At Þórsmörk. From left: Sarah Crumb, Jerry Portwood, Julien Sauvalle and Matthew Breen.

Out and about in Iceland

When someone tells you to “Get Out” – they don’t necessarily mean out of the closet (even though they might). Some are simply pointing towards new experiences – go out … go somewhere new, if you have the chance. It’s a sure way to lengthen your life. Or they might be asking you to be so kind as to get the newest copy of the OUT Magazine, on your way home…

According to the managing editor, R. Kurt Osenlund, the magazine is constantly on the hunt for chic and exciting things that can amp up their readers’ lives in an unexpected way. At the same time, most of the readers belong to the LGBT community, so when picking a place for their annual travel issue they aim for a LGBT-friendly place.

Oh, yes. Every year OUT Magazine publishes a special Travel Issue, where they hunt out an interesting place and introduce it to their readers.This year the crew set Out for Iceland.

At the Blue Lagoon, from left: OUT editors Matthew Breen, Brandon Presser, Julien Sauvalle, Jerry Portwood, and R. Kurt Osenlund.
At the Blue Lagoon, from left: OUT editors Matthew Breen, Brandon Presser, Julien Sauvalle, Jerry Portwood, and R. Kurt Osenlund.

KURT: “We want a place where we can discover both vast expanses and small pockets of queer-accessible adventures. Moreover, we just want a place that’s going to welcome us, openly, as its curious guests. For us, Iceland definitely fit the bill in every respect, and I think a key thing that made the difference is that it’s an intimate country – rich and distinct, yet manageable from a traveler’s perspective. Of course we can’t do the whole nation justice in one issue of a monthly magazine, but it did feel as though we could get a well-rounded snapshot of a close-knit – and tremendously unique – place.”

Kurt visited Iceland approximately five years ago and did the usual touristic stuff; went to the Blue Lagoon and on the Golden Circle Tour. He says he remembers being especially intrigued by the amount of vibrant color, artwork, and street art in Reykjavik, which struck him as the locals’ response to weather that can be dark and unforgiving.

KURT: “So I knew it was a place that had this very otherworldly topography and climate, and a cool mix of nature and art.”

Other than reminiscing about Kurt’s last trip to Iceland, the team also did a great amount of research in advance of this trip, familiarizing themselves with everything from the Sagas to the cuisine, so they could streamline their coverage.

Clockwise from left: OUT editor in chief Aaron Hicklin, Icelandic swimmer Julio César León Verdugo, OUT guest editor Brandon Presser, OUT deputy editor Matt Breen, OUT managing editor R. Kurt Osenlund, a representative from the tourism board Visit Reykjavík and OUT executive editor Jerry Portwood.
Clockwise from left: OUT editor in chief Aaron Hicklin, Icelandic swimmer Julio César León Verdugo, OUT guest editor Brandon Presser, OUT deputy editor Matt Breen, OUT managing editor R. Kurt Osenlund and OUT executive editor Jerry Portwood. With a representative from the tourism board Visit Reykjavík which helped organise the party.

KURT: “Our guest editor on the issue was Brandon Presser, who wrote the Lonely Planet guide to Iceland, and he helped craft an itinerary that would help us stick to our mission of finding “things we love.” Speaking for myself, he ensured that I came back having found things I truly did.”

Kurt describes Reykjavík as a welcoming city for any tourist, but between the curation of their culture tours and the embrace from citizens and local officials, he says it felt like a carpet had been rolled out for them.

KURT: “We hosted a party at the Reykjavik Art Museum, which wound up running in tandem with a killer GusGus concert, and, for me, there was this palpable, communal vibe that everyone was truly glad we were there, which went beyond my expectations. And of course meeting the mayor and ex-prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir were major highlights. To my understanding, Sigurðardóttir (whom we all hold in very high esteem to start with, given that she’s the first openly gay head of state), doesn’t just come out for any event, so the fact that she came to greet us and chat was a thrill. She has this unmistakable regal presence. And the mayor was great. He may have the best hair of any man in Iceland.”

Different highlights

After a few days in Rekjavik, the editorial team split into two groups, with four of the team heading to the South and three heading the West, each of which offered very different experiences.

Top: A visit to Reykjavík Letterpress. Left: OUT editor in chief Aaron and Kurt in a remote hot-pot. Right: The fjords seen from the bow of the Zodiac boat.

KURT: “I was on the trip to the West, where we got to check out a black-stone coastline, see fjords on a Zodiac boat, and hunt down a natural hot-pot in the middle of nowhere. If I had to pick a highlight, it would probably be some of the especially jagged lava fields in the West, since I learned that the state the lava rocks are currently in essentially reflect what they looked like when they were spewed from the volcano, freezing upon impact with the ground. I thought that was really fascinating. I imagine my colleagues who toured the nature-rich South could give you many more highlights.”

When asked for a story of a fun event, Kurt mentions the full day in which the team got to know Hildur Sigurðardottir and Ólöf Birna Garðarsdóttir, the women who run Reykjavík Letterpress.

KURT: “I didn’t have any specific expectations when we visited their headquarters, but I think we were all struck by the romanticism of their printing practices. We work in an industry that’s so fast-paced and technology dependent, I think it’s easy for us to forget that we’re also hard-wired to be drawn to the nuts and bolts of the printing industry. Hildur and Ólöf reminded us of that, and then they joined us at our party later and danced and laughed the night away. I would have taken them home if I could have.”

Icelandic introverts are an exception

Kurt does not agree with the common idea that Icelanders are emotionally closed introverts. He speculates whether the region’s specific type of dark humor makes people think of them as emotionally closed.

KURT: “In Reykjavik, at least, I found the people to be very open and expressive. That said, when we traveled to the West, we did meet one artist, Páll Guðmundsson, who’s quite the introvert, but one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever encountered. He revealed to us one curiosity after another, including his famed stone harp. But he did seem like an exception.”

Artist and stone harpist Páll Guðmundsson.
Artist and stone harpist Páll Guðmundsson.

Curious about the personal experience of the residents, the team handpicked some interesting LGBT people in Iceland for interviews. They mainly talked about their experience in the country and not so much about the fight for justice, per se, although the subject came up.

KURT:Daníel Örn, a gay handball player, said his team was very receptive to his coming out, and of course, Jónsi, the lead singer of Sigur Rós, is revered as a local legend. The ex-prime minister’s wife, Jónína Leósdóttir, discussed refraining from publishing a book about her and Sigurðardóttir until the time felt right, but that seemed like more of a personal struggle than a sociopolitical one. The person we interviewed who was most involved with a fight for justice, in fact, was Sigursteinn Másson, who, though he is a gay man, is fighting for animal rights, not gay rights. A representative for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, he’s a key figure striving to curtail Iceland’s whaling industry.”

A refreshingly homogenized country

Regarding the LGBT fight for equal rights, the team found Iceland to be rather progressive in that matter and even mentioned that they were not just allowed, but encouraged, to advance.

KURT: “I would say Iceland is well ahead of the U.S. in this regard. We have come quite a long way in just the past few years in terms of marriage equality and other queer rights, but LGBT issues remain unnecessarily divisive in the U.S. in a way that they don’t in Iceland. I think it’s easy to say that we’re living in a post-gay world, but there’s still a staggering amount of hate crimes, discrimination, and inequality suffered by America’s LGBT community. I’m sure that’s not entirely unheard of in Iceland, but I didn’t detect a trace of it.”

Happy couple: Ex-prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir and writer Jónína Leósdóttir at the Out party.
Happy couple: Writer Jónína Leósdóttir and former prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir at the OUT party.

Kurt says he found Iceland to be uncommonly open-minded and celebratory when it comes to the embrace and integration of LGBT people in the culture.

KURT: “I don’t want to use words like “tolerant” or “accepting”, because those would imply that Icelanders – or anyone, for that matter – were making some kind of personal compromise when folding LGBT people into the fabric of society. Quite the contrary, Iceland, to me, stands out as a humanist nation largely blind to things like orientation and gender identity. It’s refreshingly homogenized. For example, while we all had an absolute blast at Kiki Queer Bar, there doesn’t need to be a great deal of places like that, because every bar and club seems open to LGBT people, straight people, cis-gender people, etc.”

Some of you might be thinking of visiting Iceland. When asked for travel tips Kurt emphasizes the needlessness of over-planning and worrying about having to see something specific. In fact, he doesn’t recommend it.

KURT: “Iceland, as we were thrilled to find out, is a place loaded with little pockets of discovery, and if you take the time to sort of witness that, breathe all of that in. You’ll come home fulfilled. So I’d say be open, like the country itself. And if you must have a guide, hold our November issue in your hands and keep Brandon’s Lonely Planet guide in your back pocket.”

Well, what are we sitting around for? Let’s go get Out.

editors, silhouetted, at Harpa, which we all loved:  From left: Julien Sauvalle, Jerry Portwood, R. Kurt Osenlund, Brandon Presser, Aaron Hicklin, Matt Breen.
Out editors, silhouetted, at music hall Harpa. From left: Julien Sauvalle, Jerry Portwood, R. Kurt Osenlund, Brandon Presser, Aaron Hicklin and Matt Breen. Photo on the right: Sheep and mountains along the road in West Iceland.

All photos: Courtesy of OUT Magazine.

Contact Us

Thank You. We will contact you as soon as possible.