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AIDS changed everything

Arnór Gunnar Gunnarsson, BA student, and Bergþóra Snæbjörnsdóttir, MA student, both at the Faculty of History and Philosophy

The website svonafolk.is will offer a tour through the history of the civil rights struggles of the gay community in Iceland; with focus on different standpoints, periods, people, and places. The base material was gathered by the film producer Hrafnhildur Gunnarsdóttir who worked with Halla Kristín Gunnardóttir, adjunct of Applied Studies in Culture and Communication at the University of Iceland, on a documentary series on the subject.

They soon realised that a great deal of interesting material could not be covered in the series, so they got Arnór Gunnar Gunnarsson and Bergþóra Snæbjörnsdóttir, students at the University of Iceland, to sort through this massive database and make the information accessible online. The project was completed with a grant from the Student Innovation Fund. 

“The history of the struggle for gay rights has not really been written extensively about; some articles have been written in newspapers and journals, but there is a clear gap here,” says Arnór Gunnar and adds that the material is sorely needed. Many interesting facts emerged during the work.
 

Arnór Gunnar Gunnarsson and Bergþóra Snæbjörnsdóttir

“Many of the people we spoke to say that AIDS changed everything. Someone said that it is much harder to ignore people’s pain than to share their joy." 

Arnór Gunnar Gunnarsson and Bergþóra Snæbjörnsdóttir

“One of the things that characterises this struggle here in Iceland is how late it starts. In Denmark the organisation for gay rights was founded in 1948. In many countries such societies are being founded after WWII,“ explains Arnór. “The starting point may be when the troubadour Hörður Torfa comes out in an Interview in the magazine Samúel in 1975, and is half run out of the country in the aftermath,” Bergþóra adds. “Up to that point the struggle had never been public. The organisation is then formally founded in 1978, and awareness is awakened; though very feebly to begin with.”

“Many of the people we spoke to say that AIDS changed everything. Someone said that it is much harder to ignore people’s pain than to share their joy. AIDS took its toll of the gay community in Iceland, people lost their friends, brothers and spouses in a short period of time. The authorities could no longer ignore this pain, when saying a final goodbye to your spouse, or even visiting him/her in hospital was not legally allowed. Slowly politicians started to become ready to speak for this group.” 

They say that public opinion changed in an unusually short time, but that the struggle is by no means over, and possibly never will be because as soon as you relax the threat of a backlash becomes very real. 

Supervisor: Halla Kristín Einarsdóttir, Adjunct at the Faculty of History and Philosophy