When Iceland’s Prime Minister makes an official visit to China next week, it will not be the signing of a free-trade deal gripping the nation: instead, it will be the level of attention lavished on the first lady that is closely watched, for signs of shifting social attitudes in the Communist nation.
While it is not unusual for a head of state to bring a spouse of 13 years on an official state visit, Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir will be accompanied by her same-sex partner, Jonina Leosdottir, a playwright. It is hoped that her presence could help raise the profile of gay marriage in a country where it is currently illegal.
“Their official visit will be a real-life lesson in equal rights taught to our state leaders,” A Qiang, an activist with the Parents, Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, told the South China Morning Post.
Homosexuality was not legalised in China until 1997 and was only removed from a list of mental disorders in 2001. It remains a taboo subject, with state media simply ignoring it and same-sex couples invisible on television screens.
While there are high hopes that the Icelandic couple will help raise awareness of same-sex couples, it appears that Ms Sigurdardottir will be sticking to the trade agenda. She has reportedly turned down an invitation to meet a group of parents with gay children, with the embassy citing her “busy schedule”.