Iceland to get world’s first lesbian prime minister

// 28 January 2009

Johanna Sigurðardottir looks set to become the first ever LGBT head of government, after Iceland’s coalition government collapsed. She’s currently minister for social affairs.

The Huffington Post has an interesting piece about how utterly unbothered the people of Iceland are about this fact, by Icelandic journalist Iris Erlingsdottir. She reports:

Sigurðardottir is the mother of two grown sons and is married to Icelandic writer and playwright Jonina Leosdottir. She is often described by many of her countrymen as the only politician who really cares about the “little guy.” She has devoted her career to fighting for the welfare and equality of minority groups – women, the elderly, the poor, disabled, and immigrants. She holds no fancy foreign diplomas – she has a Commercial degree from the Commercial College of Iceland – nor extensive family or wealth connections like many Icelandic politicians but has diligently worked her way up the political ladder through hard work and determination. Her professional career includes working in the 60s and 70s as a flight attendant for Icelandair (the old Loftleidir Airlines) and an office worker in Reykjavik.

Germans agonized over whether they were ready for its first gay leader in 2006 after that country’s leading homosexual politician, Klaus Wowereit, 55, who proudly hugged his long-standing boyfriend in front of television cameras, won a second term as mayor of Berlin. The French grappled with the issue in 2001 when Bertrand Delanoë, 59, one of the country’s first openly gay politicians became mayor of Paris. Last year, the popular Delanoë declared his candidacy for leadership of France’s Socialist party and has been said to be considering running for president in 2012.

“No one has ever talked about Johanna (Icelanders always use first names) as a gay person,” an Icelandic friend and a prominent journalist told me this morning. “She’s not hiding it either, the name of her spouse is on her Parliament and Ministry web pages, it’s just that nobody cares about it, any more than people cared in 1980, when Vigdis Finnbogadottir ran for president, that she was a woman and a single mother to boot.

“Johanna is very smart and not afraid to tackle difficult issues, and I think she can unite us,” my friend added. “Reasonable, sane people are not going to care about people’s gender or color. They just want the best person for the job.”

Comments From You

Naomi // Posted 28 January 2009 at 11:03 am

When’s the next plane?

Kez // Posted 28 January 2009 at 12:15 pm


Can you imagine that happening here??

The furore would be a thing to behold.

Joanne // Posted 28 January 2009 at 3:17 pm

“Reasonable, sane people are not going to care about people’s gender or color. They just want the best person for the job.”

I hope I’ll live to see this kind of attitude prevail in the UK…

Catherine Martell // Posted 28 January 2009 at 3:43 pm

I think it’s more accurate to call Johanna the world’s first *openly* lesbian prime minister. I can think of at least one other closeted lesbian prime minister and several lesbian heads of state.

The fact that there are very few openly LGB world leaders doesn’t necessarily indicate that very few world leaders are LGB. It might simply indicate that it is difficult for world leaders to identify publicly as such.

The real sign of progress here is that Johanna does not have to live in the closet. And, for that, hurrah!

Aimee // Posted 28 January 2009 at 4:08 pm

This makes me happy and gives me hope. Bigotry is obviously not fundamental to all human nature. Hurrah!

Shea // Posted 28 January 2009 at 6:47 pm

Awesome! She sounds like the prime minster, Iceland (and the rest of the world) desperately need.

Once again I am full of admiration of Icelanders (?), and despair for our own backward nation.

maggie // Posted 28 January 2009 at 8:07 pm

Icelandics seem to have gone for the person that can deliver in a time of economic turmoil for them. I think it’s great news, because it does give the promise of a more open, inclusive and caring society.

It certainly makes a change from the hairy-necked brigade.

Kez // Posted 28 January 2009 at 11:37 pm

Catherine Martell… not our own dear Maggie, surely?! Ahem.

danielle // Posted 29 January 2009 at 12:17 am

Approaching 2010… the controversy over women in power is more alarming than it’s been in 30 years.

Dana // Posted 29 January 2009 at 9:29 am

This is great news. However I see the usual pattern here: idiotic & greedy men make a mess and only then do they call the woman to clean it up. It’s a bit depressing and reminds me of the attitude of some adoption agencies: no-one wants the disabled children, let’s give them to the lesbians! Here, men in Iceland and elsewhere have run the economy to the ground after year of pure greed, now they wash their hands of it and get to spend their billions of accumulated bonuses while a brave woman tries her best to make it right again. Kudos to the Icelanders to at least make that bold move while other countries are still putting their heads in the sand (like the UK or France).

Anne Onne // Posted 29 January 2009 at 6:26 pm

It’s so amazing to see that Icelanders honestly don’t seem to care about her sexuality. So great. Here, I fear that the’red be a huge deal about how the world is coming to an end and people complaining that their religion prevents them from having a gay prime minister or something…

I just hope she can manage it: I don’t want her to be a scape goat for homophobic critics.

Kez // Posted 30 January 2009 at 8:38 am

Although here in the UK we have/had several openly gay MPs and even cabinet ministers so I guess some headway is being made… I think the days have gone when any “gay scandal” was automatically career suicide.

Valgrith // Posted 31 January 2009 at 1:18 am

Great, but I’m often getting the impression of late that only individuals who are of non-caucasian backround, women, or at least gay, can be considered truly progressive leaders.

I would say, as has already been mentioned here, that one should not base one’s support on race or gender. Were I American, I would have voted for Barack Obama, but not because he is black, but for what I hope are better reasons than that. Voting for anyone because of their gender or race, is a thin veil of a different kind of racism, just as I wouldn’t vote for a woman simply because she is a woman, but rather because I support what she hopes to do.

I would even go so far as to say one shouldn’t even notice these things (race and gender or sexual orientation) when considering who to support or who to vote for, but to only listen to what they say, because the former should be irrelevant in a just society.

That Johanna is being heralded as an extra progressive leader, simply because she is a woman and lesbian, is for me a bit worrying.

I don’t ever want to be painted as less progressive or less what I stand for, than a black/asian/migrant background woman/gay person who supports what I support, simply because I am, perhaps unfortunately, none of these.

Jess McCabe // Posted 31 January 2009 at 11:13 am

No-one’s said that, Valgrith.

It’s two seperate issues of electing someone who’s politics you support, versus celebrating and acknowledging when barriers are broken down and the world begins to look more equal.

Kez // Posted 31 January 2009 at 11:22 am

Valgrith – I think the key quote is this: “Reasonable, sane people are not going to care about people’s gender or color. They just want the best person for the job.”

Nobody is saying Johanna will be better because she is a lesbian. Her sexuality should be irrelevant. The point is that in many places, it would be seen as a major, negative issue, as, initially, was Obama’s race – many people simply could not envisage a black man becoming President, regardless of how capable and suitable he was.

I don’t think anyone is suggesting voting for candidates BECAUSE they are gay, or whatever. In an ideal world, these factors are irrelevant. But that is not usually the case, hence the reason this news from Iceland is worthy of note.

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