The Icelandic National Queer Organization, Samtökin ’78, has a new chair, a young bisexal woman, a linguist and a mother by the name of Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir.
But who is she, were does she come from and what are the biggest challenges she will be facing as the chair of Samtökin ’78? GayIceland contacted Þorbjörg to get answers to those questions and the first one was simply: Who are you?
“My name is Þorbjörg, I’m 29 years old and bisexual. I’m married to Silja Ýr S. Leifsdóttir and we have a daughter together, Valbjörg María, who is 3 years old. I come from Garðabær, where I grew up for the most part and where I live now. I’ve also lived in several other places in Iceland as well as in Denmark, Honduras and the Netherlands. I’m a linguist. I completed a BA in general linguistics at the University of Iceland, and obtained an MA degree in linguistics from Leiden University in the Netherlands in 2017. I’m currently a PhD student of Icelandic linguistics at the University of Iceland. Previously, I have worked part-time as a bartender, caretaker in a nursing home, hotel receptionist and as a flight attendant.”
What are your feelings regarding your new position as chair of Samtökin ’78?
“I’m very excited about this role and the year ahead. I also feel the weight of responsibility, of course. Samtökin ’78 is a great organization and there is such rich history involved. I’m going to do my absolute best in upholding its name by fighting for equality and acceptance of all queer people.”
“ … a bill that will allow more hate speech has been presented in parliament. We have been very vocal in our opposition to those changes, of course, especially in light of the fact that there is next to nothing being done to combat hate speech or hate crimes in Iceland.”
Why did you decide to run for this office?
“I’ve enjoyed working for Samtökin ’78 and felt that I could be of even more use as the spokesperson and leader of this organization.”
Have you been involved in the work of Samtökin ’78 before?
“Yes. I’ve been part of the board of Samtökin ’78 as secretary for the past year, and before I moved to the Netherlands in 2015, I was a member of trúnaðarráð – which has the role of an advisory board.”
What do you consider the biggest challenges you’ll be facing in this job? What are the big issues and what will you emphasize in your work as chair of the organisation?
“I want Samtökin ’78 to mature and expand, and the challenge there lies in maintaining a close connection with the grassroots while also allowing Samtökin to grow to its full potential. Another huge challenge is simply making sure that Iceland does not suffer a backlash in queer acceptance and rights as we have seen happen in countries around us. Right now, for example, a bill that will allow more hate speech has been presented in parliament. We have been very vocal in our opposition to those changes, of course, especially in light of the fact that there is next to nothing being done to combat hate speech or hate crimes in Iceland.
Another bill that we are following closely is a bill on trans and intersex rights. This legislation, when passed, will improve the lives of trans and intersex people considerably. It will make changes in gender registration and official name change much easier, and give trans people access to medical care without having to first be diagnosed with a mental illness. It is a very important step forward. At the same time, the authorities decided not to include protections for intersex children against normalizing surgeries and other unnecessary medical interventions, which were present in earlier drafts. We are extremely disappointed by that, and sincerely hope that the bill will be corrected as it passes through parliament.
What I think is ever-important, and that we need to focus on the most, is queer education. Educating people about what it means to be queer is the most efficient way to combat prejudice and increase acceptance. We’ve come a long way here in Iceland, but there are still so many spheres of society that we need to reach. One of our goals is that all people who complete university education in subjects that prepare students for working with people, such as becoming teachers, doctors, police officers and psychologists, will receive training on how to address queer issues. This would be incredibly beneficial for both the professionals themselves and queer people in Iceland. It’s very important to know that you will not be met with prejudice when you seek e.g. police assistance or when you need medical care.
Samtökin ‘78 also need to push for improvements with regards to legal protection and assistance for queer asylum seekers. Queer people who seek asylum here in Iceland are being deported back to countries where their lives are in danger simply for being who they are. This is absolutely unacceptable.
“We need to have a plan in place to make sure that people will not have to hide who they are as they grow older and need assistance at home or move into nursing homes.“
Another issue that will become more and more pressing in the coming years has to do with queer senior citizens. We need to have a plan in place to make sure that people will not have to hide who they are as they grow older and need assistance at home or move into nursing homes. Again, I believe that educating professionals is a key factor in ensuring this doesn’t happen.
In general, I think that it is essential that all queer people in Iceland, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics, feel that they belong in Samtökin ’78. Together we are a force for positive change, and together is how we can best influence our society.”