„I take full responsibility“

The discussion about the lack of a place for the LGBTQI community to meet and strengthen their community continues and one of the things that has been brought up is the fact that the space Samtökin ’78, The National Queer Organization, bought a year ago has not been opened yet. We asked the chairman of S78, Hilmar Hildarson Magnússon, why it has taken so long to get it ready.

„There have been all kinds of obstacles,“ Hilmar says. „This is an old house and it needed much more renovation than we thought. For example all the plumbing had to be redone, the drawings we got of the house were not the right ones and it has taken a lot more time than we anticipated to meet all the required regulation for a place like this.

Hilmar Magnússon says that there have been a lot of obstacles, which have prevented Samtökin ’78 from opening it’s new space. Photo: DV/Sigtryggur

It has been frustrating for everyone and I know many people have trouble understanding what is taking so long, but now we are finally seeing the end of that battle and will hopefully be ready to open the house in connection with Pride Week in August.“

Asked if there have been talks about putting up a bar or a café in the new house Hilmar says that of course there will be a coffee place where members can meet but there are no plans to run any kind of bar.

„This will be a cultural and social center for the LGBTQI community, but we have no means to be running a café or bar in the business sense of the word. We hope it will be a place people will visit and hang out with their friends, but it will not be the gay club that people are calling for. That is not within our means financially.“

Members of the organization are approximately 1.100 which does not seem to be a big percentage of LGBTQI people in Iceland. Is the association still necessary for the community or are the young people not too keen on joining?

„I don‘t think there is any doubt that Samtökin 78 is still necessary,“ says Hilmar. „We are the only ones in Iceland who are specialised in matters concerning queer people and we provide information and support both for queer people and the people close to them all year round. The battle against prejudice is also ongoing as became clearly obvious this spring, when news of Samtökin helping with queer education in schools spawned hate speech and anger in the media. The association is also working to defend the rights of queer people regarding the laws and other establishments of society, which is hugely important and we cannot expect someone else to fight that battle for us.“

„…we have no means to be running a café or bar in the business sense of the word…it will not be the gay club that people are calling for. That is not within our means financially.“

Regarding the question if young people are not joining the association Hilmar says that the young people’s movement within Samtökin ’78 is very strong and that he is proud of all the good people who are working hard to assist the young queer people.

„But of course we can do better for the young people,“ he says. „And that is on the agenda as became obvious in our contract with the city of Reykjavík a while ago where the emphasis was on strengthening the young people’s movement within Samtökin.“

One of the things that Samtökin ’78 has been criticised for is the decision to stop having two paid employees, a director and an educational program manager and hire instead one person as a director. Why was that decision taken and can one person really do the double job?

„It was not an easy decision,“ Hilmar says. „Changes are never easy or undisputed and I understand that people are sceptical about this. We made this decision after having thought long and hard about it and the whole board agreed it was the right thing to do. Both of these employees were in a 50% position and after having been chairman for a year I came to the conclusion that it simply was not working. Having said that I‘d like to thank Ugla Stefanía and Árni Grétar for their splendid work for the association and I hope they will continue to work with us.

Even though it’s been a year since Samtökin ’78 bought the ground floor of Suðurgata 3, in Reykjavík, the space hasn’t opened yet. Photos of Suðurgata 3/Samtökin ’78.

The reason I wanted this to be a fulltime position is that it is necessary to have a person who is in this job fulltime and the board can rely on being there all the time. You can not expect people in half time jobs to carry that responsibility. So I thought it best to shuffle the cards and start with a clean slate and I, of course take full responsibility for that decision. We have had a lot of applications for the new fulltime position of a director and I‘m very optimistic about the future.“

Hilmar is also confident that one person can handle the job, even though it is very diverse and covers a lot of ground. „Of course we would much rather like to have two fulltime positions for the association but our financial reality does not allow that. Obviously that is our future goal; to  strengthen the financial ground and be able to have two fulltime employees and make our work even more professional and thorough.“

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