I choose to come to Iceland for a vacation. I had been here before on a layover and wanted to explore the beautiful land and the hot warmth of the geothermal Blue Lagoon. A small country in population, Iceland is plenty large with waterfalls, geysers and puffins. With a waterfall that has more power than Niagara, it has spectacular scenery.
I opened up the in-flight magazine on the short (five-hour flight) from Boston, and there was a four-page article called “Iceland for All.” It showed two men in tuxedos with rainbow umbrellas.
The article began discussing that Iceland had the first openly gay prime minister, a woman who took office in 2009. Her election from a left-wing coalition took power after the financial disaster, but she stepped down after they could not solve the fiscal problems of the country. No one cared that she was a lesbian; it was quite beside the point except to the international media, which made a very big deal of it. So did China, which managed to airbrush her married partner out of photos when she made a state visit.
Iceland is a country where there is no security at the prime minister’s office and where our guide attends the same gym as the president of the country. People have to be nice to each other because, in a country where there are just 330,000 or so people, you have to learn to get along. Rancor and political rage just don’t cut it here, and neither does prejudice because of someone’s being different than the mainstream.
As I was touring city hall, there was an exhibit of paintings by two artists. Both are in wheelchairs. One does his paintings with his feet, the other with her mouth. They are beautiful works of art and celebrated at city hall.
A sculpture as you enter the building has a man in suit with a briefcase; his face is covered with a giant rock. “That,” our guide said, “is our tribute to the unnamed government worker who works without getting credit for what he or she does.”
I can’t imagine that government funds would pay for such a sculpture outside of a U.S. government building.
Later in the day, we saw young people doing street theater. Lampshades on their head, huge flowers with matching colored costumes, these young people were going down the street entertaining all – including performing a show in front of the prime minister’s office. It wasn’t even a weekend, but they were entertaining all the tourists and locals. Our guide informed us that the government pays young artists as a summer job to do street theater!
It is against this backdrop of supporting the individual that gays and lesbians flourish in the society. Gay Pride, which takes place every August, has been known to draw more than 50,000 people to its streets, and most of them are part of the non-gay population of Iceland. The in-flight magazine noted that the straight mayor of Reykjavik was on a float dressed in drag!
Their libraries are not into the culture wars over books like “Heather Has Two Mommies.” In fact, the gay community center’s library is supported with funds from Iceland’s library system.
Iceland is a pretty progressive country by anyone’s evaluation. Some readers will write me emails and say it is socialist. Not quite. It is very capitalist, but it does have education and health insurance for all. Surprisingly, there is no separation of church and state. There is freedom of religion, but the official church is the “Evangelical Lutheran Church,” and the government supports it. Gay and lesbians can and do get married there.
In reflecting on our culture wars and the rancor we live with over just this one issue, I find it hard to believe that we can’t move beyond it. Iceland has. No one cares if you are gay or gay married, and the country moves ahead with trade, tourism and tolerance.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we did too?