From Iceland — Connecting Queer People

Connecting Queer People

Published August 11, 2023

Connecting Queer People
Photo by
Art Bicnick

The growing popularity of Samtökin ‘78’s youth clubs

Headquartered in the office and cultural centre at Suðurgata 3, Samtökin ‘78 operates an active network of social clubs and services aimed towards LGBTQ+ people. As the national queer organisation of Iceland, its operations span multiple sectors, from advocacy and education to consultation and social services.

Samtökin’s social facet 

“The social services of Samtökin ‘78 include many things,” says board member Þórhildur Elínardóttir Magnúsdóttir. “The overarching goal is to connect queer people and provide them with a place to meet,” she explains. 

The organisation hosts all manner of events, such as open nights and cafe evenings for queer people. “We’ve hosted events for queer folks of foreign background, seminars, and events like book clubs and knitting meet-ups,” Þórhildur says.

Photo by Art Bicnick

As Samtökin’s operations rest on four main pillars, there is constant work to be done. “We are always busy,” Þórhildur admits. “Our consultation team meets a huge number of people every year, and our education team travels all over the country providing information about queer topics,” says Þórhildur. According to the organisation, roughly 13.000 people received education on queer matters in 2022. “And then there’s constant activism, which has been put to the test recently, as happens when there’s a backlash against the queer community,” adds Þórhildur, referencing the organisation’s finding of growing opposition towards queer communities in Iceland. 

With rising levels of stigma around LGBTQ+ people, how does that translate into Samtökin’s social services? “We mostly perceive it in the conversations between people. Our people feel the societal discourse on social media or in the news. Perhaps they’ve experienced some provocation themselves, but we stand together,” Þórhildur confesses. 

Serving the capital’s queer youth

Among Samtökin’s most popular services are its queer youth clubs. Like municipal youth clubs operated elsewhere in Iceland, Samtökin ‘78 operates clubs open to teenagers and adolescents.

“Our youth program is always a bomb. The club for 13 to 17 year-olds, which we manage in collaboration with Tjörnin youth centre, is our most popular activity,” Þórhildur says. Due to its immense popularity, the club was split in two: one for 13 to 15 year-olds; the other one for 16- and 17-year-olds. There’s also Hinung, a club for 18 to 25 year-olds. 

 “And then there’s constant activism, which has been put to the test recently, as happens when there’s a backlash against the queer community”

The club nights are filled with teenagers, who come out in droves. Although only receiving municipal support from Reykjavík, teenagers from all over the southwest corner of Iceland flock to meet their peers. “It’s just getting bigger. Every year, we think that it can’t get more popular and then the kids prove us wrong.” Previously, it wasn’t uncommon that people came out in their twenties, but Þórhildur estimates that people are expressing their identities at a younger age. 

Samtökin’s youth clubs aren’t the only place for LGBTQ+ teenagers to meet, as multiple youth centres around the capital region operate similar clubs for queer teens. There’s even one in Akureyri, which opened in 2019. 

“It’s essential for young people to find their community and meet others in a similar situation as themselves. In these spaces, they can vent and relate to similar experiences. They’re allowed to be exactly who they are, with the support of adults,” says Þórhildur and explains that the organisation emphasises that the volunteers and employees of the clubs be queer themselves. “Most kids find something they can’t find in their local youth club,” she concludes. 

You can support Samtökin ‘78 by becoming a Rainbow Friend – a monthly donation scheme. Their office on Suðurgata 3 is open for drop-in enquiries Mondays through Thursdays, from 13:00 to 16:00. 

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