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Short history of LGBTI rights in Iceland

In Iceland we use the word hinsegin as a direct translation of the word queer. The word is used in the same way we use LGBTI and so you might see the word queer more than you are used to. For Icelandic LGBTI people the word queer/hinsegin is an inclusive umbrella term that we have fought to reclaim – and we love it!


Want to know more (briefly) about our queer history? It’s a fun read so come along!

Even though we assume queer people have lived and loved in Iceland since the first settlement we have very little information about their history. Samtökin ‘78 was founded in 1978 but until then gay and lesbian people in Iceland met in small groups in secret and many moved to other countries where it was easier to meet other queer people.. Copenhagen was one of the more popular destinations.

1975 Hörður Torfason (b. 1945), a thirty year old singer songwriter and celebrity in Iceland is the first person to publicly come out as gay in an interview in a local magazine. His candid interview started a new conversation in Iceland – and many were not happy about it. He was forced to leave the country for a few years, for his own safety.

1978 On May 9th 1978 a group of 12 gay men, headed by Hörður Torfason founded Samtökin ‘78. Samtökin has from the very start been the leading force in Icelandic human rights advocacy for LGBTI people.

In the first manifesto the men stated: “We, gays and lesbians in Iceland, wish to share information with homosexual individuals, enabling them to better understand themselves as well as strengthening their personal position. We wish to share information about our circumstances with the community at large, so that people may gain an understanding of our situation, as a normal part of society. We wish to have equal rights, in ethical and legal matters, without prejudice or privilege.”

1980 Samtökin ‘78 held educational meetings for teenagers in schools after teachers and students had requested them. This was of course very controversial. 

1982 The first queer publication in Iceland was born when Samtökin ‘78 published a magazine called Out From Hiding. The issues were five in total and were published in the years 1982-1985

1982 It was early days for Samtökin ‘78. 1982 was not just the year queer people published their first magazine, it was also the year the first open dance was held. It was a media sensation and a few members got expelled from Samtökin for allowing members of the press to take photographs at the dance. 

1983 The year HIV came to Iceland. It would wreak havoc in the gay community in Iceland for the next decade and leave a lasting wound.

1983 is also the year the first interview with a lesbian couple was published in a local newspaper. The article was called “Lilja and Lára: Women who love each other”. The interview was shocking to many but at least Icelanders now knew that lesbians existed!

1989 Six years after the first lesbians spoke out on a public platform a woman became the Chair of Samtökin ‘78 for the first time. Lana Kolbrún Eddudóttir (b. 1965) is to this day the youngest person of any gender to be Chair of Samtökin.

1993 The first lesbian and gay march in Iceland was held by Samtökin ‘78. The march was named the freedom march. Only a few dozen took part but it was the first step. 

1993 was also a year of turmoil for Samtökin ‘78 that had until that time been called “Samtökin ‘78 – gay and lesbian association” but that year a group of bisexuals wanted to have their identity added to the name. This was not supported and eventually another organisation was formed that included bisexual people. This new organisation was active for only a few years but brought important visibility to bisexual people in Iceland.

1994 The second gay and lesbian march in Iceland. This time Samtökin ‘78 joined forces with the new bisexual inclusive organisation and around 70 people attended. Five years would pass until queer people in Iceland would hold their next pride event.

1996 For years Samtökin ‘78 had battled to gain legal rights in Iceland. After years of struggle, finally the first real victory was won. People in same-sex relationships could get their relationship officiated at the Districts Commissioners Office. 

That very day four same-sex couples were publicly married in a common law marriage and a big celebration was held að the Reykjavík City Theatre where Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, then president of Iceland*, came to celebrate. Never before in history had a head of state attended a public LGBTI reception

* Vigdís Finnbogadóttir was also the first woman in the world to be democratically elected as president, voted into office in 1980.

1999 To mark the 30 year anniversary of the Stonewall riots Samtökin ‘79 held a celebration in the heart of Reykjavík. Around 1500 people attended the festivities which was held downtown Reykjavík. The number of people that attended the celebration of queerness told the community that now was the time to go even bigger!

2000 After the success of the previous year a few people in the community got together and formally founded Reykjavík Pride. 

The first Reykjavík Pride was held under the name Gleðigangan that in English would be The Parade of Joy. This was an enormous success. Some 5000 people came to celebrate and cheer the queer community on. Many have since said it was the moment the LBGTI community in Iceland knew that the people in Iceland were on their side. 

2006 The Icelandic adoption laws were finally amended. Now people of any sexual orientation could apply to adopt. Happy news for many.

2007 The year 2007 was the year the organisation Trans Ísland (Trans Iceland) was founded. That same year the law of Samtökin ‘78 was changed to include both trans people and bisexual people formally and the name of Samtökin was changed to Samtökin ‘78 – national queer organisation.

2009 Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir (b. 1942) became the first openly gay head of state in the world when she became the prime minister of Iceland. She is an inspiration and an amazing role model and in 2021 Samtökin ‘78 awarded her with the Samtökin’s highest Badge of Honour as a token of our respect and appreciation. 

2010 The year same sex couples were legally allowed to be married in the national church. Well, almost all of them anyway since for the next five years priests had the right to refuse to marry same sex couples on account of their conscience. 

2012 Samtökin ‘78 became an umbrella organisation as well as members based NGO. The organizations that came under the umbrella that first year were Trans Iceland and Reykjavík Pride. Today 14 organisations work together under the umbrella, including Trans Iceland, Intersex Iceland and Reykjavík Pride.

2016  Controversy on how wide the Samtökin ‘78 umbrella should be arose yet again in 2016, when BDSM Iceland applied to become an interested organisation under the umbrella and was accepted after a heated discussion.     

2019 The Gender Autonomy Act passed in Iceland (with later changes), allowing easier access to legal gender recognition for trans people (including non-binary people), bodily autonomy for intersex people and better access to gender affirming care for all. 

2021 It is our pride and privilege to say that of the 63 members elected to the parliament, five are openly gay, lesbian or bisexual. 

2023 At the same time as queer rights are being targeted by politicians around the world with conservative, right wing rhetoric the Icelandic Parliament sent out a strong, important message this spring that almost unanimously approved a bill that bans conversion therapy for queer people.