Monday, February 2, 2009

The Leading Lesbian

It's a tough name for non-Scandinavians to pronounce or spell, but I promise to learn it. Cross my rainbow heart.

Johanna Sigurdardottir is the new prime minister of Iceland, and she's openly lesbian. It makes me want to wave the hat I bought 25 years ago in the Reykjavik airport.

That actually would be appropriate, as Sigurdardottir was a flight attendant and must've been in that airport countless times. So wave I will, to salute Iceland. While Björk sings in the background.

Iceland's new leader was a union organizer for flight attendants, and became a member of parliament in 1978. She's been in government a long time. Most recently she served as social affairs minister, before being tabbed to sit in the big chair.

The big chair could be a hot seat. The worldwide economic crisis hit Iceland like a horde of Vikings in pinstriped suits. The banks collapsed, the currency swooned, and inflation and unemployment are surging.

Protesters pelted the former prime minister's limo with eggs. In this nation of only 320,000 people, recent anti-government protests drew thousands. Police used tear gas for the first time in some 50 years.

This is the happy backdrop to her taking power. Remind you of someone? Maybe things had to get so bad for a black man to lead America, and a lesbian to lead Iceland.

Or maybe not. Like Obama, people have a lot of faith in Sigurdardottir. Polls give her high approval ratings. "It's a question of trust, people believe that she actually cares about people," a political scientist told the AP.

Besides being popular, she has another thing going for her as she takes on this ridiculously hard job: She's temporary. If the job sucks or she sucks at it, she's outta there before too many eggs can decorate the limo.

Sigurdardottir will be prime minister until elections are held, probably in May, when her Social Democratic Alliance Party isn't expected to do well enough to keep her in power. I wonder whether realistically she can make things much better or worse in that short amount of time. She can be a calming influence. Assure Icelanders that their island isn't sinking into the sea.

No matter how she performs, she'll always be the first out lesbian to lead a country. She'll always be a trailblazer for gay folk the world over. She'll always be the answer to a trivia question.

Actually, she'll always be a bit of a trick question. Sigurdardottir isn't the first out gay person to lead a country. Technically she's the second. Per-Kristian Foss, Norway's finance minister in 2002, served as his nation's acting prime minister when both the prime minister and foreign minister were abroad. But Foss's tenure as prime minister was so short he didn't even have time to put his feet up on the furniture.

It's telling that the first and second openly gay heads of government come from the same part of the world. Scandinavians seem to be farther along in their thinking than the rest of the world. Maybe it's something in the water—or fjords and geysers.

Sigurdardottir entered into a civil partnership in 2002 with journalist and playwright Jonina Leosdottir. How will Leosdottir be referred to? As the civil partner? The first lady? The first lesbian leader's first lesbian lady?

Oh, and did you notice that both women's names end the same way? Come to find out that most Icelanders derive their last name from their father's first name. Icelanders address each other by their first name. If I understand correctly, that means Sigurdardottir will be called Prime Minister Johanna.

Works for me! Now I don't have to learn that name after all. Whew.