The Legacy of the World's First Out Lesbian Prime Minister

Iceland's Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir leaves office after breaking a path for other LGBT politicians and making efforts to improve her nation's economy.

BY Trudy Ring

May 03 2013 7:00 AM ET

Sigurdardóttir on the day she was sworn in as prime minister, February 1, 2009

 

Under Sigurdardóttir, the government initiated a review of the national constitution, in an unusual fashion in that hundreds of Icelanders had the opportunity to make suggestions, and then voters last fall approved the document in a referendum. However, the new constitution has yet to receive the required approval of the Althingi.

Iceland’s economy improved somewhat during Sigurdardóttir’s tenure, and several bankers and politicians were tried on charges related to the financial collapse. Haarde was convicted on a charge arising from his failure to hold emergency cabinet meetings as the crisis developed, but he was acquitted of more serious crimes. Still, while Iceland was “the least foul smelling of the world’s dirty laundry,” as the blog TruthOut put it, economic problems remained. Unemployment fell, but Icelanders also saw their taxes rise while spending on social programs decreased.

“Polls suggest that many here are disappointed with the current coalition government which took power at the height of the crisis,” BBC contributor Joe Lynam wrote from Iceland in January. “And as is often the case in politics, the party which inherits the mess does not always get much credit for cleaning it up.”

That turned out to be the case, with voters turning out the Social Democratic Alliance in April. It received just 13% of the vote, giving it nine seats in the Althingi. The Independence and Progressive parties, both more conservative — although perhaps still liberal by U.S. standards — won 19 seats each, meaning they will form a coalition government and one of their leaders, likely the Independence Party’s Bjarni Benediktsson, will become prime minister.

“The Independence Party has been called to duty again,” the BBC quoted Benediktsson as saying. “We’ve seen what cutbacks have done for our health care system and social benefits ... now it’s time to make new investments, create jobs, and start growth.”

Still, LGBT activists say that no matter what one thinks of Sigurdardóttir’s politics, she played a historically important role. Having an openly gay national leader, “even in a small country like Iceland, sends a clear message to everyone, wherever they live,” wrote a blogger at GayIce.is. “If we can do it, you can too.”
 

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