Iceland puts a lesbian in its prime spot

Iceland is about to make history. Again.

Nineteen years after the country elected the world’s first female president, Iceland is about to appoint the world’s first openly lesbian prime minister, Johanna Sigurdardottir.

Sigurdardottir, who is currently social affairs minister, and her partner, Jonina Leosdottir, a playwright and journalist, were joined in a civil ceremony in 2002. A former flight attendant, Sigurdardottir is one of the few politicians in the country who remains popular despite Iceland’s economic crisis. She also has great hair.

In case you’ve been too preoccupied with the U.S. economy to notice, Iceland has been in turmoil since its banks collapsed last fall. The country’s currency followed and on Monday, Prime Minister Geir Haarde resigned.

Both parties of Iceland’s coalition government support Sigurdardottir and expect her to be installed as interim prime minister on Saturday. She will serve until the May election. Although her tenure may be brief, her appointment is a step toward rebuilding public trust in the government.

While the press puts Sigurdardottir’s sexual orientation front and center, what do Icelanders have to say about it?

Nothing.

Iris Erlingsdottir, an Icelandic journalist, sums up her country’s attitude toward the matter. (It’s a long quote, but too good to cut.)

I guess I still have the attitude of most Icelanders when it comes to matters of sexual issues, because I failed to pick up on the newsworthiness of Sigurdardottir’s sexual orientation. “Oh, vow,” said an American friend of mine, “that’s really something! First openly gay world leader!”

Huh? Why, who cares? Even after living in America all these years, where hounding politicians into surrealistic hell about their private lives is the norm, it didn’t really ring bells for me. “I don’t see what her sexual orientation has to do with anything,” my mother told me yesterday. “It’s no one’s business but her own.”

My usually taciturn father agreed strongly. “She is the most trusted and respected politician in the country,” he said, “and she is simply the best person available for the job. Ja, that is just twisted thinking,” he replied when I told him that her sexual orientation would probably be more newsworthy in America than anything else surrounding her appointment.

Wait — the people of Iceland are more concerned about a leader’s qualifications than her sexual orientation? What is the world coming to?

Whatever it is, I hope it gets to the U.S. soon.

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