OPINION President of Samtökin ‘78, The National Queer Organization of Iceland, writes about the challanges queer people are facing because of the COVID-19 epidemic.
Times of uncertainty, such as the one we are now experiencing, affect queer people like everyone else. However, there are certain aspects of our experience that are unique. It is therefore extremely important that we take care of each other now, and help each other through this.
Broadly speaking, a larger part of the queer community suffers from anxiety and depression than is prevalent among the general public. In our community there are many who live alone, have become isolated or are in danger of isolation during the current health crisis. Restrictions on gatherings are especially challenging for older people, who may not have many close family members or friends, and have predominantly used larger gatherings to socialize. The same applies to people of foreign origin in Iceland, immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. Many are far away from their closest friends and family and some have not yet established social ties here in Iceland.
In addition, many in our community are now experiencing a difficult flashback to the HIV-pandemic that resulted in the deaths of so many gay and bisexual men in the eighties and nineties. The queer community knows from bitter experience how damaging it is to classify people based on the spread of infectious disease. To this day, men who have sex with men cannot offer help in times of need by donating blood – due to prejudice fuelled by a virus. It can therefore hurt when we witness how this new virus is being used to increase discrimination and bias against certain groups of people and create division.
“We need to do our absolute best in taking care of each other. Now is the time to call an old friend, check on a young relative still not out to their parents, share information about the help that is available with whoever needs it. Let’s stick together through these times of uncertainty.”
People are generally asked to stay home as much as possible these days, school is very much restricted, and whole families are effectively in quarantine together. It is clear that some queer children and teenagers are in fact forced to spend all their time in homes where they cannot be themselves or do not have the support they need. Some may even experience violence from family members. The queer youth center (Hinsegin félagsmiðstöð), often the only place where a number of kids feel safe in their daily lives, has had to close due to the gathering ban.
It is evident that many queer people are in need of support now. Samtökin ‘78 – the National Queer Organization of Iceland still provides various services despite the ban on public events and gatherings. You can book an appointment for distant counseling with our counselors here. Also, you can call our office (tel. 552-7878) between 1 pm and 4 pm, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Queer youth can contact the youth center through Instagram (@hinseginfelagsmidstods78). Samtökin ‘78 is here for you. Please do not hesitate to contact us!
Finally, I want to emphasize the importance of queer solidarity right now. We need to do our absolute best in taking care of each other. Now is the time to call an old friend, check on a young relative still not out to their parents, share information about the help that is available with whoever needs it. Let’s stick together through these times of uncertainty, watch out for each other, and make sure no one is left behind.
President of Samtökin ‘78 – The National Queer Organization of Iceland