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Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir: Iceland’s first gay Prime Minister

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Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir: Iceland’s first gay Prime Minister

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir served as Iceland’s prime minister from 1 February 2009 to 23 May 2013, and during that time, she was regarded as the world’s first openly lesbian head of government.

During her term, when same-sex marriage was legitimized in Iceland in 2010, she married her partner, author and playwright Jónína Leósdóttir, and they became one of the first same-sex married couples in their country.

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir: Living in a social justice world

Born on 4 October 1942 in Reykjavik, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir came from a family environment that believed in social justice.

“My grandmother was a trade-union leader for decades and my father was an MP for the Social Democratic Party,” Jóhanna said in an interview with ELLA.

She went to a vocational high school, the Commercial College of Iceland run by the Chamber of Commerce, and graduated with a commercial diploma in 1960.

From 1962 to 1971, she worked as a flight attendant for Loftleiðir Icelandic Airlines. She was also active in its labor union, serving twice as chairman of the board of the Icelandic Cabin Crew Association in 1966 and 1969.

In 1971, she took an office job in Reykjavik but was still involved in organized labor and was a member of the board of the Commercial Workers’ Union.

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir: Rising as a political leader

In 1978, Jóhanna was elected to the Althingi or Iceland’s Parliament as a member of the Social Democratic Party and representing Reykjavík.

After gaining a reputation for social justice and moving towards strengthening of the country’s welfare system,
she was named minister of social affairs in 1987.

In 1994, she campaigned for– and lost– the leadership of the Social Democratic Party. She declared after, Minn tími mun koma! or “My time will come!”

She then went on to form her own party, the National Movement, which captured four seats in the next parliamentary election.

This party went to reconcile with the Social Democratic Party in 1999, and this group joined with the Women’s Alliance and the People’s Alliance in 2000 to become the Social Democratic Alliance.

She then went on to serv as the Minister of Social Affairs after her party returned to power in 2007.

Speaking on her experience in government, she said it wasn’t always easy: “When I was first elected, I was one of only three female MPs in a Parliament of 63 members. And for many years I was the only woman in Government.”

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir: Her rise to Iceland’s top post

In 2008, the financial crisis happened and Prime Minister Geir Haarde submitted the coalition government’s resignation to President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.

That was when Jóhanna was chosen to head a caretaker minority government with a coalition of Social Democrats and Left-Greens, becoming Iceland’s prime minister on 1 February 2009.

She led her group to a slim majority in the April elections, and stayed on as prime minister.

As the new head of government, she guided her country through the worse of the financial crisis, fought for a new Constitution, pushed for Iceland’s inclusion in the European Union and greater gender inclusion.

“During my term in office, I tried to make all decisions with equality in mind,” she said.

“I introduced gender budgeting and we also passed a law to make it mandatory for both public and private companies to have gender equality on their boards,” she said.

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and her First Lady

When same-sex marriage was legitimized in Iceland in 2010, she married Jónína Leósdóttir.

Prior to this, Jóhanna had been married to Þorvaldur Steinar Jóhannesson from 1970 to 1987 and they had two children.

Both Jóhanna and Jónína admitted they had a hard time telling their family and friends about being lesbians.

“First we had to realize this ourselves– and that didn’t happen until we met and fell in love in the mid-eighties,” they told ELLA in an interview.

“And that was only the beginning of a long story, which later involved our family and friends gradually finding out about our relationship, at different times and in different ways,” the couple said.

Jóhanna retired from politics in 23 May 2013.

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