Álfur Birkir. Photo / Ragnar Visage.

“Our community has come to a strong place”

GayIceland sits down with Álfur Birkir, chairperson of Iceland’s National Queer Organization Samtökin ‘78 . It’s been a year since we last spoke, having recently been re-elected Álfur speaks to us about the challenge of tackling hate and about the top issues facing Iceland’s queer community.

GayIceland: What are currently the top issues facing Iceland’s National Queer Organization (Samtökin ‘78) and the queer community?

Álfur Birkir: “Sadly, today the top issue is hate. We’ve seen a rise in the last year but we are working to tackle that head on. We are hiring specialists to map the problem out and work on reducing hate proactively.

Since I last spoke to GayIceland, healthcare for trans people has come a long way but is still one of the biggest issues facing the community.

We have been pressing to shorten waiting lists, which are too long, for surgery, counselling and hormone treatment. We are seeing the fruits of our labour now, working with Trans Iceland.

Education is also one of the top issues. I’m very proud of our Youth Club and the extra funding that has been received that has allowed us to employ professional, paid staff as well as volunteers.

We are still helping asylum seekers and immigrants to go through the system, especially vulnerable people and people seeking asylum because of their queer identities.

We have been reaching more municipalities, in our education of primary school students and staff on queer issues. For the teachers, this is how to be open and supportive of queer students when they come out. For the students, it’s how to be open and supportive of their peers and help them identify themselves if they need to. And having them see and learn that not everyone’s the same and that not everyone fits in the cis-gender, heterosexual stereotypes and that is fine.

Our education with sports clubs has been very successful. We’ve given talks to nearly 30 sports clubs for trainers and coaches on loosening up and changing toxic changing room culture.”

“There is a special effort to shorten waiting lists for gender affirming care and there are a lot of positive signs in that. We could have never done this without Trans Iceland, the goodwill of people in healthcare and people using these services.”

GayIceland: How does Samtökin ’78 intend to tackle aforementioned issues?

Álfur Birkir: “Tackling hate is both long term and short term, it’s proactive and reactive. We will always have to be on our toes to react when these situations arise, especially in public discourse.

Proactively, we will need to create an environment in society, where this kind of hate speech and violence are handled professionally in the system. To find our strategy, we’ve hired a specialist to join us to create an action plan.”

GayIceland: Last time GayIceland interviewed you, you said that the Icelandic healthcare system needed a ‘Queer Eye’ makeover, referring to the long wait for gender affirming healthcare services. Have things changed in any way?

Álfur Birkir: “We have been making our case very firmly and they have been listening. There is a special effort to shorten waiting lists for gender affirming care and there are a lot of positive signs in that.

We could have never done this without Trans Iceland, the goodwill of people in healthcare and people using these services. This has been a huge group effort and I’m positive about the outcome.”

“There is some pushback as we know and as we feel but our community has come to a strong place, and we can’t be stopped so we will continue our good work,” says Álfur Birkir. Photo / Ragnar Visage

GayIceland: Last time you also mentioned to us that one of the biggest projects to work on would be asylum seekers. What has Samtökin ’78 managed to do to help?

Álfur Birkir: “The project of asylum seekers, especially queer asylum seekers in Iceland, is an ongoing process. Our main work continues to be support and aid, especially for asylum seekers with queer identities.

This is something that we need to continue to do. Of course it would be best if people could get proper care and help with their cases within the system, but sadly the system is not very friendly towards our people.”

GayIceland: Talking about asylum seekers, a new bill has come into law, one which is said to represent dangerous restrictions to the rights of asylum seekers in Iceland. What do you think of it?

Álfur Birkir: “I think the old law was not perfect, but this one does not improve on any of the points of the original law. In some cases it makes things worse.

I think it is actually quite horrifying to see how much support this law got. The effort that has been put into making this law and not others in congress is very strange. The same or similar bill has been proposed a few times and was finally accepted.

I commend all the people who have been fighting against it. I think we could have done a lot better with it.”

“Iceland will be hosting a conference this year,the Idahot conference. We have been doing a lot of good stuff and we can teach the world some best practice on that. But there are also a lot of things we can learn from them.”

GayIceland: Last time when we spoke to you, you pondered if Iceland and Samtökin ‘78 had really addressed and apologized for behavior during the HIV/AIDS epidemic. You also thought that now would be the time for this to be addressed. Where does that stand?

Álfur Birkir: “This is something I am still working towards but as you can imagine, it’s difficult territory. I really think this needs to be done properly.”

GayIceland: One of the biggest pressing issues facing Samtökin ’78 is a new home, since the organization has outgrown its space on Suðurgata. How is the search for housing going?

Álfur Birkir: “We spent most of last year searching for a new home, but the real estate market has been absurd. We don’t think a suitable space is going to be available soon, so we are making our own space better.

We’re renting out more rooms for counselling sessions and keeping our eyes open.”

GayIceland: What will be the first first matter you look into, now that you have been re-elected as chair of Samtökin ’78?

Álfur Birkir: “I would say the first matter would be to get our new board members organized and create a team.

We are an organization that will always have a lot of big balls in the air and a bunch of small ones as well. Right now, the biggest ball is hate and how to tackle that, but none of the other balls can be dropped. So trans healthcare, asylum seekers, counselling, education and the youth club will be on our agenda.”

GayIceland: What other pressing matters await?

Álfur Birkir: “Iceland will be hosting a conference this year, the Idahot conference. We have been doing a lot of good stuff and we can teach the world some best practice on that. But there are also a lot of things we can learn from them.

This kind of conference is a great place where we can focus better on some of the human rights that are integral to our work.”

We’ve had some good cooperation with our sister organizations in the Nordics, and we are sending an envoy to Nuuk Pride in Greenland in July. The Greenland queer organization has had its ups and downs and we are hoping to be able to reach out to them with help if they need it.”

GayIceland: Are you optimistic on behalf of the queer community in Iceland?

Álfur Birkir: “Yes I am. In all the broadest terms we are moving forward and we will continue to do that.

There is some pushback as we know and as we feel but our community has come to a strong place, and we can’t be stopped so we will continue our good work.

We have a very strong team, a very strong community and a very strong cause. We should never forget that strength comes for our community, as long as LGBTQIA+ people support each other.”

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


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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.



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    Omnom Chocolate
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