There are a lot of things you’re not supposed to be able to do when you’re gay: get married, have children, be the head of a national government, etc. But stereotypes exist to be broken, at least when you’re former Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. A profile published yesterday in the Telegraph shares the truly touching story of the former prime minister and her partner of 30 years, Jónína Leósdóttir.
The couple met while working on a political committee in 1983 and later left their husbands to be together. But Sigurðardóttir’s political career meant they lived in fear, and they didn’t move in together until 2000. Sigurðardóttir was elected prime minister nine years later, and the couple traveled the world together on official business without much trouble (or fanfare, which is why I hadn’t heard of them until now). In addition to being the first out gay head of state in the world, Sigurðardóttir was also Iceland’s first female prime minister. During her tenure, she was relatively well liked, and she was able to advance LGBT rights in Iceland while also pulling the country out of a huge economic hole. She and Leósdóttir were among the first to wed when the country passed a same-sex marriage law in 2010.
My favorite part of this story (aside from THE WHOLE THING) is how aware the pair seems to be of their privilege. This is a couple who spent two decades in the closet because of political pressure, and now that they’re out they’re reminding us that they could have had it much worse. They were never really harassed or mistreated, and the media respected their right to have a private family life after they moved in together. Leósdóttir’s perspective, as shared with the Telegraph, is that there wasn’t a huge public uproar when they came out because they were older white women who had grandchildren from their previous marriages. Had circumstances been different, she says, they wouldn’t have been so lucky as to get a “non-reaction” from the public. “I think people see white women grandmas as rather harmless so maybe [being gay is] not so threatening,” she said.
The other big takeaway here is that, despite the difficulties of advancing in politics as a non-straight person in much of the world, there are places where being gay doesn’t exclude you from something huge like being prime minister. A conversation about this happened last month in the United Kingdom, and more politicians in the United States are coming out as LGBT rights battles crop up across the country. The fact that Leósdóttir’s and Sigurðardóttir’s lives and political careers have happened means that the door is that much more open for the next LGBTQ politician. At least in some parts of the world, we’re getting there.
Feature image via Wikimedia Commons.
How did autostraddle know that two of my favourite things are Iceland and lesbians?
Queer Icelandophiles unite!
Iceland is the best at everything. I would live there if only it were about 10 degrees warmer.
thanks for writing this. LOVE that woman!
Thanks for sharing, very cool!
Ég elska Ísland… því miður ég er búin að gleyma íslensku án þess að hafa ávallt notað hana… :(
(I love Iceland… unfortunately I’ve forgotten Icelandic without ever having used it) In speech, anyways. Apart from like, half an hour at Keflavík airport like 15 years ago.
This is another example of why I love Iceland, indeed.
Jeez, is there anything Iceland isn’t the best at (besides warmth maybe)? Also, Autostraddle Icelandophiles Anonymous is much needed I feel…
Lack of warmth is made up for with a plethoritude of hot springs!
I really cannot wait until Jónína’s book is translated into English – I watched her interview with Kate Mosse the other day and found her a very compelling and likeable speaker.
One thing about the article though – I am 99% sure that Icelandic naming conventions mean people are either referred to by their full names or first names only e.g. “Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir” or “Jóhanna”, and never as “Sigurðardóttir” in both casual and formal situations. (Even the Icelandic telephone directory is organised by first name.)
Yep, Icelandic naming conventions are kinda weird (at least for outsiders).
Thanks Kaitlyn for the awesome article.
Both Jóhanna and Jónína are very likable and I personally think Jóhanna did an a good job as Prime Minister (especially considering Iceland was in such a shitty time when she got the job).
Good god why is Iceland so great.
I had been following Sigurðardóttir’s political career with great interest since she became PM of Iceland in 2009 and I have been waiting for sometime for Autostraddle or another LBT website to feature her, because Sigurðardóttir is not just a lesbian world leader, she is a world leader who is worthy of admiration.
After the Global Economic Crisis of 2008, Iceland was the worst off of all developed nations. In fact, many considered it a failed state. After Sigurðardóttir was elected in ’09, Iceland went through a very successful recovery process. Unlike our politicians, she stood firm against corporate interests, nationalized her nation’s banks, re-negotiated her country’s and household mortgage debts (the latter by 20%) and in general followed a policy that protected the middle class Icelanders, and by 2012, Iceland, by almost all accounts, had a stable economy. She is enthusiastically lauded by Nobel laureate economists such as Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and Elinor Ostrom, and predictably reviled by CNBC and Wall Street Journal for her protectionism.
In short, she’s not only the first openly gay world leader, but one who became prime-minister of a country that was in the midst of the worst economic crisis in its history and guided it through this dark phase with success, which is why I believe Autostraddle should do a more comprehensive Sigurðardóttir feature. She truly is a great role model.
AHHHH so so happy you wrote a thing on Jóhanna Sigur∂ardóttir! I have been geeking out about Iceland since I realized how awesome it was in 2010, and I wrote a research paper on Iceland in the global financial crisis last semester which led me to Jóhanna and her complete shutdown of business interests to revamp the Icelandic economy in a way that would give most politicians in the USA (regardless of which side of the isle they’re on) heart attacks. she. is. so. cool. Her time as PM was also really complicated and interesting to read about, because she basically alienated what we could call “big business” in the US, which by the way funds nearly (hopefully only nearly) all political campaigns on the federal level here and it’s interesting to see how she weathered that given Iceland’s government’s structure, which is obviously (thankfully) way way different that the US. There were a lot of people who were not big fans of her policies by the end. Well, a lot for Iceland. And also the UK. Britain didn’t really like Iceland there for a bit. But I’d like to think they’ve kissed and made up. I should look that up…
But yes, I’m going to stop now and just listen to some Sigur Rós in victory because I’m rambling.
Icelandic names are the best names. I’ve been obsessively tracking down and reading Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s books and every time a new character is introduced, I’m like ‘Damn, that is a great name.” I wish my name was that cool.
And besides having a great name, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was a great PM, as others have pointed out. Yay for non-evil lesbian politicians!
Fascinating! Thanks for writing this.
BBC Woman’s Hour did a great interview with Jonina about the book.
YAY! Good to remind myself every day that the U.S. of A. is not the only place and there are TONS of people with vastly different systems and cultures elsewhere, with better parts and worse parts. Then, when I think about making changes happen here, I can do so with both more specific hope and more specific pragmatism about what it’s gonna take. I’ll have to continue to educate myself on Iceland and this awesome couple!