What is the significance of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir being the worlds first openly gay head of government? It is very significant. It is interesting to note how much attention it has received from the international media, while their Icelandic colleagues barely mention it.
If they do, they try and go around it. They only really mention it when reporting that it has been reported upon internationally, if you can believe that.
Having an openly gay Prime Minister is very important for gay people of all nationalities. This is why it’s causing a stir. There seems to be a shyness about it over here, however, even a form of suppression. Either the Icelandic media has a problem using the words “hommi” (homosexual) and “lesbía” (lesbian) or they find the subject uncomfortable. I also think heterosexual journalists often don’t understand the significance of her appointment. The appointment of the first openly gay PM is about as significant for the gay community as the appointment of Obama in the U.S. was for that nation’s African-American community.
And it’s strange to note that the Icelandic media has been constantly repeating the fact that we now have our first female PM, while they don’t mention a word about us having the whole world’s first openly gay PM leading our government. There’s something off about the fact – they seem to be almost hiding it.
And I am not sure it has anything to do with how “liberal” we are. I think it has more to do with a specific shyness or suppression – even a suppressing shyness, if you will. It is a fact that Iceland hasn’t had many openly gay politicians, and openly gay people have also been mostly absent from leading roles in society, except for in the arts. Even Iceland’s academic community, liberal as it is, it’s only very recently that its members have become open about their sexuality. This is very unfortunate, because there are a lot of children and teenagers out there that need positive role models, and while the media remains in the closet about these issues, people will, too.
In a way it can be compared to how the Icelandic media didn’t really cover the awful position the Icelandic banks had gotten themselves into, unless they were reporting on the coverage of the international media. No reports on the banks, but if the international media reports something, they post reports on those reports? This is absurd. Can’t they just deal with matters in an honest, open way?
Words by Baldur Þórhallsson
Baldur Þórhallsson (born 1968) is professor of Political Science at the University of Iceland and holds a Ph.D in the subject from the University of Essex, England. He regularly comments on Icelandic and European politics in the Icelandic media and is a respected voice on matters concerning the EU. Baldur is openly gay. This article was originally published in Grapevine magazine, february 2009