Hafdís Erla Hafsteinsdóttir. Photo / Kristinn Ingvarsson

Learning from the past: A look at the HIV/AIDS Epidemic in Iceland

A PhD student in History working on a research paper on the AIDS epidemic in Iceland has made interesting findings. GayIceland speaks to Hafdís Erla Hafsteinsdóttir about her research and discoveries.

The AIDS epidemic began more than 40 years ago and still continues to be something many of us can learn from today. HIV/AIDS remains a significant global health issue, underscoring the importance of continuous research, education and awareness efforts.

Historian Hafdís Erla Hafsteinsdóttir (she/her) has been working on a research paper looking at the AIDS epidemic in Iceland.

The epidemic has taught us about the vital role of early detection and treatment, the need for comprehensive and inclusive public health strategies, and the power of stigma in hindering these efforts. Furthermore, it has shown the critical importance of global cooperation in combating health crises. As such, while we have come a long way since the onset of the AIDS epidemic, there is still much to learn and apply from our ongoing battle against this disease.

There are few, if any places on Earth that don’t have some kind of connection to this global health issue, including Iceland. The first case of HIV in Iceland was reported around 40 years ago and although the population of Iceland is small, the impact of the epidemic was still evident.

Often when we tell and hear stories about HIV/AIDS, we tend to focus on larger, Anglo-Saxon countries like the USA, the UK and Australia; but the reaches of HIV/AIDS don’t really know the bounds of national borders. In Iceland, there are many worthwhile experiences, stories and lessons from the epidemic that can inform us and teach us and one particular resident is looking into exactly this. Hafdís Erla Hafsteinsdóttir (she/her) was born and raised in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavík. She is a historian by trade with a special focus on 20th Century history, specifically gender history and the history of sexualities.

Hafdís has been working on a research paper looking at the AIDS epidemic in Iceland and GayIceland was lucky enough to sit down with this busy PHD candidate to find out more.

GayIceland: What is your research paper specifically about?

Hafdís: “The short answer is that it’s about the AIDS epidemic in Iceland. The slightly longer answer is that the research paper is looking at how the discourse on AIDS in Iceland was created and maintained.

To give some examples; throughout the AIDS epidemic, many words were used in Iceland to describe it like; kynvillingaplága (sodomy plague), eyðni (destruction) and alnæmi (omni-sensitivity), each of those words encompasses a different reality.

Kynvillingaplága is an attempt to create a group of outsider deviants. Eyðni is a panic word, designed to create and maintain fear; while the term alnæmi seeks to establish a more neutral meaning by using terms generally considered neutral or even positive such as ‘sensitivity’ to name the disease.

Discourse on AIDS had a huge influence on the reactions of the public towards the disease. Those who saw AIDS primarily as a “sodomy plague” threatening to destroy the world advocated for harsh measures such as a homosexual registry, isolation and the imprisonment of “irresponsible” people. Those who saw AIDS as a viral disease rather than a moral contamination were more likely to advocate for preventive measures such as sex-education, condom usage to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

GayIceland: Why did you feel you needed to do this research?

Hafdís: “I’ve been doing various research and projects in the field of what we can call “queer history” for the past seven years. Very early on it became clear to me that much research was needed on the AIDS epidemic in Iceland because little or no historical research had been done on it, especially its early years.

I was aware beforehand of the hostility from the media towards AIDS and those infected, but I was taken back by the blatant continuous misinformation and homophobia and how certain media outlets unashamedly continued to create fear and hatred and even took pride in doing so.

On a more personal note, when I took my first steps in the queer community in the 00s, I noticed how little space was given to the AIDS pandemic. When it came to celebrations of legal milestones such as ein hjúskaparlög (marriage equality) in 2010 which often required reflection upon history, it sometimes felt as if the AIDS epidemic had hardly happened; it was reflected upon through personal tragedies rather than something that effected the community as a whole, which is a bit of a sad detour from progress.”

GayIceland: Is there anything in your research that has surprised you?

Hafdís: “I was aware beforehand of the hostility from the media towards AIDS and those infected, but I was taken back by the blatant continuous misinformation and homophobia and how certain media outlets unashamedly continued to create fear and hatred and even took pride in doing so (Yes, DV* I am referring to you!).”

*For readers based outside of Iceland, DV is an Icelandic news publication; during the AIDS epidemic it was the most read and trusted news source in the country with a 64% readership.

I do not want Aids-bread.
Public anxieties regarding Aids took on many forms. Not surprisingly for Iceland, many people were concerned about the safety of the public pools. This particular reader however was furious over the fact that a HIV positive person was employed in a bakery and called for the removal of all HIV positive people from the food industry. Such outcries were common in the media even though means of infection were well known.

Hafdís: “In the face of such an abundance of hate, the silence of the silent majority becomes very loud. But on a more positive note, the research also gives me an opportunity to explore how AIDS forced individuals and institutions to confront their own homophobia and slowly begin to change their attitudes, policies and opinions.”

GayIceland: How was the AIDS epidemic different in Iceland to larger countries like the USA or the UK?

Hafdís: “Part of the grand narrative of the AIDS epidemic in the US and UK is that it led to increased hostility between the state and LGBT+ organisations. The mentality of the Thatcher/Regan era created a polarisation. It was a bit different in this part of the world; in Iceland and the Nordics in general, the opposite development occurred. The AIDS epidemic brought the state and LGBT+ organisations closer together, established a channel of communication which started to yield important legal reforms in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is a good (and important) reminder that when we look back at the past of this epidemic, there tends to be a dominance of the English-speaking, Anglo-Saxon queer experience of it; but there were many different experiences happening all over the world.”

Before AIDS, Iceland hadn’t really taken any steps towards the legal and social status of homosexual people.

GayIceland: Are there any interesting things you discovered in your research?

Hafdís: “Yes! I have found that there was a direct connection between the AIDS epidemic and citizenship. The epidemic revealed the marginalisation of gays and lesbians. (Unfortunately, at the time, trans people and bisexuals were still on the fringes of the community, so their experiences didn’t receive the same attention. Trans people were invisible and bisexual males were commonly seen as closeted gays and a potential for cross contamination between homosexuals and heterosexuals.) Basically, people within the queer community were well-aware of AIDS but the government hadn’t really engaged with them before. To put it simply, the government wanted to control the epidemic and in order to “control the gays,” they first needed to admit that gay people existed and that they were citizens of Iceland who deserved the same protections from an epidemic as everyone else. At the time, Iceland differed greatly from the other Nordic countries who, in very simple terms, were a little bit further ahead in their ways of thinking. Before AIDS, Iceland hadn’t really taken any steps towards the legal and social status of homosexual people.”

No surveillance over Aids patients
“The news paper DV and the journalist Eiríkur Jónsson played a crucial role in escalating the Aids panic in Iceland. The yellow press fed off posting sensational headlines calling for increased surveillance, isolation and even imprisonment of what they deemed as “irresponsible” aids patients,” says Hafdís Erla.

GayIceland: What impact has this period of time in Icelandic history had on the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in Iceland today?

Hafdís: “Words cannot begin to describe the impact on those who lost their loved ones, family members and friends. The way I see it, it is a generational trauma but also an enormous (albeit overlooked) catalyst of change. We also must not forget that AIDS is not over, or done.”

GayIceland: There was recently a memorial where the prime Minister apologised for the treatment of AIDS victims and their families back in the day; but was that enough? There has been an ongoing discussion for some time that the government should publicly apologise. What are your thoughts on that?

I believe that any dialogue about AIDS should be led by those who survived the epidemic and in the memory of those who didn’t.

Hafdís: “Public apologies can be a double edged sword. They can easily turn into hollow words used to keep sweeping an uncomfortable past under the rug. But they can also be meaningful. I believe that any dialogue about AIDS should be led by those who survived the epidemic and in the memory of those who didn’t.”

GayIceland: When do you expect to finish your research paper and publish all the findings?

Hafdís: Laughs. “Do not ask a striving PhD student that question!!!”

Á. Óskarsson
Á. Óskarsson

Á. Óskarsson offers a variety of products and services to sports centers, swimming pools, schools, kindergartens, and the general public. The company specializes in sport-related products, activity-focused games, and a wide range of solutions for sports facilities.

Á. Óskarsson has been involved in numerous big projects related to building sports facilities and has made it their benchmark to offer good quality products and equipment since the company was founded.

See links to social media in the upper left-hand corner


Á. Óskarsson selur fjölbreytt vöruúrval fyrir íþróttahús, sundlaugar, skóla og leikskóla og einnig ýmsar vörur til einkaafnota. Fyrirtækið selur vörur til íþróttaiðkunnar og leikja ásamt því að bjóða upp á ýmsar lausnir fyrir íþróttamannvirki.

Á. Óskarsson hefur komið að fjölda stórra verkefna við byggingu íþróttamannvirkja og hefur frá stofnun kappkostað að bjóða vandaðar og endingargóðar vörur.

Tenglar á samfélagsmiðla eru í efra horninu vinstra megin.



    Blush was founded in 2011 when it started selling high quality sex products. The goal from the beginning was to change the market and take the discussion about sex products to a higher level. Today Blush provides professional services in a pleasant environment that fulfills different needs, both for individuals and couples. Blush respects diversity and wants to set a good example in all of its messaging to target audiences. Sexual health and equality in sex is important and Blush wants to focus on those issues through education and open discussion. Blush works in a socially responsible manner for society, their customers and the environment.

    Check out Blush’s website: https://blush.is/

    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.




        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.

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        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
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        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.

        - leading financial institution

        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.

        - get inspired

        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.

          - for all your Apple needs

          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.

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          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.

          Contact Us

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