A Warm Welcome in Iceland

By Travis Ferland

It was still dark when we arrived in Reykjavik around 9:00am, two days after Christmas.  We soon learned that during Iceland’s winter, the sun rises around 11:30am, and sets at 4:00pm.  Overwhelmed by lack of sleep, lack of sunlight, and jetlag, we decided to nap – and woke in the afternoon.  We had already missed half the day!

My friend and I pulled ourselves together and ventured out into the cold.  It was snowing hard – enormous wet flakes fell upon us and filled the city with white fluff –  a true winter wonderland. We meandered around the streets of Reykjavik soaking up the city’s warm and inviting atmosphere.  Despite the weather, we started to enjoy ourselves.

A glimpse of snow-covered Reykjavik on a winter's day.

A glimpse of snow-covered Reykjavik on a winter’s day.

We stayed out late that first night, enjoying drinks and meeting wonderful people.  Iceland is a global leader in LGBT rights, with full equality for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people – but I was still struck by the degree of acceptance.  You see, I was traveling with a longtime friend from university who is straight.  We visited both straight and gay establishments – and it was impressive to witness just how broadly accepting Icelandic people are.  One gentleman, assuming we were a couple, went out of his way to tell us that we could hold hands.  He informed us that Icelanders simply aren’t offended by this sort of thing.

Iceland has a population of about four-hundred thousand, and I can imagine that the close-knit nature of their society has a lot to do with how accepting people are.  However, it wasn’t always this way.  Activists in Iceland had to work hard to achieve equality, and today they continue this work – collaborating with government, schools, and businesses to ensure that LGBT persons will always receive equal treatment.  IGLTA’s members contribute towards these efforts by maintaining strong community relationships.  In Reykjavik I had the opportunity to speak with some of them.

What are they doing?

Travis meets with Eva and Hannes of Pink Iceland

Travis meets with Eva and Hannes of Pink Iceland

Sæli Hauksson of Southcoast Adventure explained that to many Icelanders, acceptance of LGBT persons has become an assumed part of life. Nevertheless, Sæli works closely with the local communities where he takes tourists, and this helps to ensure that they are understanding and accepting of LGBT visitors.

Ása Valdís Árnadóttir said that Hotel Ranga purchases locally grown produce from South Iceland‘s many geothermal greenhouse farms.  The hotel also aims to use locally caught salmon, arctic char, and meat from the local farmers.  Additionally, they demonstrate respect for the environment by relying on renewable energy.

Eva María Thorarinsdottir Lange explained that Pink Iceland works with tour operators and other local businesses to improve sensitivity toward sexual minorities.  They also collaborate with the national LGBT association to develop educational materials and youth programs to maintain LGBT awareness.  On the side, Eva assists the Association of Business Women in Iceland by teaching marketing and international business trainings.

Interested in visiting Iceland soon?

There’s a lot to see, even on short winter days.  Iceland has dramatic natural landscapes including some awe-inspiring glaciers, volcanoes and waterfalls.  Added bonus: at the end of a cold day it’s easy to find thermal baths to soak it.  Be sure to check out the Rainbow Reykjavik LGBT Winter Festival from January 21 to February 3, 2013.  Proceeds from this festival will benefit an Icelandic human rights organization.

Icelandic Examples of Community Engagement

 

Views and opinions expressed in the IGLTA Foundation Blog are those of individual authors and do not reflect official policy or positions of IGLTA or the IGLTA Foundation.

 

Posted in Blog on January 12, 2013Travis Ferland
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A fond farewell to Travis Ferland

Dear Friends, The past six months have been a whirlwind of progress for the recently established IGLTA Foundation as we work to build bridges with communities worldwide. In November 2012 we engaged Travis Ferland as interim Executive Director on a

Our mission is to use the power of LGBT travel to build bridges with communities worldwide. Those bridges, in turn, enable understanding, awareness and commerce to flourish in diverse communities around the globe.