[SETAn board 1980]

SETA board 1980. (Photo: Paula Kukkonen)
Click each image for a larger version!

[SETA 5 years]

Tarja Halonen makes a speech during SETAs 5th anniversary celebrations 1979.
(Photo: Ian Lang)

[1981 meeting]

Advising SETA activists in a crisis situation, summer 1981.
(Photo: Göran Björk)


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?
No. She has said that she is not, and she means that too.

Then why did she become the SETA chairwoman?
SETA was founded in 1973, but its roots are in the 1960s when a great many young intellectuals and politicians like Tarja Halonen were members in various organisations that had radical sexual political agenda. Initially, SETA wanted to include people with all orientations - the main thing was that you wanted to work to change attitudes, to change laws, etc.

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?
She attended board meetings and participated in planning how to achieve legal changes. Back then, Finland still had a law prohibiting 'encouragement to lewd acts between persons of the same sex'. Halonen, a MP since 1979, made in 1981 a proposal in the parliament, together with a group of other MPs, to repeal that prohibition and to start the work towards gay-inclusive anti-discrimination legislature.

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?
When Halonen served as minister of Justice in 1990-91, there were some high hopes that she would strongly defend gay rights in such an influential position. Quite some people felt disappointed because Halonen chose a low profile. This was mainly because she tends to set realistic goals and works to achieve those, instead of seeking open confrontation.

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?
There was quite a big emotional reaction, a sense of affirmation and hope. 51.6% of voters had supported a candidate who was known to have been the SETA chairwoman once upon a time. Yes, Finns do know what SETA stands for, and they knew what kind of person they voted for. Thus no wonder that many people said things like "This restores my faith in humanity."

Compiled by Eva Isaksson