Photo/ @irgogmyndavelin

Vera – a new organization for queer women and non-binary people in Iceland

In a post COVID world, connection and belonging are incredibly important, especially if you’re a member of the queer community. There have been many groups formed over the years within Iceland that help people to find their tribe, connect with like-minded individuals or even just have a conversation in a safe space. These kinds of connections aren’t just nice, they’re important.

A few years ago, some members of the community decided it was time to establish a women’s evening in Reykjavík. The nights have managed to survive a pandemic and are still going strong. Today the Women’s Nights have gone through a bit of a rebranding to become more inclusive and I had a chat with two members to get the low down on all this and more.

Ástrós Erla Benediktsdóttir is the founder and CEO of ‘Vera,’ the events group formerly known as ‘Queer Ladies Night’. Outside of the group she works as a counseller for Samtök 78, The Natioanl Queer Association of Iceland, she also travels around Iceland giving queer education to students, when she’s not teaching yoga or working as a healer. Ástrós felt like something like this was needed for a while and decided to do something about it back in 2019.
So what inspired her to create this group?

Ástrós: “Back in 2019 I had come back from New York where they had all these queer events for women. I came back to Iceland and they had nothing here at all and there hadn’t really been anything for the last five years at least.v

Fellow board member Hrönn Svansdóttir also remembers that there weren’t a lot of options for queer women to meet other queer women in the past.

Hrönn: “I’ve been involved with a lot of events in the queer community in the past. My involvement goes way back to the days of the bars Trúno and Barbara Sunshine (where bar Bravó is now in Reykjavík), then Kiki and (drag group) Drag-Súgur. Me and Alda Karen also had some nights called Les-be-honest.”

How did you initially get the group started?

Ástrós: “So I got some women together and decided to start an event which, at the time was called ‘Queer Ladies Night.’ I just kind of assumed that it was needed because we didn’t have anything. I knew about all these queer women out there. I personally didn’t have a group, everyone I knew was someone I had dated or been with and that was kind of it.
From all of the people that I knew it was the general consensus, so that’s basically what made this all happen.”

Vera / Photo Ingibjörg Ruth Gulin @irgogmyndavelin

And how did the first night go?

Ástrós: “On the first night we held in June 2019, we had 120 people come so that pretty much cemented to us that it was something people both wanted and needed.v

And since then, how many events have you had?

Ástrós: “We’ve almost made it a year. Obviously COVID slowed things down a bit but I think we’ve at least had 10 so far. During COVID, we moved things over to social media. We opened our insta story to members so if they wanted to come and tell the rest of us a little bit about themselves they could. That was pretty successful too. We had more than 60 people come on and tell their stories. That was really nice. It was nice to give people a chance to introduce themselves but we also saw that people really loved to hear the stories of other people in their community.

“We had no idea how many people would have interest in this so we were really pleasantly surprised to have it embraced so well.”

It sort of blew up a bit too, in that short period, our instagram profile ticked over 1000 followers. We really saw a lot of people who had never come to the events communicating and staying in touch over the internet which was really positive to see.”

You’re both very community minded people, was this a surprise for you to see such a huge response to this.

Ástrós: “Yeah for sure, we had no idea how many people would have interest in this so we were really pleasantly surprised to have it embraced so well, but it was also nice to receive the positive feedback. People were overwhelmingly happy to finally have something like this. To have a space just to meet other like-minded people.”

Hrönn: “And as a board member, who’s also been around the queer community for a while it’s a nice surprise to see so many new people coming in all the time. Even at our last event we had about 5 or 6 newcomers who had never been to an event before.”

Can you tell us why it’s important for queer women and non-binary people to have a space or events like this?

Ástrós: “I think the primary reason it’s important to have events for us is because we have similar issues we face, many of us are going through the same things. I think having a space where it’s safe to talk and discuss things like this without judgment helps to create a feeling of belonging. Of course we would love to have the entire queer community together but it’s also important to give people a chance to be with those who have more shared experiences.

In this group there’s a wide range of people who identify in different ways. We’ve also noticed that by having a group like this, it’s created a space where people can also talk about their experiences, clear the air and learn from each other. Ultimately it’s about creating a space where members feel both included and welcomed.”

Photo / Pola Maria @eerie.myndriasis

As Ástrós and Hrönn explained, the events were originally titled ‘Queer Ladies Night,’ but a change that was made to make the group also inspired a name change.

The Group is now called ‘Vera.’ So why did you choose that word? What does it mean and what’s the relevance?

Ástrós: “Initially when these events started, they were about women who were attracted to women. Over time we were asked by some members of the community who identify as non-binary if they could also be included and the answer was yes, so now the group events are all about women and non-binary people.

We obviously decided that we also needed to make the name of the group more inclusive too and thought long and hard about what we would change it to. We really wanted to choose a name that reflected the values of the group and settled on Vera. It is a female name in Icelandic, but we’re not using it in that way. Vera is also a verb (að vera) which is the verb ‘to be.’

“Over time we were asked by some members of the community who identify as non-binary if they could also be included and the answer was yes, so now the group events are all about women and non-binary people.”

We like it because we are all beings. We’re all the same but still so different. I think the name really encapsulates how we are all different but we can still come together in a sort of union based on shared experiences.”

In the past you’ve had some events that have been at bars and cafes, but have you also held events in places outside of the cafe or bar scene?

Hrönn: “Yes for sure. The group had a hike during COVID. It was a full hike with a guide and everything. We also had a few Zoom gatherings. We are definitely trying to make sure the events are varied and not always in the same kind of place.”

Is it fun trying to think of different things to do in the future?

Hrönn: “Yes definitely, we’re always trying to think of new and exciting things to do. Like maybe in the future it would be great to have a movie club or a book club. We’d really like to create the opportunity to work with common interests and make sure that things aren’t centered around drinking and alcohol. It’s about the connection.”

Ástrós: “We also want to make sure things stay open enough that younger people can join. There are youth programs in Iceland but they basically stop at 17. In Iceland the legal drinking age is 20 so if you only have events in bars, there’s a whole bunch of people between 18 and 20 who can’t always be included.”

Members of Vera. Photo / Ingibjörg Ruth Gulin @irgogmyndavelin

So you both grew up in Iceland as queer people, do you think things could have been better for you if there was something like this when you were younger?

Ástrós: “Definitely. When I was growing up there wasn’t anyone I knew who was queer. If I head about someone that was queer, it was always just something I’d heard about second hand and it wasn’t necessarily spoken about in a positive way. So that really affected my own coming out story. I came out much later than I think I would have if I had grown up today and had access to stuff like this.”

Hrönn: “It was the same for me. I came out in 2007 and at the start I was really ignorant to the entire spectrum of people out there. I mean I remember that I had seen lots of different kinds of gay men on TV when I was younger, but the only queer female representation I had seen was Ellen.”

As the interviewer and writer of this article I would also like to say on behalf of cis gay men everywhere I’m sorry that we have hogged the spotlight for so damn long.
Where would you love to see this group go in the future?

Ástros: “One of our board members is in contact with groups in other countries and we really would like to involve more people and work in being more inclusive of people from other countries. For example, here in Iceland we have so many people within our community from other countries that we just haven’t been able to reach yet. We just want to be as visible as possible so that more and more people can find us, come join us and feel like they belong.

Photo / Pola Maria @eerie.myndriasis

We’d also love to be able to connect with people and groups in other countries and help out wherever we can. There’s so many places that have it much harder than we do here in Iceland and we would love to help out. But we’d also love to just go to other countries and have fun too. Maybe we could have an exchange, where a group from another country comes to Iceland and we show them a good time, then we go visit their country and do the same.”

So it’s been pretty successful so far?

Ástrós: “Yes for sure and I think I would definitely say because of COVID we had a bit of a slow down, but since June we’ve had our new board instated and things are really starting to take off again.”

And who are the locals on the board?

Hrönn: “I’m part of the board and we also have Glóey Þóra Eyjólfsdóttir, Sólveig Johnsen, Anna Katrín Guðdísardóttir, Birta Líf Bjarkadóttir, Tinna Haraldsdóttir and Arna Rún Grönvold.”

Ástrós: “Then we have Ingibjörg who’s doing all the international stuff and I’m more of a behind the scenes person.”

So if someone wants to get involved, how do you suggest they start?

Hrönn: “Well we have both Instagram and a Facebook group,  Vera – hinsegin félag kvenna og kvára, we post all of our events on Facebook and in our stories on Instagram.”

“We know what you’re going through and we know what it’s like. We’re friendly and we would love to get to know you.”

If you could think of your young selves, wishing that there was something like this happening in Iceland; if you could think of anything to say to that young person to encourage them to come along to an event what would it be?

Hrönn: “I think just that we’ve all been in your shoes. We’ve all been the only queer person in the friend group. We’ve all had to step out of our comfort zones to find people like ourselves that we can connect with. We know what you’re going through and we know what it’s like. We’re friendly and we would love to get to know you.”

Ástrós: “I think mine would be really similar. Just know that you’re not alone and we really make sure that everyone who comes feels welcome. We go out of our way to make sure that nobody ever feels isolated or left out. It’s so important that our members and guests come to our events and feel welcome.”

Vera is continuing to create events and is making plans for some exciting things over Christmas and the New Year. The next event is taking place this Wednesday, November 3rd. You read all about it by clicking here.

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.

      Nasdaq

         

        Nasdaq (Nasdaq: NDAQ) is a global technology company serving the capital markets and other industries. Our diverse offering of data, analytics, software and services enables clients to optimize and execute their business vision with confidence.

        With over 4,300 employees in 39 offices around the world, at Nasdaq we all contribute to the success of the company and its culture, and each one of us has the ability to make a difference. When it comes to our core mission and values, we embrace the role of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging (DIB) as a fundamental driver of our corporate growth, workplace culture and market development. We strive to create a culture that embraces the power of different perspectives—a culture where people’s unique backgrounds and different experiences helps us fuel innovation and support our clients around the world.

        Our unique position at the center of the capital markets allows us to see firsthand how these values have redefined corporate culture and success, deepening and accelerating our own commitment to champion inclusive growth and prosperity, as we strive to create more equitable opportunities to help people of all backgrounds reach their full potential. Most notably, we published our diversity statistics for the first time in 2020. These metrics serve as a quantitative assessment of where we are today and help determine what strategies we need to adopt to enhance diversity in the workplace. We recognize that we have much work to do, but we are steadfast in our commitment to creating a diverse and inclusive culture—one that reflects the communities in which we live, allows all employees to be their true, authentic selves and fosters individual growth and achievement.

        As we move forward together, we will continue advancing diverse ideas and perspectives that help fulfill the promise of a more inclusive and prosperous world. We aim to set the pace for rethinking capital markets and economies anywhere and everywhere. To learn more about the company, technology solutions and career opportunities, visit us on LinkedIn, on Twitter @Nasdaq, or at www.nasdaq.com.

        Blue Lagoon
        - One of the 25 Wonders of the World

        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 2.000 meters within the earth where seawater and freshwater converge in a tectonic realm 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 two hotels, three restaurants, three
        geothermal lagoons, a subterranean spa, a renowned line of skin care, a thriving research center, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

        Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

        The 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

        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.

        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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            Dohop
            - get inspired
            Dohop

            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. “

            VSÓ Ráðgjöf

               

              VSÓ Ráðgjöf er alhliða ráðgjafar- og verkfræðifyrirtæki sem leggur áherslu á trausta og faglega þjónustu sem tryggir viðskiptavinum hagkvæmustu lausnir hverju sinni, skilar raunverulegum árangri og stuðlar að samkeppnisforskoti.  Á skrifstofum VSÓ í Reykjavík og í Noregi starfar yfir 80 manna samhentur hópur verkfræðinga og annarra tæknimenntaðra starfsmanna.

              Macland
              - for all your Apple needs
              Macland

              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.

              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

              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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