On January 15th, 2010, during a short state visit to China as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Westerwelle had brought Mronz along to meet China’s Premier Wen Jiabao (born 1942).
Just as in Japan, his other destination in the Far East, his guests were irritated by such unprecedented behavior. Despite receiving Westerwelle with a handshake and a friendly smile, Wen´s overall facial expression spoke volumes.
All in all, diplomatic etiquette, standard politeness and Asian face-saving retained the upper hand, though it was a bold move indeed in a very different cultural environment.
Although since 1997 homosexuality isn’t illegal in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and hasn’t been classified as a “mental disorder” since 2001, people back then were still very prudish compared to the West.
The same day Westerwelle introduced his long-term boyfriend to the Red Mandarins, police in Peking prevented a gay beauty pageant from taking place at a renowned club in the city.
Just an hour before the pioneering event was to begin, officials burst into the premises and halted preparations for the much-trumpeted stage show, which had created a media frenzy.
The organizer of the first “Mister Gay China” contest reported sudden unexpected problems with the application. Ultimately, no official permit was granted by the local authorities.
One of the eight candidates was supposed to represent his country the following month at the 2nd “Mr. Gay World” in Norway, which was eventually won by late Charl Van Den Berg from South Africa.
A decade later, there are growing signs that the Middle Kingdom has slowly opened up. In December 2019, the Legislative Commission of the National People’s Congress (NPC), the Chinese parliament, unexpectedly acknowledged receiving 230,000 online suggestions and letters to legalize same-sex marriage.
This will probably not happen in the near future, but considering how rapidly China’s society continues to change, it’s a step forward for gays and lesbians there. Maybe Westerwelle set an early example after all.