Iceland is a country in economic turmoil, yet this tiny progressive nation has provided an example that the whole world can look up to. The appointment of Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir has made Iceland the first country to have an openly gay national leader. Iceland has long been a leader in gay rights, allowing couples to have all the benefits of marriage, including the ability to adopt children since 1996.
Meanwhile, Americans have been celebrating their own step forward: the election of a black president. However, one should not be thinking that America has achieved the Declaration of Independence’s standard of all men being created equal just yet. As close as Hillary Clinton came to winning the Democratic nomination, the fact remains that the presidency has seen just one black man and 42 white men represent this diverse country.
Gay Americans are still being treated as second-class citizens. This may not be as obvious to Boston University students in the liberal state of Massachusetts, but the country as a whole is far behind. Many states have passed amendments against gay marriage and adoption by gay couples. Sadly, we can’t count on our new president to reverse this course of discrimination. President Barack Obama, who won the presidency on his message of change, has not shown that he believes gays are deserving of marriage equality. He is also dragging his feet on his promise to repeal the bigoted ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ military policy that reinforces the idea that gays are inferior Americans.
Social issues aside, it is even more troubling to see how Americans view the possibility of gay leadership in this country. A 2008 Zogby International poll found that 65 percent of Americans would vote for a gay candidate for president. These numbers may be an improvement over past results, but it still means that one-third of American’s would not even consider voting for a candidate based on sexual orientation, regardless of qualifications. It would be almost impossible for a gay candidate to be elected if he or she were to start off with this much opposition before the merits of his or her candidacy could be judged.
It isn’t just gays and women that Americans need to change their attitudes about when it comes to leadership. There is too much bigotry in this country directed toward Hispanics, Jews, Muslims and even disabled Americans when the topic of leadership arises. We need to move beyond the archaic stereotypes of the past and join the rest the progressive world in recognizing that having a different faith, appearance or sexual orientation should not disqualify someone from holding a powerful position.