“My sexual orientation should not be news”

The first openly gay man to become a minister in an Icelandic government has taken office. He doesn’t think his sexual orientation should be news, but he also thinks it’s a good thing if his appointment as minister can help queer people realize that it’s no hindrance to be queer.

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson is the Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources in the new government of Iceland.

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson is the Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources in the new government of Iceland. His appointment has caused a bit of a stir for several reasons. To begin with he is not a member of parliament, as all the other ministers are, secondly he has been the CEO of Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association, for years and last but not least he is the first openly gay man to be a minister in Iceland. We were curious about this groundbreaker of Icelandic politics and he kindly answered some questions about his new role.

The new government of Iceland took office on December 1st and obviously there is a lot to do and learn for a first time minister. Guðmundur Ingi postponed the interview several times due to other obligations but finally he found the time to answer our questions over the phone. The first question was simply how he felt about his new job.
“I feel fine,” he says with a small laugh. “I’m looking forward to doing my work here and the atmosphere is good.”

You are the first openly gay man to take office as a minister in an Icelandic government, how does it feel to be turning a page in the political history of Iceland?
“I have to say that I don’t think my sexual orientation is an issue, that has got nothing to do with my job, obviously, but on the other hand I think that if my appointment as a minister can help any queer people realize that it’s no hindrance to be queer it’s a good thing. Personally I don’t think that me being gay should even hit the news and I really hope that we will reach that stage where nobody cares about your sexual orientation in the near future.”

“I have to say that I don’t think my sexual orientation is an issue, that has got nothing to do with my job, obviously, but on the other hand I think that if my appointment as a minister can help any queer people realize that it’s no hindrance to be queer it’s a good thing.”

But do you think it’s important that queer people are visible in government, parliament and other high offices?
“Yes I think it is important that we have representations of every social group in high offices. Not just queer people but from every corner of society.”

You and Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, former PM, are the only openly gay people ever to become ministers. There have been a few queer people in parliament through the years but on the whole that group has not been very well presented on this level, do you have an explanation for that?

“While I was growing up I was taught about the importance of treating nature with respect and to take care not to spoil it, as it was the most important thing that we had,” says Guðmundur, who has always been passionate about protecting the environment.

“There have been a few queer people in parliament. But it’s true that me and Jóhanna are the only queer people ever to serve as ministers. Why that is I don’t know, but I think it’s changing bit by bit. One step at a time.”

Your nomination as Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources came as a surprise to many, both because you are not a member of parliament and because you have been the CEO of Landvernd, the Icelandic Environment Association, which has openly criticised the environmental policy of former governments, does it not feel strange to suddenly be sitting at the other side of the table?
“I don’t think you can say that being in government is being on the other side of the table, per se. It’s true that we at Landvernd have been critical of the policy former governments have run in environmental matters but in my opinion the appointment of me as minister of the environment is a way to broaden the horizon and work better with the associations fighting for the environment and make a policy that takes their views into account.”

Guðmundur Ingi holds a BSc degree in Biology from the University of Iceland and a master’s degree in Environmental Management from Yale University. He used to work for the University of Iceland carrying out research in ecology and environmental sciences, and he also worked for the Soil Conservation Service of Iceland in the fields of global studies and research. Has he always been passionate about protecting the environment?
“Yes, as long as I can remember anyway,” he says and laughs. “I’m a country boy, born and raised on a farm in Brúarlandi á Mýrum, close to Borgarnes, and while I was growing up I was taught about the importance of treating nature with respect and to take care not to spoil it, as it was the most important thing that we had. In high school I took a course in environmental studies and that further kindled this flame so when it was time to choose what I wanted to study in university there were no questions in my mind. I choose Biology for my BS studies and then I went to take my masters degree in Environmental Management at Yale to broaden the field. I never even thought about studying something else and I have certainly never regretted that choice.”

“My absolute priorities in this office are two; first to declare the highland of Iceland a national park … The other priority is to put into action the steps needed to fulfill the government’s goal of a carbon-neutral Iceland not later than 2040.”

It’s obvious from Guðmundur’s profile page on Facebook that he is a very popular guy as all kinds of people with all kinds of political background are enthusiastic about his appointment as minister of the environment. Is he quite comfortable working with people with opposite political opinions, as his fellow ministers from The Independence Party are? Is he not worried that there is too wide a gap between his opinions and their’s?

“No, I’m not worried. There is a difference of opinions, obviously, but I think this is a chance to work on a broader level than before and synchronise the efforts of all the people who want to protect the environment. It’s one of the most crucial issues of our times, and I think most people in Iceland realise that regardless of their political opinions. So I’m quite optimistic about the team work in this government.”

Your job as the CEO of Landvernd has caused some discussion that you might be disqualified to serve as minister of the environment, as it could cause a clash of interests, what do you have to say about those allegations?
“Not much. There is a certain legal procedure to determine if people are disqualified for office and I don’t think I have a reason to be worried. I don’t see this as a clash of interests, on the contrary, I would think that my background made me more qualified to do this job.”

On a personal note, are you married or in a relationship?
“Neither. I’m free as a bird,” Guðmundur says and laughs again. But he is not willing to dwell on the subject so we switch gear again.

“Yes I think it is important that we have representations of every social group in high offices. Not just queer people but from every corner of society.”

What will be your first job as a minister?
“Oh, I thought you were going to ask me what I would do to change my relationship status,” he says with a wink in his voice. “But on a more serious note, I have obviously started performing as a minister, holding speeches here and there and some such things, but my absolute priorities in this office are two; first to declare the highland of Iceland a national park, it is considered one of the last great wilderness areas in Europe and it is our absolute duty to preserve that. I’m very passionate about that project. The other priority is to put into action the steps needed to fulfill the government’s goal of a carbon-neutral Iceland not later than 2040. That is the most pressing issue I will work on as a minister of the environment and I’m optimistic that we will reach that goal.”

The time is up, I can hear Guðmundur’s office filling with people and he gets a bit distracted. So the only thing left to do is thanking him for giving us the time to answer thee questions and wish him all the best in his new job.

Guðmundur with former President of Iceland Vigdís Finnbogadótir and friend Guðmundur Hörður.

Á. Óskarsson
Á. Óskarsson

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See links to social media in the upper left-hand corner


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Á. Óskarsson hefur komið að fjölda stórra verkefna við byggingu íþróttamannvirkja og hefur frá stofnun kappkostað að bjóða vandaðar og endingargóðar vörur.

Tenglar á samfélagsmiðla eru í efra horninu vinstra megin.



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