Former lovers can pose the greatest threat

Oktavía Hrund Jónsdóttir is back in Iceland. Permanently. That is one of the reasons she has agreed to talk about her work as a queer activist to a web magazine, with her picture next to her name. Because her work has taken her to places where being queer is not only dangerous to your status and possibilities in society but simply life threatening.

Oktavía Hrund Jónsdóttir. Taller, whiter and with more frecles than most of the people she works with.
Oktavía Hrund Jónsdóttir. Taller, whiter and with more frecles than most of the people she works with.

Oktavía defines herself as queer in the sense that she will not be labelled. She grew up in Iceland and Denmark and has lived in the USA and Germany as well. And she has been an activist for quite a while.“I have always had a very strong sense of right or wrong and freedom of expression and the question of privacy has always been important to me. In school I was always with the weird kids, hanging around in the basement and smoking, fighting bullying and creating safe spaces, both inside and out. That’s where my activism kind of started and it has taken me to many weird and wonderful places.”

Oktavía studied communication and international development in Denmark where an opportunity for professional activism presented itself. “In 2006 I started working for a media development organisation that was fostering and strengthening independent media all over the world. I was working in security and quickly realised that security is a lot of things. It is not just about being safe from physical harm; there are a lot of psychological things involved in activism and in that sense the internet for instance, with all its good qualities, is a very open and unsafe venue.

“In some parts of the world, what apps you use … is quite dangerous and if you use the Internet a lot, whether it is to do your activism, or to hook up, you are directly targeted.”

And I started to become more interested in identifying people who needed more help. For example when you are queer a lot of the time society is against you. Sometimes there are even laws against you. The usual things that people do to keep safe don’t work for queer people. Normally your security comes from your network, your parents and the activities that you do, but those are the areas where queer people become isolated, they can’t tell their parents that they’re out, can’t talk to their friends about who they are.“

Being queer in the Middle East can be easier

About four years ago Oktavía started The Safe Initiative where she works with physical, digital and psycho-social security. “That led me into communications with queer communities throughout the world. In some parts of the world, what apps you use, how you communicate and what you communicate, in fact just being yourself is quite dangerous and if you use the Internet a lot, whether it is to do your activism, or to hook up, you are directly targeted.”

Oktavia has worked in Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and the Middle East. “For me getting the message through has always been the most important part so when I travel I adapt as much as I can. I’m often a lot taller, a lot whiter and have a lot more freckles than most people in these places, I can’t run away from that, but I try not to draw any attention to myself, my hair, clothing etc, try to blend in. I need to be able to spend time with people to get the message across, and getting to a place where the way I look isn’t the main focus, so I sometimes wear a hijab or niquab to take the focus of my whiteness.”

In the Middle East here is a culture of touching, so two men can walk down the street and hold hands and that is not looked upon as being weird.
In the Middle East here is a culture of touching, so two men can walk down the street and hold hands and that is not looked upon as being weird.

Being queer in the Middle East can be easier in some ways, she says. “There is a culture of touching, so two men can walk down the street and hold hands or grab each others buttocks and that is not looked upon as being weird but obviously being a gay man or whatever you identify as, is super tricky. It is not a long process from someone being outed, to death. And the family shuns you and forces you into rehabilitation programmes. And a lot of kids don’t make it through that. But that happens in the US too.”

Oktavía’s main focus has been on doing courses for groups of activists, who are queer or trans but can’t be themselves when they are at home. That work is dangerous for many reasons. “Together we have to find a safe place and create a safe space and it takes time for people to trust and find safety in order to be themselves. So you can’t run a super tight workshop. You always need at least a couple of days to bring people out of the reality of constantly looking over their shoulders.

“It is not a long process from someone being outed, to death. And the family shuns you and forces you into rehabilitation programmes. And a lot of kids don’t make it through that. But that happens in the US too.”

In the workshop we spend a lot of time creating a space where people can be themselves and share experiences, where we all agree on conduct, what we allow, what we don’t allow and then we have to make space for those emotions that have been suppressed for so long to come out, to exist and to close again. Because people do have to go home again and that can be hard. We talk about safety and what works in what contexts both with physical safety and internet security.”

Interrogated on the Syrian border

One of the things that Oktavía does is reminding people why they do what they do, rediscovering the passion that started their activism to begin with. “Being an activist is really not an easy job and you need to remind yourself why you aren’t an accountant, why you didn’t just get a husband and kids, hide who you are and make everyone happy. We make choices and the choices we make define us. So a lot of the psychological work is based on helping people rediscover that passion and reminding people that are they’re not in prison, they’re not dead, so clearly they’re doing something right. And then there is of course physical security, what to do with stalkers, or when the police starts to harass you or rape you, what do you do when threatened with violence. The queer groups also have to know how to deal with the people who are closest to them because the biggest threat can come from family or old partners.”

Oktavía admitts that she has sometimes gotten into trouble. “I haven’t always told my mom what I was doing. I know that I’m being tracked by authorities in some countries and I very often get extra attention on borders, not only in the Middle East, the US is pretty difficult too. I have smuggled information across borders, I’ve slept in bathtubs because of attacks outside. I have been interrogated. I once spent four hours on the Syrian border just saying my name and profession over and over again. I’ve been really sick, and sometimes when you have one shot at helping people in a remote area where people are taking huge risks to meet you, being sick isn’t an option. So you are passing out on the bathroom floor trying to make it go away. And then you start negotiating with yourself: “Do I really need to go to hospital? ” And so on. I’m also always concerned that it’s not only about my safety. That I’m putting the people that I’m in contact with in terrible danger by meeting them.”

Oktavía tries not to stand out too much on her travels. Here she finds the beauty in soap bubbles
Oktavía tries not to stand out too much on her travels. Here she finds the beauty in soap bubbles

And she has also had enough. “I was in the mountains of a certain country. I had been travelling a lot, and working a lot and heard a lot of difficult and heartbreaking stories. You also sometimes lose the people that you have been trying to assist, people who have become close to you and it adds up.  I was there working with a trans activist and a women’s right activist and there was someone in my hotel room every day, going through my stuff. You learn very quickly to detect when someone has been in your room. And that night I went through my usual panic, did I ensure all safety, both for myself and the people I was working with? And then I sat down on my bed and thought: “I can’t do this anymore.” I just wanted to go home. But then I got over it.”

The interview is coming to an end and I ask Oktavía where I can find more about her work on the internet. She shakes her head. “There is nothing about me online. I ran for parliament for the Pirate party for this election and that was the first time a picture of me next to my name went on the Internet. And I was very reluctant to make it so. There is no and will be no relevant information on me and my work on the Internet because the stakes are so high. There are people’s lives on the line.”

“I have smuggled information across borders, I’ve slept in bathtubs because of attacks outside. I have been interrogated. I once spent four hours on the Syrian border just saying my name and profession over and over again.”

So how do people get in touch with her? “You set up a code and pretty soon you have a safe line to someone. Word by mouth, queer communities work a lot like that, especially where they are not allowed to express themselves openly, and the need is so great that there is constant demand. People who travel meet with these groups and then contact me with methods of communication. I’ve been doing this for ten years and have discovered that the world can be a very small place.”

*Oktavía has retired from giving courses for the time being and was therefore willing to give this interview. She still continues to advise official organisations throughout the world and is on several boards and consulting committees regarding safety and the right to privacy.

Main photo: Maintaining a sense of humor and not taking everything too seriously all the time is essential in the kind of work Oktavia does.

The Hamburger Factory
- gourmet burgers

Ok. You’re in Iceland. Most likely for the first time.

You will probably bathe in the Blue Lagoon and take a road trip to Gullfoss and
Geysir. That’s all well and good. But neither Geysir’s nor waterfalls are
something you eat. That’s why we have 15 brilliant and creative hamburgers at
The Hamburger Factory. And they are all perfectly square. Don’t miss out on
Iceland’s most beloved hamburgers.

The Hamburger Factory is Iceland’s most innovative gourmet burger chain.
Packed with burger-craving customers since it’s opening in 2010, among the
regulars is Iceland’s best known fisherman, Eric Clapton. In our restaurants we
welcome tourists with our newspaper like menu and smiley service. They are
packed with fun items and memorable connections to Icelandic pop culture.

Locations:

Omnom Chocolate
- award-winning chocolate maker

    Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

    Our creative flavors are carefully crafted by meticulous chocolate makers. The cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, ground, and refined into melty-smooth chocolate.

    Omnom’s process is one of constant exploration, invention, and experimentation. If it doesn’t please us, if something isn’t absolutely delicious, there’s no reason to be doing it. So, we always start with our taste buds and follow our instincts. Our team searches for the finest ingredients in the world and new ways to improve chocolate. This obsession with knowing where our ingredients come from has led us around the corner to dairy farms in the Icelandic countryside and all the way to rainforest cacao farms of Nicaragua.

    In only a few short years, we’ve grown from our 50 sq. m. petrol station space and become an award-winning chocolate maker. Now, with our headquarters in 101 Reykjavík, our chocolate is sent out around Iceland and all over the world.

    At the end of the day, our goal is to make chocolate.

     

    Alfred’s Apartments
    - gay owned an operated

      Alfred’s Apartments and Alfred’s Studios is a gay operated and owned accommodation in the heart of Reykjavik.

      Alfred’s Apartments offers spacious apartments at a good price located just around the corner from Laugavegur shopping street. You can choose the apartment starting from a Small Studio for 2 persons to a large One-bedroom Apartment with balcony for 5 persons.

      Their staff will ensure your comfort during the stay and provide the most updated information about the city, gay and night life in Reykjavik.

      Each apartment has a private bathroom with a shower, fully equipped kitchen and free Wi-Fi. Guests can buy groceries at the local grocery store 50 meters from the apartments. Because of their very central location, numerous shops, restaurants and cafés are available in the surrounding area. The Church of Hallgrimur is located 350 m from the apartments, a tourist agency is just 50 m away and the nearest gay bar is less than 5 minutes walking distance.

      Laekur hostel
      In the hostel we have dorms for 4-8 persons with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The rooms are furnished with free internet, lockers, and a USB charger by each bed. The beds have linen provided and you can rent a towel in the cafe on the ground floor for 5 EUR.

      All the dorms are mixed with both genders. You can also book a whole room with 4-8 bunker beds.

      Blue Lagoon
      - a world of wonder

      Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater comes from 2000 meters within the earth where sea and fresh water converge in a tectonic frontier of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals: the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

      From its humble beginnings in the shadows of a geothermal power plant, Blue Lagoon has evolved into a world of wonder, now encompassing a hotel, a restaurant, a luxury lounge, a renowned line of skin care, a research center, in-water massage, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

      Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape of Iceland’s Reykjanes lava plain, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

      Blue Lagoon. A wonder of the world. A world of wonder.

      Whales of Iceland
      - larger than life

      Whales of Iceland is the largest whale exhibition in Europe (and perhaps even the world), where guests can learn about the giants of the sea in a calm and modern environment. The permanent exhibition features whales like guests have never seen them before. It is truly a giant experience.

      Landsbankinn
      - leading financial institution

      Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

      The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

      Landsbankinn’s strategy is to provide comprehensive financial services that meet customer’s needs. It emphasizes providing exemplary service to customers, developing e-banking for their convenience, increasing the efficiency of support functions, modernizing its technology and ensuring effective utilization of its balance sheet.

      The bank’s vision is to be exemplary and its role is to be a trusted financial partner.

      Special emphasis is placed on promoting a performance-oriented culture in the bank. To follow up on the implementation of this strategy, the bank has defined key goals which are measured regularly to determine progress. These goals include, for example, customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, cost efficiency and the correlation between risk appetite and employee satisfaction.

      Landsbankinn wishes to lead the development of a sustainable society in Iceland by integrating economic, social and environmental concerns in its operations. The Bank aims to ensure that both its owners and society at large benefit from its activities.

      It intends to achieve this aim by building solid infrastructure and a strong team of 1.100 employees, by listening to its customers and by respecting and encouraging its employees to actively participate in their community. Landsbankinn was a founding member of Festa, a Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, and is a member of the UN Global Compact.

      Landsbankinn has been a proud sponsor of the Reykjavik Pride since it was first celebrated in Iceland.

      Dohop
      - get inspired

      Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

      Dohop‘s specialty is finding so-called “self-connect” flight options, which can save travelers money by booking a ticket through two or more different airlines. The ability to look for these self-connect option is what sets Dohop apart from its competition, as it can save people hundreds of dollars on certain routes.

      More recently, Dohop has developed a unique product called Dohop Go!, which allows users to check for the cheapest available flights from their home airport. This tool is perfect for those who are looking for travel inspiration but are not willing to overpay for their flight ticket. Dohop Go! is now available in the Dohop Flights App, both for Android and iOS, along with its traditional flight, hotel, and car search engines. “

      Macland
      - for all your Apple needs

      From starting out as a proper startup with only a good idea and the need to change things, to becoming an established company with 6 employees. Starting from scratch and expanding organically has allowed us to love our expansion and take our customers on the ride with us.

      Macland is located at Laugavegur 23 (101, Downtown Reykjavik)
      For all your Apple needs. We are here.

      Aurora Reykjavik
      - northern lights center

        Aurora Reykjavik is a Northern Lights Center situated in downtown Reykjavík at the Old Harbor next to Icelandair Hotel Marina and Vikin Maritime Museum.

        Aurora Reykjavík is Iceland’s first educational and recreational Northern Lights Center where multimedia is used to explain when, why and how the Northern Lights work, with the highlights being large HD projection of the Aurora’s. We also share myths and legends about what our ancestor thought about those mystical lights.

        The Northern Lights Center is for all ages. Children are our favorite guests and we created the exhibition in a way that children can have a look freely and parents don’t have to worry about things being broken.

        Aurora Reykjavik offers a great selection of souvenirs that are designed and made by Icelanders along with nice little coffee corner, where you can enjoy free coffee and tea while browsing through the souvenirs or just planning your next step.

        Contact Aurora

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        Ísey skyr
        - once tasted never forgotten

        Our Story
        Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

        For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

        Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
        This is our secret and you are in on it

        You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

        Núðluskálin
        - noodle bar

        Núðluskálin is a small gay owned and operated fusion noodle bar.

        All of our courses are individually made from fresh ingredients and therefore highly customisable.
        We offer fully Vegan versions of all courses.
        Though originally a take-away we now seat over 30 people.

        Núðluskálin is located right in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustígur 8 (street leading up to the big Church) near the junction with Laugavegur (main street).

        Seatours
        - adventure cruise

        Ferry Baldur – the gate to the West fjords
        and VikingSushi Adventure – Bird & Nature watching Tour for everyone all year around

        The “VikingSushi Adventure” is the right boat tour for travelers who are adventurous and want to experience something new – close up to the nature seafood simply doesn’t come fresher than this! The archipelago area of the Breidafjordur Bay always surprises her visitors during winter or summer with spectacular sights. Where else you get to try delicious fresh scallops and sea urchin roe straight from the ocean served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.

        600x400-seatours-tasting

        This old volcanic area, characterized by the typical basalt formations of the islands, is the home of countless birds. Here you will also find the strongest currents in Iceland. The VikingSushi Tour takes roughly two hours and our captain is also the tour guide.

        600x400-seatours

        The VikingSushi Tour is a true adventure through incredible nature which should not be missed by any traveler to West Iceland.

        Birds, possible to spot:
        -puffins (from the middle of April until the middle of August)
        -eider ducks
        -shags
        -kittiwakes
        -fulmars
        -white-tailed eagle

        The car ferry Baldur is the bridge to the West fjords via the island Flatey
        Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjordur Bay daily from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur in the north. A ferry ride considerably shortens the route between the south and mid-west of the country and the West Fjords region. It also gives you the opportunity to experience a floating restaurant.

        Take a stopover at the charming island Flatey when you are crossing the bay or go to a day tour to Flatey and back to Stykkishólmur. At Flatey are no cars allowed and between the houses of the 18th century you get the feeling of a journey back in time.

        Contact Us


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