“Guðni faggot” now President of Iceland and patron of a queer organisation

When the National Queer Organization, Samtökin ´78, celebrated their 40th anniversary in June, it was announced that the President of Iceland, Guðni Th. Jóhannesson, had become patron of the organization. Here he speaks in depth with GayIceland about being called “faggot” as a boy and why he celebrates diversity at the Reykjavik Pride festival every year.

President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson and First lady Eliza Jean Reid celebrating Pride.

Reykjavik Pride festival is being held this week, will you be participating? “Yes, I will be attending the opening ceremony in Háskólabíó on the 9th of August. I don’t know about other events, but I do know that unfortunately I will be unable to take part in the Pride Parade itself, I will not be in the Reykjavík region then.”

Guðni (because in Iceland people are always on first name basis, even with the president), I spoke to you two years ago when one of the first gestures you made as President of Iceland was to become the first head of state in the world to officially participate in a Pride festival. Now you’ve become patron of Samtökin ´78, surely this cause is close to your heart? “Well, for me it was a very natural and joyous decision to accept the offer to take part in the parade two years ago. I support human rights, I support diversity, I support freedom of expression, freedom of love, freedom of religion and freedom of having no religion at all. All freedom carries with it responsibility. Freedom of expression does not mean that you’re allowed to spew hatred and certainly not when it’s directed towards groups of people who have had to suffer in the past, like the queer community. So, with that in mind I enjoyed taking part in the parade. Also I had observed the parade before in my pre-presidential life and there was no way I was going to stop being present just because I had a new role.

“I feel that being patron is not an empty gesture. I feel that it creates an obligation on my part to speak out when appropriate.”

Now, becoming a patron of Samtökin ´78, I did not have to think too much about it. It should be mentioned that I’m a patron of a number of organisations, including the Red Cross, the Scouts, the ICE-SAR, The Icelandic Youth Association. So, it’s not a unique occurrence that I’m their patron but like I said, by being a patron of Samtökin ´78 I hope to emphasise the importance of human rights, human dignity and diversity in our society.”

Not an Empty Gesture

Did you have to think about it when they asked you? And what’s the response been for you? “They approached me and I gave it some consideration of course, it’s only natural that you take all matters into due consideration. But frankly, the very little negative response I have noticed – of course there might be something out there that I am not aware of – has either been on the one side from some people who believe that being gay is against the laws of their god or the laws of nature or on the other side from people within the queer community who feel that Samtökin ´78 have strayed from their original objective. But these are minor pieces in the big, positive puzzle. I’ve not heard so much negativity about this.”

“I believe in freedom of love and diversity in society,” says President Guðni. Photo/Håkon Broder Lund

What does being a patron of such an organisation entail? Do you now have to focus more on queer matters as president? “I have no formal obligations as a patron, whether it’s as patron of the Red Cross or Samtökin ´78; it’s more a demonstration of the fact that you support the cause of the organisation in question. Therefore, you need to follow what’s happening and judging by my brief stay in this position, I already know from being patron of other organisations, that you’re mostly politely asked to attend bigger events and I’ll only be pleased to do that if my busy schedule allows.”

Will you be more vocal when debates about queer matters arise in society now? “Yes and no. I wouldn’t want to feel obligated to make my voice heard whenever matters relating to the queer community are being discussed in society but yes, I feel that being patron is not an empty gesture. I feel that it creates an obligation on my part to speak out when appropriate.”

Freedom of Love

Samtökin ´78 are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year and you yourself turned 50 recently so you were a young boy when the queer community began making waves in Iceland. Do you remember when you first learnt about the organisation or became aware of queerness in your environment? “Honestly, no. I remember the late Guðni Baldursson being the first chair of Samtökin ´78 and one of the things I can recall from my childhood is being teased and called “Guðni hommi, Guðni hommi” (e. faggot) just because we shared the same name. Now, whether you take some Freudian approach to this and conclude that this is the reason I now want to support the queer community, I would not go with you down that road. It’s just an anecdote that comes to mind now that you’re asking me this. But I can’t really remember more than this, it probably felt the same as being called “Guðni idiot” or whatever. You know, this was at a time when calling someone “bloody faggot” was not unheard of, it was just part of that era. But in my upbringing, there was nobody in my close environment who was openly gay, and I honestly can’t recall any words of wisdom, but certainly not prejudice either, from my parents. I was actually brought up a Catholic but that was never a big factor in my life. I would say that I was, hopefully, with an average knowledge of the world. I will not boast but I can certainly say I never felt prejudice or fear or anything like that towards gay people. But again, having said that, they weren’t in my proximity, to my knowledge.

So, would you say that it wasn’t until your adult life that you fully understood that queerness is just part of human nature? “Yes, I would certainly say so and in my adult life I gained gay friends, but I just know them as “friends”, I don’t define them in any way by their sexual orientation. I was never campaigning openly for queer rights before I became president but once you’re in this position you realise the burden of responsibility on your shoulders and you realise the potential you have, to speak out and be proactive. And it’s a difficult position in which to be, you cannot save the world, you sometimes have to do things that are not pleasing to yourself or to all. But when it comes to queer rights and the queer community, like I have said before, I just believe in freedom of love and diversity in society. And in general the queer community in Iceland conducts its campaign and outlook in a way that I like and support.”

Your older daughter, Rut, must have had some influence on you, as she identifies as queer, does she not? “Right. She’s fine with having that mentioned here but she told me she wouldn’t feel comfortable about me talking about her private life and I of course respect her wishes. But I’ll say this: I have learned a lot from Rut, I admire her and am extremely proud of her. And that’s that.”

The Usefulness of Dialog

Iceland is often hailed as a country without queer prejudice, somewhat a haven for queer people. Do you think that’s correct or that there’s still some stigma around being queer in Icelandic society? “I think it’s still a considerable step to take to come out of the closet. I think it’s still emotionally weighty, as it were, for a boy or a girl to go to their parents and say “Mum, dad, I’m gay” – it’s a big step for them still. And in society in general, I know for a fact that queer people still suffer prejudice. But you have to see it in the light that we have moved on, society is certainly moving in the right direction. Decades ago, what were Samtökin campaigning for? Well, simply the right to be acknowledged as individuals and make free choices and the right to live in peace with themselves and society without harming anyone. We have more diversity within the queer community now, e.g. trans people and intersex and that diversity brings new challenges.

Also, I think it’s a constant struggle in society to maintain your human rights and that goes for the queer community as well as others. So, therefore the basic elements are there, to protect individual rights and diversity. Freedom of love is an expression I really like and as we move on, developments in society bring new challenges and new approaches so you can never say: “All right, here, it’s over and done with.”

Do you intend to use your influence and position to address queer matters abroad too? “If the opportunity arises. As I said before, you can’t save the whole world in one go or by declarations or comments and likes on Facebook and so on. You have to think about whether your actions have any concrete affect for the better. But I will certainly not shy away from saying what I have been describing to you. I believe in the value and importance of human rights for all in society, queer or not, and the world will be a better place when that approach is universal.”

“I sincerely believe and hope that the Pride festival should be seen as a symbol of the importance of freedom, dignity and diversity in society in general.”

I’m glad you’re not going to be shy about queer matters because as we know, there are some states where there’s little to none tolerance for queer people and they’re persecuted still in some states such as Russia. Will you be able to interact with such states and will you be happy about being on friendly terms with the leaders of such states, as President of Iceland? “Well I’m not going to become a hostage to my declarations and views. It is a fact that we live in a world where states have different views and policies on many things, including queer rights and you will not change that by declarations alone. I believe in general in the usefulness of dialog and I believe that you should engage and try to influence rather than refuse to meet with certain persons outright. And this does not only apply to the queer community or the state that you mentioned in particular, it’s a general policy that I firmly believe in. Furthermore, I think here in Iceland people need to keep in mind that the president does not formulate foreign policy so when it comes to the state of Iceland making its voice heard on the international stage then that is not the role of the president.”

Reykjavik Pride has begun and is always a massive celebration attracting crowds and a lot of attention. What significance does it have to you? “I remember before I became president, when I watched the parade with my family, with Eliza and the kids, that I felt it was not only in support of the queer community. I totally understand and sympathise with the view that it is an event to demonstrate the rights and interests and challenges facing the queer community. But at the same time, I sincerely believe and hope that the Pride festival should be seen as a symbol of the importance of freedom, dignity and diversity in society in general. Because these issues are universal, they are of concern to the queer community and the rest of society, so we are in this business together. Queer people, non-queer people, whichever terms you use. And maybe I should also add that as a patron, I want to help rather than offend so forgive me if I don’t use the right phrases or words. Sometimes you do so inadvertently – I’ve done so when I want to help the good cause of people with disabilities, for instance. You inadvertently use a word that is either inappropriate or outdated and all I want to say here – and I sincerely hope I won’t offend anyone – is that respect and tolerance works in the other direction too, as long as there’s no malice. Please don’t get too easily offended, if you know what I mean.”
Main photo: Håkon Broder Lund

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