SETA board 1980. (Photo: Paula Kukkonen)
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Tarja Halonen makes a speech during SETAs 5th anniversary celebrations 1979.
Advising SETA activists in a crisis situation, summer 1981.
News in SETA magazine 4/1980
Tarja Halonen and gay rights
On February 6, 2000, Tarja Halonen, minister of foreign affairs, was elected as the new President of Finland. She assumed her office on March 1, 2000.
Halonen is unique among all heads of state in that she has been the chairwoman of a national LGBT organisation, SETA (Finnish National organization for Sexual Equality). Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about that.
Does that mean she is lesbian, or bi?
Then why did she become the SETA chairwoman?
After a while, there was of course a lot of pressure to make SETA more 'gay oriented' i.e. its role as a provider of community services started to grow. But in the 1980 it was still quite natural to prefer to select a chairwoman who was very supportive of SETAs goals, and who wanted to give them more visibility in the parliament and in the media. We had other chairs like that in the early 1980s, Tarja Halonen was not the only one.
Halonen did, of course not, become the SETA chairwoman completely out of the blue. She had already spoken out for gay rights, e.g. she had attended SETAs 5th anniversary celebrations in spring 1979 as the main speaker.
What exactly was she doing when she was the SETA chairwoman?
During Halonen's time in SETA, a group of activists arranged a spontaneous action during the 1981 gay lib days to challenge existing penal law, shouting "We encourage to homosexuality" and collecting a list of signatures which was given to the police. The attached photo shows Halonen giving legal advice to the protesters.
Did all of the Finnish LGBT community support her?
The current Finnish penal code forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since 1995, and even the law prohibiting 'encouragement to homosexuality' has been repealed rather uneventfully. New legal challenges have replaced the old ones, and the LGBT community now remembers Halonen's successful work as foreign minister 1995-2000.
During her presidential campaign and after the election, she did not hide her pro-gay merits at all, which gained her much respect from the LGBT community.
So how did LGBT people react when she was elected?