At Reykjavik Pride this year there was an event called Distant voices – stories of foreign LGBTQIA+ People where guests got the chance to hear several people’s accounts of what its like to be foreign and queer in Iceland. GayIceland will publish some of the stories as columns in the next few weeks and to give you an idea of what’s it all about we got one of the organizers, Andrés Peláez, to tell us about the event and his own experience of being a queer foreigner in Iceland.
What is Distant voices and how did it come about?
“For some time, the organizers – Todd Kulczyk, Sigurður Júlíus Guðmundsson and myself, Andrés Peláez, have had the opportunity of hosting “international nights” at the community center of Samtökin ’78 (the national queer organization) and we’ve had the opportunity of meeting many foreigners who have moved to Iceland for various reasons. Within the group we encounter individuals from all walks of life and circumstances, and somehow, conversations always center around integration to the Icelandic society, the culture and the effects that it can have on our perception and experience of living here. So we always hoped that there would be an opportunity to feature these stories somehow.
Reykjavík Pride gave us the great opportunity to organize an event, “Distant Voices, stories of foreign LGBTQIA+ People”, which was held during Reykjavík Pride 2017. Through an interactive narrative and visual recount of the immigrant community, we got an insight into the different realities and experiences of what life in the Icelandic society means for everyone. We wanted to give the foreign LGBTQIA+ community a platform for their stories to be told; every day we interact with many foreigners, and everyone has a story of why they are here, what inspired their relocation and how life progresses in this society. “
How people are involved in this project, and do you intend to get more people to write about their experience as a foreign queer person in Iceland for the columns on GayIceland?
“The people involved are three: Todd Kulczyk, Sigurður Júlíus Guðmundsson and myself. The stories that we collected were specifically for the Reykjavik Pride event, and there are no plans to collect any more stories at this time, although we might decide to keep collecting stories at a later time.”
“Adapting to the Icelandic queer community and scene has been a lengthy process … my first culture shock was the general notion that I was free and encouraged to be myself without prejudice … I didn’t have to hide anything.”
What is your experience of being a foreign queer person in Iceland? Is the queer scene in Iceland different from the one in your home country?
“Being a queer foreign national in Iceland has been an interesting transition. I came from Guatemala, a country that is quite conservative in regards to diversity; and even though it was difficult to come out to my close friends, I was lucky to have positive response to it, and was surrounded by amazing people who were very accepting and comforting. In recent years the overall situation for the local LGBTQIA+ community in Guatemala has progressed slowly but positively; this year saw a larger Pride parade and the creation of a new printed magazine called “LaFanzine”, featuring the work of local LGBT+ artists, and general narratives of the local scene and queer life in the country.
My experience of being a foreign queer individual in Iceland, as for many others, has also been a rollercoaster or bureaucracy, emotions, hopes and -at times- struggles. I originally came to Iceland to study Fashion Design at Listaháskóli Íslands (Iceland Academy of Arts) in 2012, a decision inspired by previous travels in 2011 that had brought me to Iceland for four days in the middle of winter. During that trip, I immediately felt a connection to the country and decided to try my luck and take a leap, come to conclude my unfinished (but long desired) studies in Fashion, and build a solid future. Leaving family and friends behind is daunting, but I guess when you see a future beyond your original borders, life takes a new meaning and becomes more dynamic and interesting.
Adapting to the Icelandic queer community and scene has been a lengthy process. The queer scene in Iceland is immensely different. I believe my first culture shock was the general notion that I was free and encouraged to be myself without prejudice (or visible prejudice at least), I didn’t have to hide anything. I also came to realize that, understandably, there was only the one or two queer pubs/clubs, and most of the community has a very active online presence. A very important aspect of the queer scene in Iceland is the fact that it is so widely accepted, it is embedded in the younger generations, and the community tries to move together for a greater good.
“We wanted to give the foreign LGBTQIA+ community a platform for their stories to be told … we got an insight into the different realities and experiences of what life in the Icelandic society means for everyone.“
I was fortunate to find love in Iceland, and am now married to an Icelandic man; he introduced me to Samtökin 78, of which he is vice-president today, and his efforts and passion for advocacy and queer life in Iceland inspired me to join the association, hoping for more visibility of the international community in the Icelandic society.”
When did you start those meetings for foreign queers at Samtökin ’78 and what is the purpose of them?
“We started the international nights about two years ago, and have built recently a stronger interest in foreigners to join our monthly events so that everyone can come by and meet other foreigners, share their experiences of living in Iceland. We have welcomed asylum seekers, foreigners living in other places than Reykjavík, and even the eventual tourists who are interested in knowing more about queer life in Iceland.
The main purpose is to provide a safe and welcoming space for people to meet and discuss everyday matters, provide information about the services available with Samtökin ’78, such as personal counseling, scheduled events and general information on queer life and matters.
Our season has started again and the next International Night will be held on Wednesday, September 13 at the Samtökin ’78 community center on Suðurgata 3, from 20-23pm. It’s is open to everyone who identifies as LGBTQIA+, not only foreigners. We hope to receive more people every time, as we are conscious that the foreign community is becoming larger every year, and everyone deserves a safe space to meet others and have a voice.”
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