Iceland is LGBTQAI+ Friendly
At first glance, Iceland might not seem the obvious choice for LGBTQAI+ travellers. You never hear about a Reykjavik queer district. Iceland’s beaches are more known for their volcanic sand than Speedo wearing gay men. However, this island in the middle of the North Atlantic is one of the world’s safest and most welcoming places for queer residents and tourists alike.
The Icelandic laws are LGBTQAI+ friendly
The Icelandic government passed legislation in 1996 to create registered partnerships for same-sex couples. It granted them nearly all the same rights and benefits of marriage. Ten years later, parliament voted unanimously to give same-sex couples the same rights as heterosexual ones in adoption, parenting and assisted insemination treatment. In 2010, the parliament amended the marriage laws and made them gender-neutral, defining marriage as between two individuals. Thus, Iceland became one of the first countries to legalize same-sex marriages.
One year before, MP Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir of the Social Democratic Party became the world’s first openly LGBTQAI+ head of government.
LGBTQAI+ Equality Laws
Discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression is illegal in almost every aspect of public life. However, transgender and Intersex Icelanders were left behind for far too long. In 2019 a law was passed that allows transgender Icelanders the right to change their name and gender in the National Registry, without requiring medical documentation. This process does cost money; however, recently, a fund that helps low-income trans and non-binary folk pay for this was established. This 2019 law also guarantees legal access to transition-related health care following the informed consent model. This includes children from age 15, as long as they have parental approval.
Unfortunately, the National Hospital has not always provided the necessary transition care recently, as many providers are leaving for more lucrative private practice. Non-binary, genderqueer, and intersex Icelanders can also choose a neutral gender marker option in the National Registry.
Icelandic Name Laws
The world-famous tongue twister Icelandic Naming Committee (Mannanafnanefnd) recently okayed using the linguistically gender-neutral names Regn (Rain) and Frost. However, the government has already removed the legal restrictions around gendered names. Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir submitted a bill at the end of 2020 to protect children born with atypical sex characteristics from medically unnecessary and/or non-consensual surgery. It was approved.
Updates on the Icelandic queer vernacular with new translations and words are frequent and necessary. Icelandic is a heavily gendered language, so adding new non-binary pronouns is essential for complete equality.
The Rainbow street Skólavörðustígur
Don’t be afraid of public displays of affection
Don’t be afraid to knúsast (embrace each other)
Public displays of affection between LGBTQAI+ couples is not frowned upon and is common in Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik. Holding your partner’s hand whilst walking down Skólavörðustígur- that rainbow-painted street near Reykjavik’s iconic Hallgrimskirkja- makes for a great photo opportunity!
The town of Seyðisfjörður, in the East Fjords about 8 hours from Reykjavik, is also home to a painted rainbow street. Seyðisfjörður is regarded as one of Iceland’s most picturesque settlements. Its Regnbogavegur is one of its most popular tourist attractions.
Show Your Pride!
Iceland’s main Pride festival is held in the capital in August when the sunlight seems to last all day. August is one of the dryer months in Reykjavik. It is still important to remember that the weather sometimes seems to change every five minutes all year round. So, remember your warm and waterproof clothing regardless of the month. Don’t be caught off guard when a sunny day suddenly turns to rain that hits you sideways. The wind can leave you breathless.
Reykjavik Pride is held rain or shine in the second week of August.
Pride is known locally as Hinsegin Dagar, which translates to ‘Queer Days’. The festival includes everything from LGBTQAI+ themed movies, concerts, and drag shows, to more serious forums on school safety and racial equality within the queer movement. There have been several specifically trans-themed events in recent years, and hopefully, this programming continues to expand. For many, the festival’s highlight is the Reykjavik Pride Parade in downtown Reykjavik on Saturday. This event frequently draws crowds of up to 100,000. With Iceland’s total population equalling around 370,000, that’s quite a phenomenal display of support for the LGBTQAI+ community!
Many of the festival events are super family-friendly, and you will see lots of queer families and children participating in the fun. In the past, there has also been a unique Rainbow festival at Reykjavik Park and Zoo. Allowing LGBTQAI+ families to meet each other while visiting this well-loved local attraction.
More LGBTQAI+ friendly times
In recent years Pride festivals have also taken place in smaller towns all over the country. So, don’t be surprised if you see rainbow flags or small parades in the remotest of Icelandic towns. Pride isn’t just for the summer either. The Rainbow Reykjavik Winter Festival is a February/March event hosted by the folks at Pink Iceland. It offers an opportunity for a long weekend of city walks, parties, and drag shows along with out-of-town excursions soaking at the Blue Lagoon or hunting for the Northern Lights.
Reykjavik Bear, formally known as Bears on Ice, brings Bears and Bear-attracted men from all around the world together for a fun-filled weekend in the early autumn. This year it’s pencilled in for September 1-4.
LGBTQAI+ visitors are welcome anywhere
LGBTQAI+ visitors will be welcomed anywhere. It’s not necessary to seek out exclusively queer bars, clubs, or hotels to be your authentic self. However, Reykjavik has some really great queer venues, like the world-famous Kiki Bar, located on Laugavegur.
At Cafe Babalú, on Skólavörðustígur, you can enjoy American refreshments and good people until 11 pm every night. If you are looking for live music, poetry, and a drag show check out Þjóðleikhúskjallarinn in the basement of the National Theatre!
Outside of the capital area, there are no LGBTQAI+ bars or clubs. However, libraries, coffee shops and art galleries hold queer-focused events regularly.
Connect with LGBTQAI+ locals
In recent years LGBTQAI+ organizations have been forming all around Iceland. However, the National Queer Organization ( Samtökin 78) is well-known and respected countrywide. S’78, and its various affinity groups, including Trans Ísland for transgender folk, also provide training for employers, schools, hospitals, etc. S’78 also hosts many open houses and events in Reykjavík that always welcome tourists. They are typically announced via the Organization’s Facebook page.
If you want to meet local queer women, the Hinsegin Ladies Group also holds (monthly) social events that every woman-loving woman is welcome to attend. Even those visiting for just a few days.
The Icelandic Aro-Ace Community also regularly has meetings and meet-ups. We recommend checking out their Facebook page to see what’s going on.
What are you curious about?
We can say much more about visiting Iceland as an LGBTQAI+ tourist. Still, we hope this has sparked your curiosity about visiting us! Let us know what you are interested in learning more about and what information we can share about queer life here.
We look forward to welcoming you soon! We recommend your first stop to be our Iceland walking tour, called a Walk With a Viking.