Last month, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marched in the Toronto Pride, and was lauded for being the first world leader to do so. And on Aug. 6, 2016, Iceland’s Guðni Jóhannesson became the first president in the world to attend a Pride Parade.
Sworn into office on Aug. 1, one of Jóhannesson’s first acts as president was his speech at the Reykjavík (Iceland’s capital) Pride. “It surely requires bravery to come out of the closet,” said Jóhannesson. Accompanied by a sign-language interpreter, he addressed the gathering from a pavilion for a good five minutes. During that time, he spoke of how the Reykjavík Pride symbolized “the precious freedom, the unique freedom that follows not worrying anymore about what others think of you, or what you think others think of you.”
It was precisely this freedom that one third of Iceland’s population – just over one lakh people – had come out to celebrate. And the point was all but driven home when popstar Páll Óskar rocked up to the event with a giant silver unicorn. “I think that the whole Pride festival is about being visible,” said Óskar. “I want you to see this massive sculpture even if you’re a whole kilometre away. And I want to make as much noise as possible because for such a long time we were invisible in Icelandic society.”
This year, the Pride march started at 2 p.m., culminating in several musical performances at Arnarhóll Hill, a central point in the city. Jóhannesson has been a regular attendee at the Pride Parade, the only difference this year was that he was marching as the president.
He was also joined by Reykjavík mayor Dagur B. Eggertson and other city council members, who were riding in a special float with the organizers. But this wouldn’t be the first time public officials have marched in the parade. When Jón Gnarr was mayor in 2010, he too came to show his support and how! Gnarr took the stage in drag – a blonde wig, red lipstick and floral print dress, joking to the crowd that “the mayor unfortunately could not attend himself.”
Iceland has a pretty impressive track record when it comes to the LGBTQ community. The Samtökin ’78 was the first national queer organization formed in Iceland, and continues its work today. A large-scale LGBTQ agitation happened in 1993 at a city centre. Three years later, in 1996, registered partnerships for same-sex couples were legalized and in 1999, the first pride parade was held. 10 years later, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the first openly lesbian head of state in the world, and it was during her term in office that same-sex marriage was legalized in the country. A few short years later, the foreign minister Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson publicly deplored the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. Clearly, Iceland’s political leaders are taking the very steps we wished our leaders would in building a fair and inclusive society.
However, as Reykjavík Pride’s former director Þorvaldur Kristinsson says, “There is no queer utopia in the world.” And he’s right. Issues still exist for the Iceland’s trans and intersex population. But it’s still super, super important that heads of state and other public officials also march in Pride Parades.
President Jóhannesson has already taken a positive stance on the issues of immigrants and refugees. He has previously said that his credo is the UN Charter on Human Rights. His belief in the same has clearly manifested itself in his support of the queer community – a community that continues to be brutally persecuted in several countries Uganda, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
Ending his speech, Jóhannesson said: “We’re here at the celebration of queer people but in closing I would like you to consider this: These words are a bit contradictory but isn’t it really the case that we are all queer in some way or another? When you look closely nobody is like most people.”
And that’s the beauty of it that we need to celebrate with Pride!
Featured Image Source: Edward Gilpin/Facebook.