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All About Gay Iceland

Gay & LGBTQ+ Travel, History, And Culture In Iceland

|June 15, 2023
Anhelina is a travel writer with over five years of experience specializing in Iceland. With a background in foreign languages and translation, she conducts in-depth research to provide readers with detailed insights into Iceland's landscapes, culture, and hidden gems.

Iceland is a popular travel destination among the LGBTQ+ community. Here’s a quick guide to gay Iceland, from gay rights to annual events and dating.


Hey there, fabulous travelers of the LGBTQ+ community! Are you ready to embark on an adventure to the land of ice and fire? Well, hold onto your hats because Iceland is calling, and in this article, we will dive headfirst into the vibrant world of gay culture! 

From breathtaking landscapes to inclusive communities, Iceland has all the ingredients for an epic LGBTQ-friendly getaway. So pack your rainbow gear and prepare for a journey you'll cherish forever.

Here’s a quick guide to gay Iceland, from gay rights to annual events and dating.

Is Iceland Gay Friendly?

Gay Pride in Reykjavik, Iceland

The short answer is “yes,” and the long answer is “yes, very.” Iceland is a country that has campaigned tirelessly for gay rights and has elected openly gay people to its highest positions in political office (more on that below).

For daily life, it’s a generally open-minded society, and it’s one of those unique countries where you would expect to see same-sex couples holding hands or kissing in public. The locals are not prudish about such things!

There is some speculation on how Iceland became so tolerant. Credit should go to the local gay rights movement, which worked for their community for decades. Additionally, some theorize that the country’s small size (population 330,000) helped: In a community this size, it’s statistically likely that an Icelander will have an openly gay friend or relative.

Tragically, no matter how tolerant a country becomes, there’s no guarantee you will not meet someone smallminded or problematic people on your travels. However, they represent a tiny minority in Iceland.

Because it’s such a gay-friendly country, Iceland is very popular with LGBTQ+ visitors.

Gay Rights In Iceland

Rainbow Road in Seyðisfjörður, Iceland

The Icelandic gay rights movement, propelled by the National Queer Organisation, has transformed Iceland into one of the most tolerant countries in the world.

Same-sex partnerships have been legally recognized here since 1996. This was extended to equal adoption and IVF rights for same-sex couples in 2006. Four years later, same-sex partnerships were legally recognized as marriages

In fact, Iceland is a rare country where the Church allows same-sex marriages within its institutions. The Church of Iceland declared this in 2015.

And, perhaps most famously, Iceland became the first country to elect an openly gay prime minister. Johanna Sigurdardottir served from 2009 to 2013.

Iceland also stands out for its progressive approach to transgender rights. “Trans Iceland”, established in 2007, is the sole organization in Iceland dedicated to advocating for and defending the rights of transgender individuals. Alongside other groups, they organize frequent gatherings and events, open to members, newcomers, allies, and visitors. Additionally, they commemorate the Transgender Day of Remembrance annually and actively participate in Reykjavík Pride.

In 2012 Iceland passed legislation that strengthened the legal status of transgender people, ensuring their equal treatment before the law. And in 2020, transgender people and genderqueer identity saw tremendous advances, with the formalization of name and identity-changing procedures, allowing individuals to choose a third gender option known as "X" on official documents.

These trailblazing steps acknowledge and respect the identities of transgender individuals, contributing to a society that values self-determination and supports the transgender community.

Gay History In Iceland

Milestones in Icelandic LGBTQ+ History

Iceland has come a long way in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. You can find little to no information about people being gay in Iceland before the 20th century. That is not to say that they didn't exist. It is just the lack of mentions.

Reykjavik Pride in Iceland

In 1924 a man was found guilty of sexual conduct with another man and was sentenced to eight months in a rehabilitation center. Those laws were abolished in 1940. The Stonewall Riot in 1969 sparked the fight in Icelanders, which still sits today.

The man who first openly spoke about being gay in Iceland was Hörður Torfason. He is an actor, singer, and songwriter who was already known in society by the time he came out. This was in the year 1975. 

Hörður has been quoted on the matter saying, “I felt someone needed to step forth publicly, so I came out on August 4, 1975, when an interview with me was published in a magazine”. The Icelandic society at this time was very square, and the word for being gay was to be a sexual deviant.

Being gay had actually been a crime at a certain period in Iceland, and those ideas lingered in people's opinions.

Before the interview, Hörður was a well-respected and famous artist, but overnight that all ended. He lost not only his job but also his home, and he couldn't find anywhere to stay, and people would even attack him in the streets, spit on him and yell gruesome things. 

At this point in time, Hörður was so down that he even thought about committing suicide, but eventually, this led him to flee to Denmark. Still, the activist in him lit the fire to fight, and he returned to form the organization which still exists today -  Samtökin ‘78 e. (The Organization of ‘78.)

Huge installation in Gay Pride, Reykjavik

Hörður had difficulty getting people to join the group but traveled wide and far around the country, simply showing up, playing, and trying to get people to ask and talk about being gay.

1996 – Iceland became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognize same-sex partnerships.

2000 – Gay People are legally allowed to adopt.

2006 – Starting from 27th June 2006, a series of laws in Iceland granted various rights to same-sex couples, such as access to IVF insemination treatment and the ability to jointly adopt children. Iceland has allowed stepchild adoption, which allows individuals to adopt their partner's biological child, since the year 2000.

2009 – Big steps were taken in the battle when Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir became the Prime Minister of Iceland in 2009, but she was not only the first female to take on this role in Iceland but also the first openly Gay Prime Minister in the world.

2010 – Iceland recognized same-sex marriage. People can get married, no matter the sex, and do not have to define it in the legal document.

2012 – Iceland passed a law that made it easier for people to be recognized and respected for their gender identity. People who wanted to change their official name and gender could go through a process where a committee would evaluate their situation. If approved, they could choose a new name and get a new ID, without needing to have surgery.

2015 – the Church of Iceland made a decision to permit the marriage of same-sex couples within its churches.

2020 Iceland implemented groundbreaking legislation that ensures that anyone can seek trans-related healthcare and change their name and gender on official documents without a medical diagnosis, and also allows people under 18 to do the same with the consent of legal guardians; additionally, the law allows individuals to choose a third gender option known as "X" on official documents.

Kiki gay bar in Reykjavik, Iceland

Political and Social Support

A crucial aspect of Iceland's thriving LGBTQ+ culture is the unwavering support from political leaders and the broader society. Political parties across the spectrum have been vocal advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, ensuring legislation that promotes equality and protection.

The country's Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, openly supports LGBTQ+ rights, and her government actively works towards furthering inclusivity. This political commitment is mirrored by a socially progressive population that embraces and celebrates diversity, making Iceland a truly welcoming destination for LGBTQ+ travelers.

Challenges and Ongoing Work

While Iceland has achieved remarkable progress in LGBTQ+ rights, challenges persist. As in any society, prejudice, and discrimination can still be encountered.

Today prejudice against gay is 99,9% non-existent in Iceland, but the fight continues for the rights of other minority groups that feel their voices are not being heard.

However, Iceland's commitment to education, awareness, and social acceptance continues to break down barriers. Organizations such as Samtökin '78, the national LGBTQ+ organization, actively advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and support the community.

Gay Pride In Iceland

Gay Pride in Iceland, or Reykjavík Pride, as it is officially called today, is a big event in the National Calendar. It is a celebration of love, diversity, happiness, and equality, and the people of Iceland take it very seriously. If you visit Iceland during the second weekend in August, add the Gay Pride Parade to your Iceland bucket list.

 

The Fabulous Reykjavík Pride

Reykjavík Pride is a spectacle you won't want to miss! The city bursts into a rainbow explosion of love, acceptance, and pure joy every August. Join thousands of LGBTQ+ locals and visitors marching through the streets, spreading love, glitter, and good vibes. 

This inclusive festival is a testament to Iceland's progressive spirit and the perfect place to make new friends, dance like nobody's watching, and let your rainbow flag fly high!

The first celebration of Gay Pride took place in 1999 when a queer weekend was celebrated. About 1,500 people showed up to take part, but a year later, when the first parade was orchestrated, the number was up to 15,000. Today the parade is an annual celebration awaited by many and is one of the best-attended festivals on the island.

Pride Celebration near Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavik

With such an open-minded society like Iceland, people are likelier to “come out,” and with such a small-knit community, everyone knows everyone. As a result, most people know someone who is gay, and through knowing, the prejudice disappears.

The Gay Pride parade usually starts at Hlemmur and goes down Laugarvegur to Arnarhóll, where a big concert is held a the square. Sitting on the Arnarshóll Hillside is your perfect spot to catch the best acts after following the parade down Iceland's main shopping street.

Facts About Gay Pride In Iceland

  • Jón Gnarr, former (straight!) mayor of Reykjavík, dressed in drag and participated in the parade when he was in office.

  • The Icelandic Gay Pride Festival is the only Gay Pride in the World where no one shows up to protest.

  • Iceland had the World's first openly Gay Prime Minister.

  • During Gay Pride, a part of the street Skólavörðurstígur, which leads from Hallgrímskirkja to Laugavegur, is painted in the Gay Flag Colors.

Laugavegur - the main shopping street in downtown Reykjavik

  • The parade gets bigger every year!

  • Kiki is the most famous Gay Club in Iceland.

  • The Icelandic word for Gay is Samkynhneigður.

Gay Reykjavík

Kiki Bar in Reykjavik

When it comes to gay-friendly cities, Reykjavík is a sparkling jewel in Iceland's crown. This charming capital has a thriving queer scene that's bound to leave you starry-eyed. 

Start your explorations in the trendy neighborhood of Laugavegur, where you'll find rainbow flags waving proudly, lively explicitly gay bars, and eclectic shops during Gay Pride. Don't miss the chance to get out there during Reykjavík Pride, a colorful celebration that turns the entire city into one giant party!

Because our capital city is very gay-friendly, there is no specified gay district and relatively few explicitly gay bars. This reflects the city’s safety and the country’s tolerant attitudes toward their LGBT friends and family.

LGBT patrons can safely enjoy a drink in any bar or area in the capital. That said, Kiki is the most popular gay bar, and Curious is a relatively new café/bar/club on the scene.

Gay Events And Festivals In Iceland

As you might expect, in one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, the events calendar is quite busy, with gigs and parties throughout the year and multi-day festivals year-round.

Below is a sample of the gay events in Iceland, but because so many new ones keep popping up, we’d recommend you do a little additional research closer to your visit.

Reykjavik Pride

People celebrating a Pride Parade in Iceland

A tradition since 1999, Gay Pride has grown in scale, attendance, and duration every year since its inception. Now it’s internationally famous, with a third of the country’s population attending and a range of mini-events spanning a few days.

Bears On Ice

Bears on Ice event in Blue Lagoon, Iceland

This men-only event tends to take place in autumn. It lasts a weekend, and a typical Bears on Ice includes a welcome party, a main party, some day trips, and a farewell brunch (always bittersweet!). This fall event is mainly aimed at tourists, attracting visitors from all over the world.

Rainbow Reykjavík Winter Pride Festival

Rainbow Reykjavik Winter Pride is a small but highly anticipated festival that offers an incredible winter getaway in Iceland. Over three days, with a mix of activities including waterfall visits, geyser explorations, and tectonic plate encounters, attendees can also enjoy the most popular party of the season, delightful comedy and singing performances, exciting experiences, world-class cuisine, and rejuvenating geothermal baths.

Rainbow Road in Reykjavik city center

RuPaul's Drag Race

The iconic TV show has had numerous contestants visit Iceland for gigs over the years, including Willam, who has also acted in Nip/Tuck and Sex and the City; famous queen Detox; and Alaska, a winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars. We welcome every one of these fabulous visits, and we don’t expect it to end any time soon.

Gay Dating In Iceland

Iceland’s gay dating scene is fun and vibrant, if (inevitably) limited by its population size.

Tinder and Grindr are popular in Iceland. The only disadvantage is that there aren’t as many people as in most other countries. Since the country has such a small population, that means the scene is also relatively small.

So, you might see the same faces again and again if you’re dating for a while in Iceland! Like many countries, the biggest gay scene is in the capital city. And, since the population can be sparse outside of Reykjavik, you may not see as many same-sex couples beyond the capital.

Famous Gay Icelanders

  • Hörður Torfason – Activist and Performer

  • Jóhanna Sigurðarsdóttir – Former Prime Minister

  • Páll Óskar – Singer and Performer

  • Friðrik Ómar – Singer and Performer

  • Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson – Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources

  • Ingileif Friðriksdóttir – Lawyer, Instagram Celebrity, Singer, and Show Host

  • Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir – Founder and School Principal for Hjallastefnan, a groundbreaking Kindergarten in Iceland

  • Felix Bergsson – Performer and Actor

  • Haffi Haffi – Singer

  • Bergþór Pálson – Singer and Actor

What Are You Waiting For?

We love our LGBT friends and family in Iceland, whether they’re locals or one of the thousands of visitors we welcome yearly. And we hope one day that you’ll be one of them!

So, fellow adventurers, grab your passport, pack your sparkly attire, and prepare for an Icelandic journey that will fill your heart with love, laughter, and memories to last a lifetime.

Embrace your true colors, and let Iceland shower you with warmth and inclusivity. And remember to keep unleashing your pride wherever you go!

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