Photo / Eberhard Grossgasteiger, Unsplash

“We will not be put back in any closets”

The generation that was on the forefront of the fight queer rights is now retiring. But are the healthcare and retirement home systems ready for them?

When most people think of queer activism, they think of the forefront of LGBTQ+ issues and see young activists demanding change. Not many look to aging seniors and see them at the forefront of the discussion. That’s changing though with many in Iceland debating how we can best help queer senior citizens and the elderly. After all, this generation was at the forefront of the fight for queer rights in their day.

“Gay and Gray” homes

Now some of these activists, out and proud for years, are getting quieter when it comes to healthcare and retirement facilities. In shocking stories from the US and UK, some queer seniors have been forced back into the closet when going into a retirement home. The BBC’s Aiden Lewis interviewed American retiree Lucretia Kirby who had faced verbal and physical assault in a care home with her partner Sandra. After homophobic slurs and notes under their door, they moved into one of the US’s handful of LGBTQ+ retirement communities. There they found a welcoming environment.

Similar housing developments for queer seniors have popped up in Britain. Tonic Housing, a project funded with a loan from the mayor of London, is a company with 19 apartments on the River Thames “genuinely aimed at the needs and desires of LGBT+ people.” Other similar projects have been built in Stockholm and an entire village for queers 50+ exists in France.

In Spain, the “26th of December Foundation” was funded in 2018, promising Spanish retirees who grew up “under the torture of the Franco dictatorship” a place to live out their last days with other like-minded individuals. This video from PinkNews shows how the project is helping heal the past traumas of the residents and members of the foundation with help from a psychologist.

“It shouldn’t surprise us that we’re headed in this direction. Queer people get older just like everyone else.”

So could Iceland support one of these LGBTQ+ retirement homes Dubbed a trend called “Gay and Gray” these new housing projects mainly focus on the retiree aspect of elderly living, before assistance is needed on a daily basis. Although no project like this has cropped up in Iceland yet, there’s certainly been more discussion about the topic in general.

After surveys and reports from queer people across Europe, many social arms of European governments are working to solve these issues. Many queer retirees simply say that they’re worried about finding community and being open and proud in these living situations. Although many of them grew up at the forefront of civil rights change, not all of them were out and proud at the protests. To avoid the stress, loneliness, anxiety, and depression of “going back into the closet,” they’re asking for help from our leaders.

Netflix’s recent documentary A Secret Love covered the topic a bit, showing the story of lesbian couple Pat and Terry hiding their relationship for nearly their whole life. The pair began dating in 1947 when it wasn’t uncommon for police to raid lesbian bars, breaking up the underground and then illegal queer community. The documentary shows the couple’s struggle with trying to find a nursing home that would accept them, losing independence in old age, and Terry’s difficulties with Parkinson’s disease. We won’t spoil the ending here, but let’s just say this one’s a tear-jerker.

Reykjavik recognizes the problem

Ásgeir Helgi Magnússon, chair of this year’s Reykjavík Pride.

At Reykjavik Pride this year the theme for the festival was Queer of all ages. Ásgeir Helgi Magnússon, chairman of Hinsegin dagar 2021, mentioned in his letter to the community that “we have to make sure that those getting older can spend their senior years in pride and joy, that they can participate in queer social life; that they are not forced back into the closet due to a lack of understanding or poor conditions in our nursing homes and health institutions.”

Ásgeir’s sentiment matches the city of Reykjavik’s commitment to combating loneliness amongst the elderly and ensuring that vulnerable communities like LGBTQ+ folk and immigrants are taken care of properly. The city’s agenda for 2019 to 2022 includes items 54 and 55 “to take actions to break the social isolation of the elderly (paying special attention to e.g. queer senior citizens and immigrants)” and “securing the rights of queer elders.”

Luckily Svandís Anna Sigurðardóttir, a kiwi-Icelandic hybrid, is working on these issues and many others as fast as she can. Her work in the Reykajvik office of Human Rights and Democracy is to identify these issues and go into facilities to help. Some of her most recent work included helping schools better prepare for when a student is transitioning and publishing a wealth of materials for trans youth on the city’s website.

When asked about queer retirees and senior citizens, Svandís says the city is on it. “It shouldn’t surprise us that we’re headed in this direction. Queer people get older just like everyone else,” she says.

However, it’s a bit difficult to get into these facilities when a pandemic turns the residents inside into the most vulnerable population. In-person seminars, Svandís’ specialty, may have to wait for covid restrictions to loosen. “We just haven’t been able to enter these elderly care facilities in covid times. Of course, these are especially vulnerable places. So we’re not going in and talking to people directly with lectures, but this is something that’s on our agenda.”

If there wasn’t a global pandemic, Svandís says the best way to start this work is with the staff. Healthcare workers and employees in retirement homes are the biggest influence. “Those are the people that are employed by Reykjavik city. I always tailor workshops and training to the group I’m working with so they would get a slightly different version than teachers for example. That’s our first way of starting.”

Getting rainbow certified

Beyond workshops with the employees, public service organizations like these can also get involved with the rainbow certification process. “We are the ones that are following the human rights policy, we have the rainbow certification going on so that’s also something that these workplaces could apply for,” says Svandís. The certification scheme, based on work from the Human Rights Council, is aimed to “make Reykjavík City workplaces and services more LGBT+ friendly as well as to prevent direct and indirect discrimination.”

Svandís Anna Sigurðardóttir, from the Human Rights Office of Reykjavik.

The certification process includes questionnaires for administrators and directors to fill out, training for all employees that goes about four hours, surveys, and more. Svandís mentions that they even provide workplaces with physical materials like pamphlets, flags, and posters. The aim is to increase visibility so that when someone is coming in to apply for a job or using a service they can see something in the room that makes them feel comfortable enough to open up about their orientation or identity. This goes for every space from schools and retirement homes to swimming pools and libraries.

“So it’s about getting visibility in these institutions but not so that it’s just a rainbow sticker that they get and then “we’ll see what happens”,” Svandís explains. “They have to have a plan to back it up. You have to know how to answer questions and talk about these topics. These trainings are both to benefit the residents but also the staff themselves. We’ve got all types of people working there too so we can empower them in their positions as well. We want them to be comfortable, to know what the policies within the city are. They have a total right of being open or not about being queer and they should be able to seek help if they face prejudice,” she says.

Wait, this is *my* responsibility as a city employee?

With her work in the Human Rights & Democracy Office of Reykjavik, Svandís sees a lot of good intentions but not a lot of concrete action. For her, it’s obvious the general consensus in Iceland is that it’s this wonderful queer place to live and Pride is one big family-friendly event. That, however, doesn’t change the fact that not every person is supporting that mission with their day jobs. “It’s kind of in line with the stuff we hear like “Iceland is a nice queer-friendly place to live, we accept everyone,” but then in reality it’s like “oddly enough there are no queer people around me and we haven’t talked about it in the 20 years I’ve been working in the healthcare system”,” she mentions.

Is every employee expected to be a trained and certified rainbow ally? Well, actually, yes, kind of. Svandís says at the very least because they’re in public service as an employee of a government institution they should be. “A lot of the work we do within the city is about getting the point across that you as a big public institution, with power, have to be the one that takes the first step. It’s taxpayer money, we’re working for the people and that’s just with every institution. You have to be the one that starts building the bridge to a marginalized community that’s in a position of less power. You, as the city employee, have to start talking about this stuff, asking more open-ended questions, and asking the right kind of questions to make sure that people are able to be out and proud.”

Though it may seem like Svandís is expecting a lot from every firefighter, landscaper, and cafeteria cook, she says she has to push for these changes because most people don’t realize how they exclude others with their language or actions. For example, Svandís says she hears this rebuttal a lot. “Well no one’s ever mentioned this to me, so I’m not going to mention it.” Or: “do I have to mention [queer issues] if no one has even come out to me?”

Instead of complicated reactions to a queer resident or student, the Human Rights office is advocating for preventative and proactive measures before an issue arises. Increasing this education from the beginning also prevents staff and organizations from automatically implementing a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Where are all the queer Icelanders over 60?

One of the hardest parts about helping queer elders facing prejudice and oppression in the care system is that it’s incredibly difficult to find and quantify this group of people. There’s just not a lot of research and empirical data on how many older Icelanders identify as queer or how many of them have had issues connected to their sexuality, identity, and healthcare. Many of them also don’t use computers at all, so online surveys are null and void.

“We just don’t have a lot of data,” says Svandís. The lack of information to use becomes more apparent when it’s a minority within a minority too. “[A lack of data] is how it is in general for the queer community so if you’re going to go look for data on smaller subsets of the queer community like queer elderly, it’s even worse,” she says.

Since the city, community organizations, and everyday senior citizens are just starting to talk about this topic, there’s not a lot of experts or people leading the conversation. Svandís says “I went to a lecture last year on LGBT+ elders at the end of 2019. The documentary Svona Fólk had just aired and I was really excited to go to the lecture. Like ok, “what’s the situation, what data do they have?”

“You, as the city employee, have to start talking about this stuff, asking more open-ended questions, and asking the right kind of questions to make sure that people are able to be out and proud.”

Turns out, “the situation was pretty non-existent. There wasn’t a lot of information. The lecture was just kind of talking about and quoting the documentary. They meant well with this topic but there just wasn’t a lot of knowledge there, nothing from the Icelandic context. I was just disappointed because of course, I had seen this show already so I didn’t need to see the quotes up on slides,” she says.

Although it’s a lot of uncharted territory, Svandís is happy we are broaching the topic and trying to figure out what needs to change. “[Queer senior citizens] are entering into institutions and an area that hasn’t been very visibly and vocally queer or made queer for them. So far we haven’t associated a lot of queerness with the elderly and it’s a new area I’m glad we’re going into,” she says.

This article is brought to you by GayIceland and sponsored by the city of Reykjavík.

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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