Large Income Gap in Iceland Based on Sexual Orientation

Crowds gathered at Austurvöllur to show solidarity with Norway.

Despite being on average more educated, homosexual men in Iceland make roughly 33% less than heterosexual men, a new study has found. The new data gives the country an opportunity to make improvements, the chairman of the Icelandic Confederation of University Graduates (BHM) says. RÚV reported first.

The study was conducted by BHM in collaboration with The Federation of State and Municipal Employees (BSRB), the Confederation of Labour (ASÍ), the National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ’78), and the University of Iceland’s Institute of Economic Studies. It involved a survey as well as analysis of jointly-taxed men and jointly-taxed women’s tax returns for the year 2019.

Job insecurity higher among LGBTQ+ community

While the study found that gay men made around a third less than straight men, it also found that lesbians made around 13% more than straight women. Vilhjálmur Hilmarsson, an economist at BHM, wondered why this was the case. “What people consider masculinity, is there a premium for that on the Icelandic labour market?”

Of the groups that were compared, gay men fared worst in the COVID-19 pandemic: nearly four out of every ten received unemployment benefits during the pandemic, which the study’s authors contributed to the fact that many homosexual men work in the service industries.

The study also showed that trans people experienced higher job insecurity: seven out of ten stated that they had experienced unemployment.

BHM Chairman Friðrik Jónsson stated that the new data made the problem impossible to deny. “We need to respond, we need to take action. That’s the main thing this work shows, for me. Having the evidence gives us the weapons and tools to say, alright, how can we solve this? How can we improve our society? Because at the end of the day, that’s what we all want. We want to live in a better society, for everyone.”

“Beauty of Freedom:” Reykjavík Pride Festival Begins

Reykjavík’s annual Pride Festival officially kicks off today with a rainbow-painting event on Bankastræti in the city centre. The festival lasts until Sunday, August 7 and its events include karaoke nights, lectures, drag storytime, and of course the traditional Pride Parade on Saturday, August 6. According to the Director of the National Queer Association of Iceland (Samtökin ’78), educating the public is a crucial step in tackling the backlash that has occurred in the fight for equal rights.

Freedom to celebrate

The theme of this year’s festival is “Beauty of Freedom,” a phrase borrowed from Iceland’s 2022 Eurovision entry Með hækkandi sól. “After the long isolation of the last years, we now have the freedom to gather together and unite once more in solidarity. Finally we have the freedom to celebrate our victories and stand together in the fight for human rights, awareness and equality,” a post on the Reykjavík Pride website states.

While the freedom of LGBTQI+ people has “expanded over the course of the last years and decades,” the post states, “we still haven’t reached the highest degree of true freedom. Some groups within the queer community are still struggling and every day, their freedom and beauty is questioned, both in Iceland and abroad.”

Backlash in LGBTQIA+ rights movement

Repeated acts of vandalism to a rainbow painted outside a Reykjavík church, hateful anonymous letters, and even comments from authorities about LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers are just a few examples of prejudice towards the queer community that have appeared in Icelandic media in recent weeks. Daníel Arnarsson, director of the National Queer Association of Iceland says prejudice against the LGBTQIA+ community has increased and become more commonplace.

“When we allow prejudice to fester, we are also opening the door for that prejudice to spread to other minority groups,” Daníel told RÚV, emphasising that educating the public about the reality faced by queer people is key in fighting what he called a backlash in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement.

All are welcome to take part in the rainbow painting at noon today at the corner of Bankastræti and Ingólfssstræti. The full festival programme is available on the Reykjavík Pride website.

“Visibility is our strongest weapon”

Crowds gathered at Austurvöllur to show solidarity with Norway.

“Visibility is our strongest weapon.” This was the motto of a solidarity gathering organised in the city centre yesterday in the wake of the Oslo shooting last weekend. The shooter targeted LGBTQ people, and the events have unsettled LGBTQ+ people worldwide.

Austurvöllur square drew crowds yesterday to show solidarity with LGBTQ people in Norway and the victims’ families. The meeting began with a minute of silence, followed by talks by LGBTQ+ activists and a musical performance from one of Iceland’s best-loved artists, Páll Óskar.

The gathering began with a minute of silence for the events in Norway
Crowds gathered at Austurvöllur to show solidarity with Norway.

“It was such a powerful moment,” said Ingileif Friðriksdóttir, one of the speakers. “Our goal was first and foremost to send warmth, love, and compassion to Norway, but also to urge Icelandic authorities to respond to the backlash in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.” Speakers implored authorities to ensure adequate funding for the education sorely needed for government workers and the public. “We need education for teachers as well as students, and they need to be able to handle matters if an incident of hate speech occurs,” Ingileif stated.

Several politicians were in attendance, both from the municipal and parliamentary levels. During the meeting, representatives from Garðabær, a municipality within the capital area, stated that they would sign on with Samtökin 78, Iceland’s leading LGBTQ+ rights organisation, for LGBTQ+ education, joining four other municipalities who already have such an agreement in place.

Crowds gathered at Austurvöllur to show solidarity with Norway.
Many brought flags to show their support

According to Ingileif, the backlash among young people is especially unnerving. Three individuals aged 14-16 spoke up at the meeting, stating that they faced bullying every day simply for being themselves. “The backlash is real, and we’re seeing it in action,” Ingileif added. They’re attacking us with actual weapons, while our strongest weapon is simply to exist and show that we’re not afraid of them.”

Crowds gathered at Austurvöllur to show solidarity with Norway.

Prejudice Just Below the Surface in Iceland, Says Prime Minister

Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir is putting together a task force that will propose ways to tackle hate speech in Icelandic society, RÚV reports. Katrín stated she was appalled by recent reports of bullying faced by LGBT+ youth in the country. The Prime Minister says that while Icelandic legislation concerning equality has advanced in recent years, societal views can take time to catch up.

A group of LGBT+ youth in the Reykjavík capital area has reported facing harassment on a daily basis, in part due to the influence of TikTok trends that popularise barking at queer people. The persecution has led many of the teens to avoid leaving the house, while their parents fear the effects the harassment might have on their children. One of the group’s friends, who also faced such harassment, committed suicide last year.

Asked whether she was surprised that such prejudice against queer youth was coming from other young people, Katrín responded: “I think it just shows us that prejudice is just below the surface, that’s just how it is.”

Read More: Calls on Icelandic Authorities to Tackle Hate Speech

The Prime Minister’s Office oversees equality affairs, such as legislation on equal status and equal rights regardless of gender and sexual orientation. The task force Katrín is putting together will include representatives from the labour market, justice system, schools, and interest groups, in order to tackle hate speech in all areas of society.

Katrín says that while legislation such as the Gender Autonomy Act passed in 2019, has helped improve the status of LGBT+ people in Iceland, more needs to be done. “That’s one of the projects of this group on hate speech. It’s not just to look at the legislation but how we can uproot this uncivilised behaviour.”

West Iceland’s First Pride Celebration Draws Crowds

LGBTQ hinsegin vesturland Borgarnes pride parade June 10 2021

Borgarnes, West Iceland was blanketed by rainbows – and crowds – last Saturday at the region’s first-ever pride celebrations. The event was one of the first projects of the region’s newly-minted LGBT+ association Hinsegin Vesturland. The organisers say they are overjoyed with the turnout and hope to change the discourse on LGBT+ issues in the Icelandic countryside.

The sister Guðrún Steinunn and Bjargey Anna Guðbrandsdóttir are among the finders of the association and organisers of the local pride festival. “This is so, so much bigger than we ever expected,” Bjargey told RÚV. “When [Guðrún] started talking about this idea a few years ago we imagined one float and walking with our family on the float. I don’t even know how many people are here, it’s wonderful.”

Alexander Aron Guðjónsson is another one of the event’s organisers. Asked about the importance of holding an LGBT+ festival in the countryside, he answered: “There is a slightly different rhetoric here in the countryside about LGBT+ people. So it’s very positive to do this in as many places as possible so that there is an open discussion about everything and everyone, everywhere.”

The West Iceland LGBT+ Association (Hinsegin Vesturland) was founded in February of this year. North Iceland and East Iceland also have regional LGBT+ associations. Samtökin ’78 is Iceland’s National Queer Organisation as was the first association of its kind in Iceland.

First Openly LGBT Head of Government Honoured by Samtökin ‘78

Former Prime Minister of Iceland Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was awarded a badge of honour yesterday by the National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ‘78), RÚV reports. Jóhanna was the first openly homosexual person in the world to become a head of government. One of the first acts of her government in June 2010 was to pass equal marriage legislation in Iceland.

“Overnight, Jóhanna became a role model for millions of people around the world, just for being who she was,” stated Samtökin ‘78’s director Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir at the ceremony honouring the former Prime Minister yesterday, adding that Jóhanna’s story was one “of perseverance and victory that greatly reflect the struggle for gay rights in Iceland. Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir truly showed that all doors were open to LGBT+ people.”

Environment Minister Writes Pope Over Same-sex Union Blessings

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson

Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson has sent a letter to Pope Francis, challenging him to reverse the controversial decision that Catholic Priests shouldn’t bless same-sex relationships. Guðmundur Ingi posted the letter to Facebook, in which he encourages the pope to find courage through his prayers to stand with LGBT+ people. This is the second time the minister has sent a letter to the pope. The first time was in 2018 when he criticised Pope Francis’s comment that it was fashionable to be gay.

Guðmundur starts the letter by stating he has faith in Pope Francis, and that he thinks he wants to and can change attitudes towards LGBT+ people within as well as outside of the Catholic Church. “It makes me sad and disappointed to read that the Catholic Church can’t bless same-sex unions as God does not bless sin,” Guðmundur writes. “How can it be a sin to love who you love and want to seal it officially?” He calls the Catholic church’s message sad and anti-human.

“What’s even worse in this context is stating that God can bless sinners and allow them to change. LGBT people aren’t trying to change their gender or sexuality. That’s the whole point. We want to be acknowledged by the community as ourselves.” Guðmundur reminds the pope that people’s sexual orientation isn’t a lifestyle or a choice. “Sexual orientation isn’t a trend that will go in or out of style come spring.”

Guðmundur ends the letter by urging the pope to reverse the decision and stand with LGBT+ people and to find courage through prayers to help stop hostility and hate towards innocent people who just want to be who they are.

The letter is a response to the Catholic Church claiming that priests cannot bless same-sex unions as it is “impossible” for God to bless “sin, according to the Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith. In 2013, Pope Francis famously stated: “Who am I to judge gay people?”

 

Guðmundur Ingi's letter to the Pope
Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson via facebook

Iceland Rises Four Places in Rainbow Europe Rankings

Rainbow flags Höfði homophobia iceland

Iceland ranked 14th of 49 European countries when it came to ensuring LGBTI rights according to the 2020 Rainbow Europe ranking. This is four seats higher than the country’s 2019 ranking. Of the six rights categories evaluated, Iceland received the highest score in civil society space (100%) and family (83%) and lowest in the categories of asylum (17%) and hate speech (26%).

The rankings are released yearly by ILGA Europe, the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Iceland’s new Gender Autonomy Act, adopted last June, was credited toward improving the country’s standing despite the fact that it “falls short of protecting intersex people,” ILGA stated in its chapter on Iceland.

While Iceland’s overall score of 54% is higher than the EU average of 48%, it is the lowest score of the Nordic countries. Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland all scored between 63-68%, among the top ten European countries.

Room for improvement

In order to further improve the legal and policy situation of LGBTI people in Iceland, ILGA-Europe recommended several actions. These included express mention of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics in policies designed to tackle hate crime, prohibiting medical intervention on intersex minors when the intervention has no medical necessity, and introducing laws on asylum that contain express mention of sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex characteristics.

Iceland Review discussed the Gender Autonomy Act with one of its main authors, trans rights activist Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir.

East Iceland LGBT+ Association Established Today

LGBT+ Iceland

A new LGBT+ association in East Iceland aims to prevent isolation and create a sense of community among LGBT+ people living in Iceland’s countryside, GayIceland reports. Mother of four and lawyer Jódís Skúla decided to found the organisation, called Hinsegin Austurland, when she moved back to her hometown of Egilsstaðir following more than 20 years in Reykjavík.

”When I was growing up here in East Iceland there were no role models”, explains Jódís, when asked about how the organisation can help young LGBT+ people in the region. ”And I found myself so isolated that I chose to move to Reykjavik. I don’t want young people to ever experience the same feeling of loneliness. And even though times are different now we still need to stand together and protect the rights we have fought for and overcome still-existing injustice.”

The organisation’s inaugural meeting will be held today at 3.00pm at Hótel Valaskjálf in Eglisstaðir. The meeting will be followed by a drag competition and performances by members of Iceland’s LGBT+ community Haffi Haff and Páll Óskar.

Hinsegin Austurland plans on holding meetings for the LGBT+ community every two weeks, as well as offering educational workshops and pop-up events.

Bishop of Iceland Apologises to Gay and Lesbian Community

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir.

Bishop of Iceland Agnes M. Sigurðardóttir has apologised to the gay and lesbian community of Iceland on behalf of the country’s National Church. The apology was made during an interview on talk show Kastljós yesterday evening.

Reporter Einar Þorsteinsson asked Agnes about the position the previous Bishop, Karl Sigurbjörnsson, took on same sex marriage. In 2016, under Karl’s leadership, the National Church strongly protested a bill introduced to protect the rights of homosexual people. The bill proposed granting pastors within the National Church the authority to wed same sex couples. In an interview taken at that time, Karl stated “I think we owe it to [the institution of] marriage to not toss it on the garbage heap without considering what we’re doing.”

Karl’s words were strongly criticised and the bill was eventually passed, allowing religious organisations to wed same sex couples. Einar asked Agnes whether homosexual people had the right to an apology from the church due to Karl’s words.

“I can definitely apologise to people for the church acting this way and hurting people and having caused them both pain and trouble and difficulty,” answered Agnes. “I’m keen to apologise for that.”

LGBTQIA+ activitsts acknowledged that Agnes’ apology was a step forward, though perhaps not far enough. “Well done on her part, the time had come,” wrote Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir, chairperson of the National Queer Organisation, in a Facebook post. “But I also point out that a large portion of those who suffered from the church’s reaction were bisexual and pansexual people. We deserve to be included when our legal rights are discussed.”

Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, chairperson of Trans Ísland, called the apology a “great and timely step,” adding “I also think it’s important to point out that bisexual and pansexual people were also affected by the actions of the National Church referred to here, and this group has almost always been invisible in discussions of these issues as well as in many other rights issues.”