5 questions with... Ulrike Lunacek
LGBT rights, backpacking and women in politics.
Ulrike Lunacek | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
1. Which person you have worked with has most inspired you in your career, and how?
Freda Meissner-Blau, a founder and the first leader of the Austrian Green Party when we won the first seats in the national Parliament in 1986. A livelong activist and prominent personality in the Austrian antinuclear, environment, peace and feminist movement, she showed me that women should be at the heart of politics and not on the sidelines - and that this struggle is a constant one, even when things have gotten better.
2. What is the smallest change you have made in your career that has had the biggest positive result?
My public coming out in 1995, when I first ran for the Austrian Parliament and started my political career. Then a few words changed so much: It is normal to be different. I will not hide that fact that I am a lesbian, because I want to live a life free from fear and danger of being blackmailed. My visibility, activism and work have empowered many a lesbian but also gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex person. Visibility (and legal equality) reduce fear in peoples' lives.
3. What one item would you save from your house or apartment if it was on fire?
The photo of my mother on a sunny Sunday, May 15, 1955, the day Austria regained its independence, with her happily dancing in a meadow full of flowers, accompanied by my father who had only recently proposed to her.
4. Is there anything you have personally achieved or done that would surprise people?
In 1978, when I was a young student, I was backpacking for nine months through South America: Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brasil, Chile - first with a friend of mine and then the last three months on my own. No email and internet then, telephone calls extremely expensive, so I could actually live in another reality without always connecting to home. I experienced the extreme differences between rich and poor, and learned what it meant to live under a dictatorship from people in opposition to Pinochet's military regime. These experiences were an important catalyst for my political struggles and commitment later on.
5. What is the most humbling thing you have experienced in your career?
I was asked to work as an interpreter - my original profession - by the organisers of the International Lesbian and Gay Association's World Conference in Vienna. I met LGBT activists who in their home countries at that time faced not just hate speech and harassment, but also physical violence, raids in LGBT bars, hours, months and even years in prison simply for loving someone of the same sex or being transsexual/transvestite/transgender, and, yes, even being killed for who you are or for speaking out publically for equal rights. Interpreting for activists who had been going through these experiences made me realise how relatively safe a country I had grown up and was living in, and made me ask myself: what should I be afraid of? If they can be open about being lesbian or gay, what should I be afraid of? These are humbling experiences because they have made me realise what a privileged life I lead - and these experiences have given me the strength to move on, often in in difficult times.