No Leads on Assault of Reykjavík Conference Attendee

The gathering began with a minute of silence for the events in Norway

An attendee of the National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ’78) conference was taken to the emergency department after being assaulted in downtown Reykjavík on Tuesday evening. The police are investigating the assault as a possible hate crime but are currently without substantial leads.

Other participants notably shaken

An attendee of the National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ’78) conference was assaulted in downtown Reykjavík on Tuesday evening and subsequently taken to the emergency department. Authorities were alerted and promptly arrived at the scene. The victim’s condition, as confirmed by the organisation on Wednesday, is stable.

A statement from the organisation noted that the incident had notably shaken those who attended the conference, which was co-hosted by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Nordic Council of Ministers, and the National Queer Organisation. The event saw the participation of over a hundred delegates from leading LGBTQ+ organisations across the Nordic nations.

The organisation also highlighted the fact that it had recently found cause to heighten security measures at conferences such as these – and had ensured the presence of security personnel throughout the conference’s proceedings.

Investigated as possible hate crime

Daníel E. Arnarsson, Executive Director of the National Queer Organisation, told RÚV on Wednesday that the victim – while leaving the conference venue located in a hotel – had visible LGBTQ+ symbols on them.

“This is a delegate of an LGBTQ+ conference, associated with an LGBTQ+ organisation, who was assaulted in the heart of Reykjavik. It is essential for the police to consider the seriousness of this incident,” Daníel stated.

The police acknowledged on Wednesday that they had initiated an investigation into the assault. While it’s still in its preliminary phase, one focal point of their inquiry is determining whether this incident can be classified as a hate crime. As of now, the authorities confirmed that they have not arrested anyone in connection to the assault and are currently without substantial leads. However, they are in the process of analysing CCTV footage from the night in question.

Milestones in LGBTQ rights

The National Queer Association of Iceland (Samtökin ’78) was founded in 1978. Over the decades, it has not only played a role in advocating for the rights and acceptance of the queer community in the country but has also worked to promote LGBTQ+ visibility, education, and support services, solidifying Iceland’s reputation as one of the most progressive countries for queer rights globally.

Iceland has undergone significant legislative changes in regard to queer rights throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, including the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1940, the legal recognition of same-sex partnerships in 1996, and the legalisation of same-sex marriage in 2010.

Icelanders Get Angry Over “Grandparent”

Crowds gathered at Austurvöllur to show solidarity with Norway.

The National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ’78) is asking the public to help it coin new Icelandic words to reflect the reality of queer people, including a general neutral term for grandparent, which exists in English but not in Icelandic. The competition is being held for the third time but has sparked harsh reactions as many believed its intention was to replace the Icelandic words “grandma” and “grandpa” with a gender-neutral term. National Broadcaster RÚV has been criticised for its coverage of the controversy, which many assert did not clear up this misunderstanding and made room for bigotry towards queer people.

Only want what English and Danish already have

The English language already has a gender-neutral alternative to the words “grandma” and “grandpa:” the word “grandparent,” as do many languages even more closely related to Icelandic, such as Danish. Although Icelandic, like English, does have gender-neutral terms for other family members, such as parent (foreldri) and sibling (systkini), the Icelandic language currently only has the gendered terms afi (grandpa) and amma (grandma) to refer to the parents of someone’s parents. (You can also build gendered compound words to refer to grandparents such as móðurmóðir, mother’s mother.) The Queer Association’s competition calls on the public to submit suggestions for a gender-netural term such as grandparent that could be adopted into the Icelandic language. It also asks for submissions for other terms that are lacking in Icelandic but exist in other languages to reflect the lived experience of the LGBTQ+ community.

No intention to replace “grandma” and “grandpa”

An mbl.is article on the competition engendered some 1,000 comments on social media, many in protest of the initiative. A closer look revealed that many authors misunderstood the nature of the competition and believed the Queer Association was looking to replace the words “grandma” and “grandpa,” amma and afi, in Icelandic. “This isn’t about changing the way people talk,” Ásta Kristín Benediktsdóttir, one of the competition’s judges and an Assistant Professor of Icelandic Literature at the University of Iceland told RÚV. “It’s just about the language needing more words.” Asked why she thinks the competition has received negative reactions, she stated: “I think it’s about some sort of fear that someone’s trying to change the language without people being able to have a say in it.”

RÚV criticised for not correcting misunderstanding

Ásta later criticised RÚV’s editing of her interview, however, saying it had left out the key points she made on the issue. Others from the queer community criticised RÚV’s coverage of the issue as well, pointing out that the broadcaster prioritised asking people on the street what they thought about the competition rather than clarifying what it was about and prioritising expert analysis. “It is not especially responsible, especially now that there is a backlash against queer rights, to use news space to talk about the reactions rather than using the opportunity to correct a misunderstanding that seems to have made a lot of people quite upset,” stated Samtökin ’78 Vice-Chair Bjarndís Helga Tómasdóttir.

Rainbow on Skólavörðurstígur to Be Made Permanent

Skólavörðustígur Reykjavík pride LGBTQ+

The popular rainbow on Skólavörðustígur street in central Reykjavík, a symbol of the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights, will now become a permanent fixture. Reykjavík City Council approved a motion yesterday to redo the painted rainbow using wear-resistant material. A redesign of the street released in 2021 initially proposed scrapping the rainbow but was met with protest.

“It’s wonderful that the rainbow will keep its place permanently, as it is a symbol of the Human Rights City Reykjavík where everyone is welcome,” stated City Councillor Dóra Björt Guðjónsdóttir, chairman of the city’s Environment and Planning Council. “This monument is very important in the minds and hearts of all of us who fight for the human rights of queer people who have been under attack. A symbol of queerness and queer struggle truly belongs in the heart of Reykjavík.”

The proposed redesign of Skólavörðustígur, which was initially presented in 2021, will now be adapted around the rainbow. The LGBTQ+ community will be involved in consultations to ensure that the symbol of its struggle, the rainbow, continues to hold an important spot in this location.

The rainbow was first painted on Skólavörðustígur in 2015 and has since become an identifying symbol of central Reykjavík, with tourists and locals alike stopping at the site to take selfies. Álfur Birkir Bjarnason, director of the National Queer Organisation of Iceland (Samtökin ’78), welcomed the decision to make the rainbow permanent. “This is good news for all queer people in Iceland and cements one of Reykjavík’s most visited landmarks,” he stated.

“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.

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.”

LGBT+ Spokespeople Doubt LGB Alliance Will Gain Foothold in Iceland

Trans Ísland

Director of Samtökin ’78 – The National Queer Organisation of Iceland Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir highly doubts that a new platform for gay and bisexual people, LGB-teymið or the LGB alliance, will gain a foothold in Iceland, Vísir reports. While the organisation’s stated goal whose is to “shift focus” in the debate on sexual orientation and to safeguard freedom of expression, their emphasis on the exclusion of trans people, biological sex and that sex is binary but not a spectrum has resulted in criticism on the grounds of transphobia.

The founders of the LGB Alliance mean for it to be a platform for debate for gay and bisexual people. Iva Marín Adrichem is one of the founders, and she describes it as a “liberal, open and democratic debate platform” in an article in Mannlíf.

“My opinion is that the people who speak the loudest about diversity don’t appreciate diversity unless it’s in the context of innate or outward characteristics such as sex, sexual orientation, disabilities, skin colour and so on. Diversity in thought, political stance, and lifestyle is severely lacking; and I don’t believe the “queer community” wants to celebrate it,” states Iva Marín. She believes that diversity of thought was sacrificed in favour of “opinion oppression” by the hands of a vocal minority.

The newly formed debate platform has a connection to the British LGB Alliance, Stundin reports, which a group of gay and bisexual people founded because of their displeasure with a positive attitude towards trans people within the Stonewall organisation. The Icelandic LGB Alliance’s Facebook page contains images from the British LGB Alliance.

Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, the director of Trans Iceland, discussed the new platform with Stundin newspaper, stating that the group was founded to influence the rights of trans people negatively and to import a transphobic discourse to Iceland. She, like Þorbjörg, does not think it likely that the group will gain a foothold within Iceland’s LGBT+ community.

“Iceland’s LGBT+ community is much more close-knit than in the UK where the discourse is very hostile and difficult towards trans people. I don’t think people care much for such nonsense being imported, they can see through it,” Ugla told Stundin.

Þorbjörg told Vísir a similar story and does not believe the group will inspire a broader movement here. As far as she can gather, there are only four people in the alliance. She does worry that its creation might have negative connotations. “I can’t speak for trans people and their experience of course, but the public discourse has been acrimonious of late,” says Þorbjörg. She says it’s a sad development that’s been happening abroad, but luckily, that hasn’t been as apparent here. “We need to look out for such a discussion because ultimately, it has an effect. I think people should think before expressing such opinions because there are people behind it.”

Icelanders took to social media to discuss the LGB Alliance. LGBT+ people have declared their worries that the alliance’s message will lead to increased vitriol towards trans people, and their struggle for rights will be undermined. Many have criticised the alliance, calling it a far cry from the truth that they are advocation freedom of expression. “it’s so incredibly evil to found an anti-trans movement. This poor excuse that the LGB Alliance is about freedom of expression is so paper-thin that every human being who isn’t a transphobe can see through it,” one Icelander wrote on twitter. “We can’t afford this way of thinking to put down roots,” said another.

One in Twenty LGBTQIA+ Students Have Been Physically Assaulted

Pride Rainbow Reykjavík

One in twenty LGBTQIA+ students has been physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual characteristics Vísir reports. This was among the findings of a recent survey conducted by Samtökin 78, the National Queer Association of Iceland, on the wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ youth in schools.

“We need to do a lot better when it comes to LGBTQIA+ young people,” stated Tótla I. Sæmundsdóttir, Educational Director of Samtökin 78. “They endure physical harassment, verbal assault, and physical assault in schools.”

A third of students surveyed reported feeling unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation. A quarter of respondents said that they skipped school at least once in the previous month and a third avoid locker rooms and physical education classes in general due to feelings of discomfort or unsafety.

Just under 46% of respondents said that school staff never intervene when verbal slurs or degrading terms are directed at LGBTQIA+ students in their presence. It is fellow students, says Tótla, who tend to intervene on the part of their LGBTQIA+ peers. But this inaction on the part of teachers and school staff sends the message that such language and conduct towards LGBTQIA+ students is acceptable within the school environment.

The first step in correcting this state of affairs is, says Tótla, better education. “We want education for students and education for teachers. We want LGBTQIA+ students to be better safeguarded at school.”

“We also want to see educational materials that reflect their realities and society,” concluded Tótla. “[Students] reported in the study that there is little to no course material that reflects LGBTQIA+ people in a positive light.”

Impending Mike Pence Visit Criticized by LGBTQ Organization

The impending visit of USA Vice President Mike Pence has been criticized by the director of LGBTQ organization Samtökin 78. Samtökin 78 president Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir penned an op-ed in online news outlet Vísir.is titled “Not a chance, Mike Pence”, in which she criticized Mike Pence’s history of hate speech and actions against LGBTQ people. Þorbjörg called for Icelandic authorities to reconsider their stance on Pence’s visit, as it is disrespectful towards LGBTQ people in Iceland.

USA-Iceland relationship strengthens
The White House has confirmed that Mike Pence will arrive in Iceland on September 3 for an official visit, before heading to the United Kingdom and Ireland. Pence’s visit will focus on the geographical importance of Iceland in regards to the Arctic. Pence will also place emphasis on NATO operations to quell Russian activity in the area, as well as fostering and strengthening the business and investment relationship between Iceland and the USA.

It was revealed recently that the United States Air Force will increase their activities significantly in Iceland, investing in facilities at Keflavík airport for around ISK 7 billion (€50m, $56m). The construction means that the US Air Force has facilities to operate two fighter squadrons at all times, ensuring that there are 18 to 24 fighter jets ready for operation. It is believed that this is to increase submarine surveillance in the North Atlantic and the Arctic. Along with this, Icelandic authorities will invest ISK 300 million (€2.1m, $2.4m) for maintenance of NATO facilities at Keflavík airport. Iceland was a founding member of NATO in 1949.

A VP against queers?
Samtökin 78 have taken a clear stance against the official visit. According to Þorbjörg, Pence has more or less spent his whole political career working against queer rights. “Mike Pence is against our marriages. He was so wholeheartedly against them that in 2013, he signed laws as the governor of Indiana which made it a criminal offence to apply for a marriage certificate.” Þorbjörg also mentions actions such as Pence having signed a law in 2015 which allowed for discrimination of LGBTQ people based on religious opinions, criticizing laws intended to protect LGBTQ people from hate-crimes, as well publishing articles as editor of Indiana Policy Review encouraging businesses to not hire LGBTQ people. Furthermore, Mike Pence sat on the board of the Indiana Family Institute which recommends de-gaying. “Now the government of Iceland intends to receive Mike Pence, and talk courteously with him about business alliances and in doing so strengthening the alliance with USA. All such plans are disrespectful to the LBTQ people in Iceland. We will not sit quietly over the fact that he is invited to the country. Not a chance,” the article ended. The whole of Þorbjörg’s op-ed can be found here: https://www.visir.is/g/2019190819906

Previously, queer figure skater Adam Rippon criticized the fact that Mike Pence was to represent American authorities in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeochang. Currently, the 20th anniversary of Reykjavík Pride festival is taking place, ending on August 17.

Samtökin ’78 Receives ISK 15 Million for Outreach and Education

The Icelandic government has signed an agreement with Samtökin ’78, Iceland’s LGBTQ Association, earmarking ISK 15 million [$124,709; €109,968] for expanded education, services, and consulting related to LGBTQ issues. Vísir reports that the agreement, which will be in effect for one year starting February 15, was signed on Thursday by Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Samtökin’s chair, María Helga Guðmundsdóttir.

Samtökin’s ‘78’s funding has been increased from the ISK 12 million [$99,767; €87,974] it received in 2018. (That year, its funding was actually doubled from what it received in 2017.) The new agreement stipulates that Samtökin’s funded projects will be carried out in close collaboration with the Prime Minister’s Office of Equal Rights. At the same time it announced its agreement with Samtökin ’78, the government also announced a similar arrangement with the Icelandic Women’s Rights Association, which will receive state funding in the amount of ISK 10 million [$83,139; €73,312] in the coming year.

The additional funding to Samtökin ’78 is intended to promote an LGBTQ-friendly society and increase the visibility of the LGBTQ population in Iceland. Funded services will be aimed at people in the LGBTQ community and their loved ones, as well as public service professionals, i.e. people working in the government and schools.

Under the terms of the agreement, Samtökin ’78 will be responsible for yearly meetings with educators who teach gender, equality, and LGBTQ studies at all levels; annual meetings with elected officials and public policy experts who are working on equality and LGBTQ issues; establishing international collaborations with sister organizations in the Nordic countries; and participation in the annual Congress on Gender.

The Icelandic government has placed a great deal of emphasis on equality issues and per its policy statement, aims to ensure that Iceland is on the vanguard of LGBTQ issues. The Prime Minister’s Office is currently working on a number of policies related to LGBTQ issues, including a pending bill on sexual autonomy.