Public Transport Woes Over Pride Weekend

strætó bus reykjavík

Overfilled buses led to some inconvenience this past weekend as Reykjavík celebrated its annual Pride Parade, reports Vísir.

With downtown Reykjavík filled with festivities, many capital area residents chose to take the bus instead of parking during a busy weekend. In fact, Reykjavík Pride claims to have had a record number of attendees this time around.

However, reports of overcrowded buses and long wait times show that Strætó was not able to keep up with increased demand, with Vísir reporting that some capital area residents simply gave up after being passed by five full buses.

Jóhannes Svavar Rúnarsson, a spokesperson for Strætó, stated to Vísir that Strætó followed their normal weekend schedule during Pride. There had been a discussion about whether to increase the service, similar to what’s done on Culture Night (Menningarnótt), but due to a shortage of funds, nothing was done.

Jóhannes continued, saying  “we know of very many who didn’t get a spot. Many buses were just filling up.”

He stated that there will be further discussion next year about whether the bus service should be adjusted to meet the demand during the Pride Parade.

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BDSM Community Speaks Out Against Pornography Laws

bdsm society iceland

A draft bill to amend the ban on pornography in Iceland has served as an occasion for the BDSM community of Iceland to come out in defence of pornography.

Two Pirate Party MPs, Björn Leví Gunnarsson and Arndís Anna Kristínardóttir, submitted a bill last September to revise what some see as Iceland’s antiquated stance on pornography. The bill would lift the current penalties for the publication, importation, sale, and distribution of pornography. Notably, Iceland’s pornography laws are largely unenforced, with the exception of occasional controversies.

See also: Iceland Porn Ban “Outdated”

Now, the Icelandic BDSM Society is also weighing in on the matter.

In a public review of the proposed bill, they state: “We at the Icelandic BDSM Society are happy to see that the laws banning the publication and distribution of pornography are finally being removed from the legal system […] Many of our members have struggled with deep shame because of their own feelings and desires. This shame arises from growing up in a society that closes its eyes to the diversity of human sexuality and insists on outdated attitudes about sexual relations, for example, outdated ideas about the purity of women, the privileging of the marital relation between one man and one woman over all other forms of relationships, and beliefs about what is and is not normal sex. BDSM activities are never discussed except as a negative example, and when the negative effects of pornography are discussed, BDSM is often used as an example of sexual violence. The narrative about us never concedes that there are individuals who enjoy it, and that it is not a form of violence, but of consensual play.”

The statement also pointed out the outdated nature of the law, coming as it does from an age of print media. Now with modern information technology, it is trivially easy to access pornography, making the enforcement of such laws in the modern day essentially impossible.

The society also stated that such laws further marginalize sex workers, making it more difficult to legally and safely make a living. The BDSM community recommends sex education in schools from an early age to combat the effects of non-sex-positive pornography.

The full text of their statement can be read, in Icelandic, here.

‘What colours the lives of all nonbinary people is invisibility’

A new study finds that one of the most significant challenges faced by nonbinary people in Iceland is a lack of visibility, as well as difficulty and discomfort in accessing even basic medical care. RÚV reports that Birta Ósk, a master’s student in gender studies at the University of Iceland, is currently conducting a study on behalf of the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association to determine what obstacles nonbinary people regularly face in their daily lives, as well as how the government can better serve this community’s needs.

“When I talk about obstacles, that can mean both obstacles in general and systemic ones,” says Birta Ósk. “But in general, what colours the lives of all nonbinary people is this invisibility. Society doesn’t take nonbinary people into account.”

There is a great deal of awareness-building taking place in Iceland right now, says Birta Ósk, and the general public is still learning how to speak in gender neutral language, for instance. But the issues faced by nonbinary people in Iceland has not yet been researched much, particularly in regards to sexism and gender inequality. “[Nonbinary people] have been somewhat left out of reports on gender equality,” says Birta Ósk, whose research specifically aims to rectify this disparity.

Birta Ósk says that space is rarely made for nonbinary people. Restrooms are frequently gendered for men and women, and registration and profile systems do not often offer gender-neutral or genderqueer options. The situation extends into interpersonal interactions: when meeting someone for the first time, Birta Ósk says people rarely consider that that individual they’re meeting could be nonbinary.

See Also: Iceland’s Gender Autonomy Act is a Step Forward for Trans and Intersex Rights

Iceland passed a landmark law on gender autonomy in 2019, which Birta Ósk says was an important step forward. “A lot of things have gotten better but there’s still a lot that needs improvement in both the healthcare and school systems.”

Trans and nonbinary individuals can seek assistance from the so-called “trans team,” which, per Trans Iceland, is “a loose team of doctors (a psychiatrist, endocrinologists, and a plastic surgeon), psychologists, and a social worker within Landsspítali (the national hospital) that oversees trans-specific care.” The team can help individuals access hormone replacement therapy, all standard surgeries, and therapy. But Birta Ósk says there’s a lot that needs to change about the team and its diagnosis process in particular.

“People have to undergo four diagnostic interviews with a psychiatrist and a psychologist before anything can begin. So they feel a bit like they have to convince doctors that this is something that they want and that they are really nonbinary.” These interviews are particularly onerous because there can be a very long wait—up to a month’s wait for the first interview, for instance. “So it can be a really long wait before you start on hormones, for instance,” explains Birta Ósk.

A nonbinary person could have potentially been in this process for a year and a half, then on hormones for six additional months, and then decide they need to have an operation. Then the process has to start all over again. “They have to go through four diagnostic interviews again,” says Birta Ósk, “go through the same wait before they can book themselves for a procedure which there’s maybe another long wait for.”

Nonbinary people ‘can never completely relax’

Birta Ósk says their interviewees also spoke about the difficulties they generally experience in basic interactions with healthcare professionals, from dentists to GPs. These doctors ask a lot of questions about their nonbinary patients’ gender and often don’t know how they are supposed to speak to them, even when gender is not relevant to the medical service being provided. This makes nonbinary people feel insecure about accessing even basic medical care.

There’s a pressing need, Birta Ósk continues, for a general awareness-raising in both the healthcare and school systems about what it means to be nonbinary how to use pronouns correctly. “I think it’s a serious thing that healthcare professionals don’t really know and even within the Trans Team—that they don’t exactly understand the experience of nonbinary and trans people.”

In the course of their research, Birta Ósk has interviewed nonbinary people of all ages. “My interviewees have explained to me how they have to constantly be on the lookout for risks in their environment—they can never completely relax because they don’t know how people will receive them.” Nonbinary people continue to have to justify their right to existence, Birta Ósk continues, and are often put in the position of having to educate people themselves when this responsibility rightly belongs elsewhere.

“When people use hate speech against nonbinary people, it suppresses all the good awareness building and makes people feel even more insecure about being themselves.”

Birta Ósk’s report will be published in September, at which point they will have suggestions for measures the government can implement to better serve the nonbinary population of Iceland, such as better enforcement of the 2019 Gender Autonomy Law, increased visibility for nonbinary people, and more educational outreach.

“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.

Hateful Graffiti on Church’s Pride Flag Now Matter for the Police

Hateful, anti-LGBTQIA+ messages have twice been spray-painted on the Pride flag adorning the steps leading up to Grafarvogskirkja, a Lutheran church in the district of Grafarvogur on the eastern outskirts of Reykjavík. There have been two separate incidents of anti-LGBTQIA+ messages being sprayed on the flag. RÚV reports that the incidents have now been referred to the police.

The first message, reading “ANTICHRIST,” was sprayed on the church’s stairway last Saturday. “This was the path up to the church this morning,” wrote Pastor Guðrún Karls Helgudóttir in a Facebook post that day. “It shows how important the rainbow’s message is. This rainbow clearly needs to stand in front of the church and remind us of fellowship, that all people are equally precious, and that love is love.” Pastor Guðrún ended her post with a rainbow of emoji hearts, as well as the Pride and Trans flags.

A photo uploaded in the comments of the original post showed people painting over the hateful graffiti later that morning. Per the caption: “A Swedish family who came to see the church offered to paint over [the message] immediately.”

Family volunteers to paint over hateful graffiti. Image via Grafarvogskirkja Grafarvogi, Facebook

Only days later, on Monday, a different message was tagged on Grafarvogskirkja’s rainbow flag. This time, it read “LEVITICUS 20:13,” referencing a verse from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible which says that men who have sexual relations with other men should be put to death.

Grafarvogskirkja Grafarvogi, FB

“Our beautiful flag has been scribbled on again,” Pastor Guðrún wrote on Facebook. She added that the same chapter in Leviticus also lists off other people who should be put to death, including (but certainly not limited to): anyone who curses their mother and/or father, people who commit adultery, and men who have sex with women who are on their periods.

“We at Grafarvogskirkja choose rather to follow the message of Jesus Christ, who told us to love one another. We believe that each and every person is one of God’s beloved creations and is allowed to live the life that has been predestined for her/them/him.”

The post continued: “The message of Jesus Christ is in full accordance with human rights declarations, and we at Grafarvogskirkja stand for human rights and fight against hatred and prejudice.”

‘Of course they are lying’: Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Under Fire for Comments about LGBTQIA+ Asylum Seekers

Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Helgi Magnús Gunnarsson has come under fire for comments he made on his Facebook page concerning asylum seekers who apply for international protection in Iceland on the basis of their sexuality. Vísir reports that the comments were made in the wake of an interview with lawyer Helgi Þorsteinsson Silva, who said he believed the incident reflected consistent governmental bias, namely that the government routinely assumed that asylum seekers were lying about their sexuality in their applications.

‘Is there any shortage of gays in Iceland?’

In the interview, lawyer Helgi Þorsteinsson Silva revealed that the government accused his client of lying about his sexuality and had refused him asylum on that basis. Helgi asserted that the accusation was indicative of a pattern of unfounded accusations and asylum application rejections and indeed, the district court later reversed the government’s decision in his client’s favour. The interview, which was published by Vísir on Thursday, was shared on Facebook by Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Helgi Magnús.

“Of course they are lying,” wrote Helgi Magnús in a now-removed post on his Facebook page. “Most people come here in search of more money and a better life. Who wouldn’t lie to save themselves? Apart from that, is there any shortage of gays in Iceland?”

Screenshot of Helgi Magnus Gunnarsson’s Facebook post

It bears noting that this is not the first time Helgi Magnús has come under fire for inflammatory public statements. In 2019, he was investigated in Stundin after expressing anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment, both online and in a speech given at an international conference on human rights and migration in Berlin. In 2021, he was criticized for liking Facebook posts that call into question the testimony of women who say they’ve been the victim of domestic abuse.

Confirmation of systemic prejudice

Álfur Birkir Bjarnarson, chairman of Samtökin ’78, was quick to respond, emphasizing that Helgi Magnús’ comments were indicative of systemic prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people in Iceland’s judicial system.

“I don’t know that there’s a shortage or excess of redheads, gays, men, or women,” he wrote. “These are just people, and we take them into society as they come.”

Álfur Birkir continued by saying that the Deputy Director’s comments say more about him than asylum seekers, as well as underlining some painful realities about the justice system in general. “This is just confirmation of what we’ve experienced first-hand—that there is most assuredly prejudice within the system and [that] systemic prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people, immigrants, and other minority groups is quite evident within the system. This is yet one more confirmation for those of us who have experienced this and are moved to examine it.”

‘Really likes gay people’

In a follow-up interview after his initial post, Helgi Magnús repeated his position, saying that it was neither abnormal for people to lie about their sexuality in asylum applications, nor for the government to investigate their claims. He said he was not commenting on a specific case, but more generally. He also questioned whether a person’s sexuality should be a factor in their receiving asylum over someone else.

Asked to speak to his comments about there being “no shortage of gays in Iceland,” Helgi said he really liked gay people and had never had anything against them. (At time of writing, Helgi Magnús had added a ‘Pride 2022’ frame on his Facebook profile photo.) He said he didn’t want to comment further on the matter because there was no reason to. The fact that his comments had aroused significant comment and coverage in the media was simply a result of a series of slow news days in Iceland, he said, and could hardly be considered real news.

Álfur Birkir was circumspect about Helgi Magnús’ response, saying that it was all well and good to hear that the Deputy Director had nothing against gay people but that it was time to see that in action.

“It’s good to hear,” he remarked, “I only wish him well with that, but it would be good to see that in action, then. As an arm of the system, he has a great responsibility—not only to show ‘ahostility,’ but also literal affection as part of the system.”

Proving sexuality ‘something that heterosexual people would never have to do’

Left-Green PM Jódís Skúladóttir has since spoken out on the matter, not only against Helgi Magnús’ comments, but also against the injustice of making asylum seekers prove their sexuality.

 “These are extremely depressing comments that in reality, completely condemn themselves,” said Jódís. “It is, of course, a serious matter that people in positions of power, all the way from the bottom to the top in our system, give themselves permission to speak this way. I take this very seriously.”

“How unfortunately worded, that there’s no need for more gay people here,” she continued. “I don’t think we need any more white, heterosexual, middle-age men in management positions.”

In the interview that incited all this commentary, lawyer Helgi Þorsteinsson Silva also noted that LGBTQIA+ asylum seekers often have to go to great lengths to prove their sexuality, which is frequently called into question even if they are in a relationship or married.

Jódís spoke to this as well, saying, “It’s obviously crazy that people have to—at any time, for any reason—prove their sexuality, which is, of course, something that heterosexual people would never have to do.”

“I want to point out that here, in our society, which is considered progressive and tolerant in many respects, there are a lot of people who are reluctant to be open about their sexuality,” Jódís continued. “People are ostracized, rejected, subjected to violence—and that’s in this good, open society. Just imagine being a refugee, from a country where a death sentence might even await you. [Imagine] being in mortal danger if you are open about your sexuality. It’s obvious that you’re not going to advertise it on social media, that you haven’t publicly admitted it.”

West Iceland Pride Festival This Weekend

This weekend marks the second annual West Iceland Pride Festival. RÚV reports that the festival, which will take place in Ólafsvík, Grundarfjörður, and Rif, will include a parade, a picnic, and a ball headlined by gay icon Páll Óskar, and is intended to increase LGBTQIA+ visibility outisde of the capital area.

Alexander Aron Guðjónsson, one of the festival organizers, says that the West Iceland Pride Festival is here to stay. Last year’s celebration was held in the town of Borgarnes, and “was the biggest town festival that had ever been held [there].” He added that well over a thousand people took part in the Pride parade. “We plan to go all over the west—Borgarnes last year, [the municipality of] Snæfellsbær this year, and tomorrow, we’ll announce where we’re going next year.”

It’s important that the voices of LGBTQIA+ people are heard all over Iceland, Alexander Aron continued. “We hear this so often from people…Just now, a man came into our shop here to buy a flag to wave, and he was saying that this is kind of a male-dominated society that sometimes isn’t super open, such that you can see all its diversity. So it’s great to come here and show people who are in the closet and don’t dare come out because they’re afraid to […]: there are people like them here in the West and they are visible and want to be, they want to be loud and speak up about who they are.”

Pride Parade on Saturday

The festival’s main event, the Pride Parade, will take place in Ólafsvík on Saturday at 2:00pm. The parade will begin at Ólafsbraut 66, head down the street, and turn up Kirkjutún before ending at Sjómannagarðurinn (‘The Sailors’ Park’). Per the organizers, “We celebrate diversity and will ALL walk together in support of LGBTQIA+ people’s fight for their rights.” Drag Queen Miss Agatha P. Meðal will host festivities in the park after the parade, including live music and a Queer as Hell Disco with DJ AlexanderAron from 10pm – 1am.

See the full schedule on the West Iceland Pride Festival page on Facebook, here, or on Instagram, here, and join in on the fun with the hashtags #hinseginvest and #hinseginvest22.

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.”

Icelandic Sign Language Adopts Four New LGBTQIA+ Signs

Four new signs have been adopted into Icelandic Sign Language: eikynhneigður (asexual), kynsegin (non-binary or genderqueer), kvár (a gender-neutral identifier for non-binary adults that can be used in place of ‘man’ or ‘woman’), and stálp (a gender-neutral identifier for non-binary children/youth that can be used in place of ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’) RÚV reports.

Crowdsourcing New Icelandic Words from the Community

The new signs were crowdsourced from members of Iceland’s LGBTQIA+ Deaf community and selected by Samtökin 78, Iceland’s National LGBTQIA+ Organization, in partnership with the Language Committee on Icelandic Sign Language. The terms themselves were newly coined last January as part of Hýryrði, a competition that Samtökin 78 has held annually since 2015. The competition crowdsources new Icelandic words to correspond with terms that are important to the LGBTQIA+ community.

New coinages are submitted to the competition along with contextual rationales for their adoption into the language. Kvár, for instance, was one of many suggested terms for nonbinary adults. It had only been in existence for a few short months when it was submitted to the competition, but in that time, it had already enjoyed wide usage amongst Iceland’s LGBTQIA+ community. Kvár was coined by Hrafnsunna Celeste Ross.

Stálp has a lot of strong etymological roots in Icelandic. For one, it takes its root from the adjective stálpaður, or ‘adolescent.’ It begins with ‘st-‘ just like the Icelandic words for both boy (strákur) and girl (stelpa). It shares an -á with strákur and an -lp with stelpa. It was hoped that stálp’s clear roots and derivations would aid in its quick adoption and broad usage. Stálp was coined by Inga Auðbjörg Straumland.

‘All LGBTQIA+ people should be able to talk about their experiences and self-images’

“All LGBTQIA+ people in Iceland should be able to talk about their experiences and self-images, no matter if their mother tongue is Icelandic or Icelandic Sign Language, and this is an important thing for Samtökin 78 to support. We thank everyone who sent in suggestions for participating! Now it’s up to DEAF LGBTQIA+ people whether these symbols will gain traction and we look forward to seeing how things progress,” said Samtökin 78 chair Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir in a press release.

Videos for the new signs can be seen below:

Eikynhneigður / asexual (sign coined by Mordekaí Elí Esrason):

Kynsegin / non-binary or genderqueer (coined by Kristín Lena Þorvaldsdóttir):

Kvár an identifier for nonbinary adults (coined by Anna Guðlaug Gunnarsdóttir):

Stálp – an identifier for nonbinary children (sign coined by Mordekaí Elí Esrason):

Reykjavík Pride Festival Begins Today

Reykjavík pride

Reykjavík Pride will hold an opening ceremony at noon today on Ingólfsstræti. The city’s pride parade has been cancelled for the second year in a row due to COVID restrictions. Nevertheless, festival board member Ragnar Veigar Guðmundsson says there will be a variety of pride events this year that will offer a little something for everyone.

“The week will be full of queerness wherever there’s room for it,” Ragnar Veigar stated in a radio interview this morning. “Of course the festival has a slightly different format compared to a normal year but we know how it has to be done in order to fall within the pandemic restrictions.”

The festival programme features everything from educational events that will be streamed online to drag performances and a drag brunch held in Gamla Bíó theatre. “For example, there’s a very interesting educational event this afternoon, a conversation between generations, in Mál og menning bookstore. Three individuals of different ages will be there talking about their queer experience around the age of 20. It’s just going to be a relaxed event with a good discussion,” Ragnar Veigar says.

Preparation for this year’s pride parade was in full swing when COVID restrictions were reimposed on July 24. Ragnar Veigar says that there are plans in the works for some form of pride celebrations in the city centre on Saturday. He stresses that all are welcome, whether they belong to the LGBT+ community or not.