Hörður Torfason.

“I did not want to live like a hounded animal”

The National Queer Organization, Samtökin ’78, celebrates it’s 40th anniversary today, on May the 9th. It’s founding 40 years ago was down to one single man who after contemplating suicide decided to fight for his own and others rights as gays.

Hörður Torfason and Samtökin ’78 have come a very long way since Hörður founded the organisation on May 9th in 1978.

His name is Hörður Torfason, a well-known singer/songwriter, actor and stage director in Iceland. He held the first meeting is his own flat in Reykjavík on May 9th in 1978 and twelve people attended. Hörður and Samtökin ’78 have come a very long way since that night, how is he feeling about his “baby” 40 years later?
“I’m not thinking much about these matters anymore, to be honest,” says Hörður. “After the new law in 2006 granting gay people equal rights in every aspect my goal is reached and what I had in mind when I started has come to pass one hundred percent. I was forced to leave Samtökin ’78 dued to conflicts in 1993 and since then I have not been active in the organization. Of course I will always be the one who started it all, and in my own way I’m proud of that.”

When Hörður came out to his parents, when he was 21 years old, he says that they urged him to be himself and never try to hide who he really is. That was easier said than done in the early 70s. The gay scene in Iceland was practically none existent and even though there were a few guys everyone knew were gay it was not talked about openly.
“I have sometimes said that at that time men were only gay on weekends,” says Hörður with a laugh. “Then they went to the bars and got together but it was all very sub rosa and you had to be a master of the coded language they used to understand what was going on. I found it very funny at that time and I didn’t really understand why it had to be like that. I didn’t walk around announcing that I was gay but if anyone asked I told them. I never tried to hide it from anyone.”

“I was assaulted, both physically and verbally almost every day, and some guys were afraid to walk with me down the street because then people would think that they were gay too.”

Hörður says that soon after he came out he started talking about forming some sort of organization to fight for gay rights and make homosexual people more visible in society, but no one thought that was a good idea.
“They just laughed at me,” he says. “It was looked upon as a crazy idea and I soon gave up trying to convince other gays to fight for our rights. At that time I was starting to be known as a singer and stage director all over Iceland and my homosexuality was met with furious reaction from many people. I was assaulted, both physically and verbally almost every day, and some guys were afraid to walk with me down the street because then people would think that they were gay too.”

In 1975 an Icelandic men’s magazine called Samúel published an interview with Hörður where he openly discussed his homosexuality and all hell broke loose. Hörður became persona non grata, could neither get work nor rent an apartment and soon after the interview was published he fled the country and moved to Copenhagen.
“I was going to kill myself,” he admits. “I didn’t see the point of living like a hounded animal for the rest of my life. I turned on the gas, taped over all cracks and was ready to die. But then something happened inside myself. I realized that I was a young talented man who had every right to live and nourish my talents. And I decided to fight for that right any which way I could. I wasn’t intent on letting the injustice win.”

Having made this decision Hörður moved back home to Iceland in the autumn 1977 and started preparing the ground for founding a organiztion to fight for gay rights.

In 1975 an Icelandic men’s magazine called Samúel published an interview with Hörður where he openly discussed his homosexuality and all hell broke loose.

“I mostly worked alone for many months because the others just thought I was crazy trying to put this idea into action. But early in the year 1978 I got in touch with Guðni Baldursson, who became the first chair of Samtökin ’78, and things started to roll. Guðni was very well-connected to what was happening in these matters in other European countries, and together we started forming how we should do this. We talked to other gays and I tried to get in touch with some lesbians but they were even better hidden than the gays so in the end I was only able to get two of them to attend the first meeting. Not all the guys were happy about them being there, but I didn’t listen to them. It was always my aim to make Samtökin ’78 a human rights organization for all homosexual people.”

Samtökin ’78 did not get much support in the society to begin with but little by little it gained ground and the support of some forward thinking politicians. Hörður says that he left that part of the work mostly to Guðni, as he himself hates meetings and endless discussions about the same topics. On the other hand he represented the organization in society at large and in the media, went to interviews in the radio and some of the papers and to his delight that seemed to have a good effect.

“I was always adamant that we had to be visible in society,” he states. “That was one of the most important things. At that time I did a lot of stage directing for amateur theater groups in the countryside and me and Guðni joked between ourselves that he should cover the Reykjavík area and I the rest of the country.
Everyone in Iceland knew me by then and I made a point of walking around these small towns and make sure that people noticed that in spite of being gay I was just a normal guy. I also did some interviews with the radio and it made me extremely happy when people came up to me later and told me that those interviews had changed their lives.
I remember particularly one woman who told me years later that when she heard me on the radio, one night when she was doing the dishes in her house as a married woman with family, she had thrown away the rubber gloves she had on and said aloud to herself: ‘This is it! I’m through with pretending. I want to live my life as who I really am.’ And then she left her husband and announced to the world that she was indeed a lesbian and always had been.”

“Some gays are irritated about the fact that Samtökin ’78 is now concentrating on what needs to be done to get other groups … equal rights and claim that it has forgotten the gays and lesbians, but I think that is a natural evolution in organisations like this.”

As the years passed the landscape started to shift and one by one the goals of the organisation were reached. When did things really start to change for the better for queer people in Iceland in Hörður’s opinion?
“I can tell you exactly when that happened!” he exclaims. “That was mostly thanks to the internet becoming available for everyone. In 1995 I started a chat room for gays where they could talk to each other incognito that things really started to happen. It made a huge difference to be able to talk to other gays in save environment and without fear, without having to go to a meeting that everyone knew was for gays. I also started a chat room for lesbians but it never took flight. It looked like they didn’t need it, I suppose they were more able to talk about their feelings and lives to each other than we were. Some guys, of course, treated the chat room as a dating site, but that was OK too and I think I can say with absolute certainty that this chat room was a watershed in connecting gays in Iceland.”

As he said in the beginning of our chat Hörður has not been a member of Samtökin ’78 since 1993 and taken no part in their activities, but what does he think of the status the organisation has in society today and the work they are doing?
“I think it’s doing a good job,” he says. “It’s a completely different society from what it was back in the ‘70s and as I said the goal of equal rights for gays and lesbians has been reached. Some gays are irritated about the fact that Samtökin ’78 is now concentrating on what needs to be done to get other groups, like trans people and intersex people, equal rights and claim that it has forgotten the gays and lesbians, but I think that is a natural evolution in organisations like this. And I’m very happy that “my” organisation is still fighting for human rights. That was what I wanted from the start. So I’m quite happy with Samtökin ’78 today.”

Hörður will be performing at Samtðkin ’78 on May 9th.

But is Hörður going to do something special on May 9th to celebrate the anniversary of his “baby”?
“Yes, I got a phone call from the people at Samtökin ’78 and they asked me to come and sing a few songs at this gathering they are having in Suðurgata 3. I said yes, of course, and am looking forward to celebrate this anniversary with them.”

Any words of advice for the new generation in the frontline of Samtökin ’78?
“I would advice them to not forget the past. It’s my feeling that many of the young people don’t even know how things were for gays and lesbians 40 years ago and that they take the rights they have gained for granted. I want to remind them that rights are never a given, they need to be fought for and even if they are a fact today it’s easy to take them away again. They have to learn from the fighters of the past and don’t forget their history. We can never take anything for granted in this world.”

Photos: Courtesy of Hörður Torfason

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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