First openly gay prime minister to be appointed in Iceland

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir
Image: Félags - og tryggingamálaráðuneytið (Icelandic Ministry of Social Affairs and Social Security).

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, an openly gay Icelandic politician currently serving as the nation's Minister for Social Affairs, is soon to be appointed prime minister. The appointment will mark the first time ever that an openly gay individual has been appointed head of a national government. She will remain interim prime minister until the general election, rescheduled for May.

Jóhanna, 66, has support from both parties in the new coalition government, and she says she will accept the position under the condition that both parties will trust her. On January 27, it was announced that the nation's coalition government had collapsed and dissolved following a banking financial crisis. In October of 2008, Iceland's banking sector collapsed and was largely nationalised.

"Now we need a strong government that works with the people," said Jóhanna during a press conference. She will be replacing the current prime minister, Geir Haarde who resigned on January 26, and is the chairmen of the nation's independent party and a critic of Jóhanna. He criticizes her not for her sexual orientation, but her appointment because he believes she will not help the economic crisis, resulting in more government spending.

The new minority coalition will consist of Jóhanna's Social Democratic Alliance and the Left-Green Movement with backing from the Progressive Party. Elections are expected in May 2009. The Social Democratic Alliance was also in the previous coalition with Geir's Independence Party.

"Jóhanna is a very good woman — but she likes public spending, she is a tax raiser," said Geir.

A 2008 poll conducted in December, found that 73% of 2,000 people surveyed supported Jóhanna, which would make her the country's most popular prime minister in their government's history. Iceland's deputy chief of mission at the Icelandic embassy in Washington, D.C. located in the United States, Olafur Sigurdsson, says that her homosexuality was never a problem with most other government officials.

"If she is gay, that is not an issue at all. We are very liberal in that sense. It has never been an issue for her as a politician," said Olafur.

Before entering the world of politics, Jóhanna worked for Loftleidir Airlines as a flight attendant for about 10 years, before she got elected to parliament in 1978. From 1987 to 1994 and then from 2007 until the present day, she has served as the country's Minister for Social Affairs.