June 15 (UPI) -- For the first time in Serbian history, a gay woman has been appointed to be prime minister.
"I believe Ana Brnabić has all the personal and professional qualities" to be prime minister, said Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić on Thursday. "Much remains to be done in different areas, from public health to education, in order to implement reforms."
The appointment of Brnabić marks a departure of attitudes for Serbia. As recently as 2010, 67 percent of Serbians believed being gay was a form of mental illness and 53 percent said the government should enact laws to restrict it, according to a paper published in the Equal Rights Review.
"Even in some western countries it would be big news and a positive signal if a gay or lesbian person became prime minister or minister. It is even more important for [Serbia]," civil rights activist and Belgrade Pride organizer Goran Miletić told The Guardian. "The appointment of a lesbian can only be a positive message."
However, there is some concern that the U.S.-educated Brnabić was picked because she is not affiliated with any party in the Serbian government and lacks a power base, which would weaken opposition to Vučić and allow him to maintain power indefinitely.
There is also concern that a gay woman in a high-profile position merely gives the impression that Serbia is more progressive on LGBTQ issues.
"The problem is that it will mask the real picture of the situation of civil and human rights in Serbia," said Boban Stojanović, a political scientist at the University of Belgrade. "The choice of a member of the LGBT community for prime minister will be used as an indicator of the state of civil and human rights, and that is not realistic."
For Brnabić, this is the second year in a row in which she made Serbian history. In 2016, she was the first openly gay person to be appointed to the post of minister.