Ragnhildur Sverrisdóttir

New LGBT+ group: “Counting on all 60+ to show up”

In a first-of-its-kind event last January, Samtökin ’78 hosted a casual happy hour meetup at Aldamót bar in Reykjavik, specifically tailored for members of the LGBT+ community aged 60 and above. We caught up with Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir, the project manager of this initiative, and spoke with Ragnhildur Sverrisdóttir, one of the participants, to get a closer look at this crucial gathering that ultimately led to the decision to create an association for seniors.

GayIceland: “What is the main purpose of the meeting for senior LGBT+ individuals, and what benefits does it bring to the community?”

Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir, the project manager of this initiative and former chair of The National Queer Organization, Samtökin ’78. Photo / Ragnar Visage

Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir: “The main purpose of the meeting for senior LGBT+ people is simply to provide a platform for social interaction, for people to come together in a welcoming space. Gatherings of this type might strengthen friendships that already exist, but also create a space where people that don’t have many connections to the LGBT+ community can come and meet others that share a similar experience. A strong senior community benefits us all, and I’m very excited to see what this will bring about.

GayIceland: “(If) What challenges do you face in organizing a gathering specifically for senior members of the LGBT+ community?”

Þorbjörg: “I guess the challenge is mostly reaching people and letting them know about the gathering. We aim to do this regularly – our next event is 14 February – and hopefully this will help with the promotion. For the first one we advertised on the radio as well as on Facebook, and also simply let people know with personal outreach. We are mindful of the fact that many people in this age group dislike the word ‘hinsegin’ (queer) and also that some harbor old or new grievances towards Samtökin. However, we want everyone to feel welcome. Our community is diverse in almost every way possible and there must be room for disagreement sometimes.”

 Gatherings of this type might strengthen friendships that already exist, but also create a space where people that don’t have many connections to the LGBT+ community can come and meet others that share a similar experience.

GayIceland: “What is the main purpose of the meeting for LGBT+ 60+ individuals, how was the idea born and what benefits does it bring to the community and participants?”

Ragnhildur Sverrisdóttir: “I believe Samtökin 78 have pondered for quite some time how they can reach out to elderly LGBTQ+, the people who started the organisation, the first openly out and proud group. We know that not all activities are appealing to elderly people but we also know that this group still needs the friendship and closeness that formed their group to begin with. And we know that as you grow older you face new challenges.

Last November there was a high-level meeting in Reykjavik, held by Nordic Information on Gender, where academics and specialists from the Nordic countries met to discuss the challenges facing elderly LGBTQ+ people in those countries. The focus point of the meeting was a new report on the interaction of older LGBTQ+ people with health care and social care in the Nordic countries (The English version is available here).

Iceland had representatives at this meeting and the report – even though it did not rely on data from Iceland as such data is not available – struck a chord. We knew that Icelandic elderly LGBTQ+ would most likely be facing all the same challenges as their peers in the other Nordic countries and so speculations about the need to get the group together started again.”

GayIceland: “Are there specific topics or activities that are particularly important for people 60+ in our community?”

Ragnhildur: “I‘m sure there are many issues. What we are focusing on now is the interaction with social care and health care. And housing! Growing old with dignity and queerness intact! The elderly LGBTQ+ in Iceland are the very first generation of out and proud queers. We didn‘t have many role-models when we were coming out of the closet and we don‘t have role-models on how to grow old as queers. But what we have in common is the fear of being pushed back into the closet by a system that hardly acknowledge old straight people as sexual beings, let alone us queers.

Old people who need healthcare and social services are being pushed back into the closet. If it happens in the other Nordic countries – who all have a longer history than us on fighting for queer rights – it is happening here.

We don‘t look forward to living in a nursery home where we will meet the homophobic enemies of our past. We do not trust the words of well-meaning directors of nursery homes who assure us that there is no prejudice among the people working there, without even considering educating their people on the realities of being queer. We fear that some of us will give up after having to „explain“ us to the 20th member of staff that month. Old people who need healthcare and social services are being pushed back into the closet. If it happens in the other Nordic countries – who all have a longer history than us on fighting for queer rights – it is happening here.”

GayIceland: “What are your plans for expanding and continuing such meet-ups?”

Ragnhildur: “Samtökin´78 and their great project manager Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir, organised the first meeting and I‘m sure they will continue to support the group.
There has just been this one meeting so far. It was a nice get-together at a quiet bar and it was great to see all the familiar faces. All who attended agreed that we should start a more formal group and perhaps see if it benefitted us to work with other organisations for elderly people. But nothing was really decided that evening.”

“The queer community is my community, the place where I can breathe deeply. I recommend it,” says Ragnhildur Sverrisdóttir.

GayIceland: “Do you collaborate with other organisations or institutions to support 60+ queers?”

Ragnhildur: “We are planning on meeting again on Valentine‘s Day, February 14th. The perfect day for us old romantics! Hopefully that will be the day we found our new organisation. And I‘m counting on all 60+ to show up.”

GayIceland: “Are you planning any educational components or resources provided during these meetings or is it just pure joy and fun?”

Ragnhildur: “There will always be fun and joy, we need that. But I believe what is pushing us together now is the reality we are facing as we grow old. We need to support each other. Many have no immediate family and have always relied on their chosen family. That chosen family will not fail them now. It never has.”

We are planning on meeting again on Valentine‘s Day, February 14th. The perfect day for us old romantics! Hopefully that will be the day we found our new organisation. And I‘m counting on all 60+ to show up.

GayIceland: “How do you promote and encourage participation among senior members who may be more reserved or hesitant?”

Ragnhildur: “Our small community should make it easier for us to find each other. I don‘t think that people are hesitant to show up for a meeting like this. I think in many cases they are just set in their ways, they may have drifted away from the queer community with age and don‘t realize the need to come back. I can relate, I was hardly there for many years. But I came back and it has given me so much. The queer community is my community, the place where I can breathe deeply. I recommend it! So come back home, all you oldies!”

GayIceland: “What are the future plans and aspirations for the senior-focused initiatives within the LGBT+ community?”

Ragnhildur: “We need to form that together. But I believe the great underlying need is to grow old while being queer, not grow old and lock that essential part of us in the closet.”

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