One “young senior citizen” talking about queer rights is Viðar Eggertsson. An institution within the Icelandic theater scene for many years, Viðar is now headed into retirement and excited to change this narrative that spaces for the elderly can’t be queer.
“Most of the people who founded Samtokin ‘78 are about to retire and are therefore part of the group called “younger senior citizens”, that is, people who are between the ages of 67 and 80,” says Viðar. “These are people who have not started to use nursing homes to the extent of those who belong to the group of “older senior citizens” and are over eighty,” he continues.
“I may have lived my whole life in some kind of “bubble”, I do not know. I’ve never been sexually harassed or discriminated against because I’m gay.”
Once this younger group hits the age for moving into retirement homes, Viðar thinks a change in the zeitgeist will come. “The older group now are the LGBTQ+ people who have been hiding more or less all their lives and there is a risk that they will continue to do so and do not want to rock the boat, even less now than when they lived in their own home. When the younger group starts to participate in this system, I believe that they will not be subjected to any kind of discrimination, as we are used to being proud. Society has also changed and this also applies to those who work within the care and service system, not least. I myself am not afraid to face these new challenges.”
A second civil rights movement?
Viðar is confident that his generation will push the envelope on these issues, yet again. Unsurprising to him, fighting for civil rights has carried on to more stages of his life. “My generation will no doubt, once again, have to be at the forefront of the rights struggle when we start to enjoy the care system. We are used to it, we know the procedure, we have the tools and equipment to do so,” he says.
Not only is his generation maybe the best to take on this movement, but Viðar thinks this work will pave the wave for generations to come. He also thinks that this work will help benefit more than just queer senior citizens. “Our age group will wait to demand respect, using understanding and tolerance. In this way, our struggle for rights will probably bring other senior citizens an increased quality of life. [Queer] history shows that the rights we have acquired in recent decades have not diminished the rights of other sections of society but rather benefited them as well.”
“The older group now are the LGBTQ+ people who have been hiding more or less all their lives and there is a risk that they will continue to do so and do not want to rock the boat, even less now than when they lived in their own home.”
For Viðar, there’s no doubt about how quickly the system will adapt if out and proud elders move in. “This will surely change when we, the younger seniors, start storming in!” he says. “After all, we are part of the ‘68 generation and will change and revolutionize – I hope. Those of us who have grown and developed Samtokin ‘78 know how to change things and attitudes,” he adds.
Now that celebrations like Hinsegin dagar (Reykjavik Pride) have become mainstream, Viðar thinks it’s impossible to put the queer community back in the closet. “The success of gay pride in Iceland has proven we can change because it is probably unheard of that gay pride is a general national festival for the whole family, as has happened here in Iceland. I think we will not be put back in any closets even as we get older.”
The only gay in the village
When asked if he personally has faced discrimination for his sexuality, Viðar says he’s been lucky and that amongst younger people he’s just another person. “I may have lived my whole life in some kind of “bubble”, I do not know. I’ve never been sexually harassed or discriminated against because I’m gay,” he says. “Not even from people older than me. The older ones are often more aware of my sexuality and therefore more curious about me, but that’s just fun. While younger folks hardly see me as a queer person, just a person,” Viðar clarifies.
Recently, Viðar has gotten more involved in the community of senior citizens. As a board member for FEB (Félag eldri borgara í Reykjavík), he spoke out about how to shake things up and add in some flavor. He’s also been working at LEB (Landssamband eldri borgara) and the Gray Army (Grái herinn), an activist group for the elderly.
In an interview with Lifðu Núna (Live Now), Viðar mentioned how one of the most urgent projects the associations had was to add in cultural events, dances, and music. “We need to strengthen the social life and shake it up a bit by having something on offer that is especially suitable for younger age groups in the association,” he said. Viðar also added “dances and concerts can have music that is closer to our time and if an accordion appears on stage, it does not necessarily have to be played. Old dances. It is, for example, Grace Jones’ signature instrument, familiar to many of our generation. In this way, many things can be reviewed and strengthened.”
Svandís Anna Sigurðardóttir is working on these issues and many others at the Reykajvik office of Human Rights and Democracy. She agrees with Viðar, that this age group needs more events, community, and programming that connects with their generation. “This is a time in people’s lives where they all of a sudden have a lot of free time. They’re not working as much, socially things change, and also physically things change for their bodies in what they’re able to do. Sometimes their health is deteriorating in one way or another, so to lose [the openly queer] part of themselves as well must be really really difficult. That’s something where a community can be made for everyone to come together for companionship,” says Svandís.
Finding queer community groups is easy at the queer student center, but is it as easy in communities talking about pension funds? Viðar says it can be tough to find many out and proud retirees. “I have not encountered queer senior citizens in that arena – so far. Sometimes I feel like “The Only Gay in the Village”.” Although he’s not in a retirement home yet, Viðar is excited to jump in and make a difference. “In fact, I’m a new senior citizen myself and I’m eagerly waiting for my generation to get involved in this field. Because LEB is an interest group for older people it is a good forum for older gay people to make an impact.”
“I do not deny that I would much rather be young in these modern times. If I could have chosen to. The present is so much more interesting than the years when I was young.”
With all the resources and queer terminology from A to Þ, the conversation surrounding queer senior citizens is actually looking quite good. Both Svandís and Viðar say that talking about these things more and more in different circles of people helps fix the issues. Of course, there’s always more work that can be done, but true progress is made with interpersonal relationships. Svandís also says “it would be great to see a group form, like a social aspect for queer senior citizens in Iceland. Support and coming together to be visible and vocal would be amazing. A community group that would be able to tell us what their issues are, what they’re dealing with and what they want to see changed.”
Looking forward to old age
In an interview for his 65th birthday featuring his husband Sveinn Kjartansson, Viðar mentioned he was looking forward to the excitement old age brings. “I feel great getting older,” he said. “It is important to try something that you have not done before. Every year you face is full of new and exciting challenges. I take on the challenge of finally turning 65 years old,” he stated.
Although he enjoys his years now and is happy to have come of age when he did, Viðar says it’s obvious the younger generations are living more open and proud lives than his generation did. “I do not deny that I would much rather be young in these modern times. If I could have chosen to. The present is so much more interesting than the years when I was young. This is a more open, fun, and much better society. I grew up in a much narrower and less diverse society. Fortunately, it’s behind… hopefully,” he jokes.
See also: “We will not be put back in any closets”
This article is brought to you by GayIceland and sponsored by the city of Reykjavík.