RIGA, Latvia (AP) — Latvia's foreign minister has announced on Twitter that he's gay, becoming the first openly homosexual Cabinet member in the Baltic country.
The announcement by Edgars Rinkevics, 41, was welcomed by gay rights activists as an important step in a part of Europe where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people often complain of discrimination.
Rinkevics tweeted in Latvian late Thursday in support of legal recognition of same-sex partnerships with the hashtag "Proudtobegay." He followed up with a tweet in English saying: "I proudly announce I'am gay... Good luck all of you..."
The latter was retweeted 1,200 times and favorited 2,300 times. Rinkevics' tweets normally get no more than 20 interactions.
The Foreign Ministry confirmed the tweets were authentic.
As in much of Eastern Europe, same-sex partnerships aren't legal and are generally frowned upon in Latvia. Justice Minister Gaidis Berzins recently told the LETA news agency that such unions are against Latvian "customs."
Earlier this year, neighboring Estonia became the first former Soviet republic to legally recognize same-sex unions.
Kristine Garina, head of Mozaika, an LGBT rights group in Latvia, said Rinkevics' announcement was "historic for the whole post-Soviet bloc because it's quite homophobic. He's the first such high politician in the post-Soviet space that has come out."
Rinkevics, a member of the center-right Unity party, also received support from other politicians in the region.
Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves called him a "very brave man and a very good foreign minister."
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius praised Rinekvics for his "courage and sincerity."
Ilmars Tolstovs, a Catholic priest who has denounced homosexuality on his blog, said Rinkevics' move was badly timed after Latvia's new government was sworn in earlier this week.
"It is very hypocritical to publish this post right after the election. If it had happened before, Unity would suffer a severe defeat," said Tolstovs.
Last month, Latvia's Foreign Ministry blacklisted Russian actor Ivan Okhlobystin after he was quoted as saying gays should be burned alive and pose a danger to his children.