Beyond the World news headlines
Was rightist Haider gay? Austria doesn’t care
Just when you thought his story couldn’t get more dramatic — he died on Oct. 11 in a high-speed car crash while drunk — we now learn that Haider, who was married with two daughters, was not only a populist who polarised the public with remarks about Nazism and immigrants, but might have been gay too.
But wait a minute. Speculation about Haider’s sexuality is not at all new, at least not in Austria. Here, his death has not really led to breathless speculation about his private life as it has elsewhere.
Questions about Haider’s sexuality had been asked in Austria since the 1990s, when the charismatic, folksy leader surrounded himself with a group of young and successful male followers, earning his entourage the nickname “The Boys Posse”.
Far-right parties have never been especially women-friendly anyway. Haider never said he was gay, nor denied it and Austrians’ reaction to this is interesting. They don’t really care. Whether true or not, this speculation was largely politely ignored or deemed not newsworthy.
Overall the Austrian press abides by the unwritten rule that private lives should only be written about when made an issue by the politician themselves, or has an effect on public policy.
”If Haider was gay or bi or whatever, so what?” writes Marco Schreuder, an openly gay member of the Vienna regional assembly. ”In our society, diverse sexual tendencies should be an accepted as a fact by enlightened, 21st century people…Drinkdriving is life-threatening. But visiting a gay bar doesn’t
threaten your own life or anyone else’s”.
Haider’s political parties — far-right Freedom before 2005 and later the splinter group Alliance for Austria’s Future, did not pursue anti-gay policies.
Question marks over Haider’s sexuality were not a political issue and are not new. Should we care nevertheless?