Haavisto Loses, Finland Wins

Haavisto Loses, Finland Wins

Back in January, the Finns had an election, too. It was the first round of their presidential election. The Finns, like the French, vote in two rounds. The second round is a run-off between the two frontrunners from the first round. The two candidates who made it through to the second round were Sauli Niinistö and Pekka Haavisto. Pekka Haavisto was the Finnish Green Party’s candidate. Pekka Haavisto is gay. In the second round, in early February, Pekka Haavisto was defeated, but not by a landslide. 40% of the Finns who voted in the presidential election voted for him.

When I lived in Finland in the mid 1980’s, such a thing would have been unthinkable. My friends at university who were gay guarded their secret well, sometimes from their own families. Acquaintances were carefully divided into two categories: those who could be trusted with the secret and those who could not. A large part of my novel Somewhere in Between deals with this atmosphere of secrecy and fear. If you were gay, you thought long and hard before you lived openly with someone. It was considered very brave, possibly even foolhardy to do so. It was easier in the capital, but we lived in Finland’s second city, not in a village out in the middle of the Finnish woods. It shouldn’t have been so hard.

From a personal perspective, it frightens me to think that that was almost thirty years ago. On the other hand, I am delighted to see how far Finland has come in three decades.

Mr. Haavisto has had a partner for ten years. His partner is an Ecuadorean immigrant to Finland, a former flight attendant who now works in a hair salon in Helsinki. His name is Antonio Flores. Mr. Flores sometimes campaigned with Mr. Haavisto just as Sauli Niinistö’s wife campaigned with him. This led to some discussion in the Finnish press about how it would be if Mr. Haavisto won and had to make official state visits or host events at the President’s House. Would Antonio Flores stand next to Mr. Haavisto in the receiving line? Would he get off the plane with him waving? People had different opinions about it, of course, but it was discussed for the most part without hysteria, as a real possibility.

Could such a thing happen in America? Certainly, the Republicans in their present state would not be capable of fielding a gay candidate for president. But could the Democrats do it either? I think not. Though they might support the idea in principal, they would be practical enough to know that such a candidate would be defeated in the general election.

So it couldn’t happen here.

Or could it?

After all, not so very long ago, it would have been unthinkable for an African-American to run (with a real chance of winning) for the presidency. It would have been unthinkable for a woman to almost stop him. Perhaps there is a candidate waiting out there in the wings with enough charisma to transcend the long-held prejudices against homosexuals. But if there is, I can’t name him, or her.