It’s the magical Nordic island of lunar landscapes, wild weather conditions and volcanoes, glaciers and geysers aplenty.
But Iceland is also known for its trailblazing LGBTI rights record; it was the ninth country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010, and ex-PM Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was the world’s first openly gay head of state.
Icelandic carrier WOW air even revealed it was naming a vessel TF-GAY earlier this year in honour of its LGBTI passengers – and last week, it came to light that the man behind the name was openly gay pilot Ögmundur Gíslason.
Here, Ögmundur speaks to Gay Star Travel to give a personal insight into the unique country he calls home…
What’s it like being LGBTI in Iceland?
I can’t imagine a better place to be LGBTI. People are so openminded here. Most people don’t care what your preferences are. Here, you can just be yourself and everybody welcomes you.
Are there are downsides to being LGBTI in the country?
I don’t know if I can call it a ‘downside’, but the thing I fear is that we, LGBTI people in Iceland, don’t realise how privileged we are. We live in a very protected and accepting environment, but that’s not the case for many LGBTIs around the world. We have to remember to appreciate what we’ve got.
Have you ever experienced homophobia in Iceland?
I’m sure I have, I just can’t remember it! But then again, I’m 198cm tall so generally people aren’t much in my face about anything!
Are most Icelanders LGBTI-friendly?
Well, a third of Iceland’s population came to Reykjavik Pride last year, I think that says a lot. It’s a family event here. You’ll see young children, just as old people, watching the parade and joining the celebration.
Are you based in Reykjavik [above]?
Yes, I live in the east side of the city with my boyfriend.
Do LGBTI people outside of Reykjavik tend to move to the capital when they reach adulthood?
I guess it is the same in Iceland as in other neighbouring countries. Yes, I think that’s the tendency.
What are your favourite gay bars/club nights?
There is one tired gay place here in Iceland, I think it’s been there since beginning of time. It’s usually full of girls, so I don’t bother going. There aren’y any gay venues outside of Reykjavik that I know of.
What’s your favorite spot in Iceland?
They are so many! I love hiking up to the Glymur waterfall in Hvalfjörður, driving to the Snæfellsjökull stratovolcano [above] and glacier, the whole of the Westfjords penisula, the Jarðböðin nature baths and many more.
What’s your favourite way to spend a Saturday in Iceland?
That would totally depend on my work schedule. If I’m off the day would definitely include gym, probably grocery shopping for the next week and hopefully meeting up for friends in the afternoon or evening. But I’m also up for a home cooked meal and a movie with my boyfriend.
What’s the best romantic spot in Iceland?
Living in such a beautiful country, almost every spot can be changed into a romantic place with a bottle of wine, two glasses and the right partner. Can you imagine sitting somewhere in nature with your lover and watching the Northern Lights. It’s awesome!
How many times have you seen the Northern Lights?
Countless times! When we fly from the US or Canada to Iceland in the winter we often get a spectacular show when approaching Iceland. Should the show be bright enough, we wake up our passengers to show them. I can also see it quite often from my house, probably five to 10 times every winter.
What is the most common misconception about Icelanders?
That we are melancholic and reserved. Icelanders are quiet people until you get to know them. The best icebreaker at the bar is to give an Icelander a drink and they’ll be your best friend for the rest of your life.
Former Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir was the world’s first openly gay PM. What does her legacy represent to LGBTI Icelanders?
I have always been a strong supporter of Jóhanna, since long before I knew she was gay. One of her legacy is that she passed a law about marriages. One law for everybody, not one law for straight and one for gay. No difference, total equality. That was something truly amazing.
One of Iceland’s most famous gay locals is the singer John Grant. Are you a fan?
Of course! He’s such a talented musician!
What about Sigur Ros’s Jonsi?
I am a long time Sigur Rós fan – and of course a fan of Jónsi. We are so lucky here in Iceland to have many talented musicians. I just don’t understand why we don’t win Eurovision every year!