So So Gay always knew Reykjavik Gay Pride 2012 would be an event to remember. Our preview of the festival demonstrated the diversity and inclusivity of the programme so we set about our Icelandic adventure with a sense of optimism as to what we might experience. In the end, we were not disappointed as this far-flung northern island set an example for the rest of the world on what Pride should really represent.
On Wednesday 8 August, visitors to the festival were invited to Reykjavik City Hall for the opening of an exhibition, Pride in Pictures 2000-2011. Given pride of place in the central atrium of the building, the exhibition subtly portrayed the development of Iceland’s LGBTQ community from a small, marginalised group to the election of the world’s first openly gay head of government in 2009. Alongside the photographs were documents displayed by the municipal archives. The atmosphere at the opening was overwhelmingly positive with a diverse range of people present, from toddlers to octogenarians.
Reykjavik Gay Pride 2012 proper was opened in style on Thursday 9 August with an opening ceremony at the University Cinema. As it turned out, the ceremonials were kept to a minimum, and once the organisers had thanked participants for ‘adding their colours to the very special rainbow over Reykjavik’, the party got underway in earnest. The evening was expertly compered by Viggo and Violetta, a local double act with a penchant for show tunes. While the über-camp Viggo ironically announced that he had ‘come out of the closet for the night’, Violetta treated the audience to an almost prophetic rendition of ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’ – more on that later.
The Pride Choir performed a moving version of ‘Over The Rainbow’ to the delight of the seated audience and were followed by a dance duo performing a piece called Saving Ryan’s Privates. It was mad, nonsensical and genius all at once. Eurovision 2008 contestant Fridrik Omar took to the stage to perform some tracks from his upcoming album, all of which were disco stompers, perfectly suited to the ‘vibe’ of the occasion. However, the true highlight of the evening came thanks to all-female New York alternative rock trio Betty. Having provided the theme tune to The L Word, there was a sense of anticipation as to what the band would deliver. In a show-stopping performance, the band performed ‘It Girl’ and ‘Did U Tell Her’, as well as a ‘drinking song’ composed especially for the local crowd. The group’s delight at the ecstatic reception they received was palpable and they were swamped by adoring fans after the concert. Reykjavik-based electronica outfit Sykur rounded the evening off, demonstrating their immense talent over three tracks, culminating in the aptly-titled ‘Reykjavík’, a fast-paced ode to the band’s stomping ground. Performing with incredibly energy, the band brought the event to a spine-chilling climax.
Next on So So Gay’s agenda was the next day’s Queer Literary Walk. Having started in the city centre’s Ingolfstorg Square, a group of around twenty individuals were treated to a potted history of Iceland’s LGBT population, as well as readings from queer Icelandic literature, delivered at pertinent locations around the city centre. Organised by Reykjavik City Library, the event was at the mercy of the elements and in the end, the final two readings had to take place in the shelter of the City Hall, the incessant rain making it inadvisable to head for the intended destination of the City Pond. Nevertheless, it was fascinating.
That evening, So So Gay headed to Harpa, Reykjavik’s recently-completed state-of-the-art concert hall on the waterfront, for an evening of jazz courtesy of Kristjana Stefansdóttir. The modest auditorium carried the singer’s voice extremely well as she worked her way through a series of standards, among them ‘I Am What I Am’ and ‘Mad About The Boy’. Each song was preceded by an explanation (in Icelandic) about the song’s background. It was a relaxing evening of classy music in a gorgeous setting. Immediately after the concert was the ‘Queer Cruise’; however, due to the incessant rain and dark skies, we decided to opt out of the cruise – for the sake of our health.
Saturday is – and was – the biggest day on the Pride calendar. Yet again, the dark clouds had gathered over the city, conspiring to provide altogether different weather conditions to the bright sunshine and clear blue skies of 2011. By the time the Pride Parade starting moving at 2pm, torrential rain was sweeping through Reykjavik city centre. Yet, the crowds gathered, lining the route of the parade with their plastic ponchos and rainbow umbrellas. Seemingly blissfully unaware of the meteorological misery (or just being used to it), the floats made their way through the main artery of the city, to jubilant cheers from the crowds. What struck us was the sheer diversity of those taking part in the parade, as well as those observing the scene. Young children helped to carry a huge rainbow flag, toddlers waving rainbow flags were held aloft by their parents to get a better view of the parade. Teenagers whooped with joy as their friends passed them in the parade, all of them bedecked in an assortment of rainbow-themed accessories.
The biggest cheers of the parade were reserved for representatives from the Faroe Islands, a country with which Iceland has a particular affinity. A representative from the islands later gave a speech urging the Faroese government to follow Iceland’s lead on LGBTQ rights. Infamously eccentric Mayor of Reykavik, Jon Gnarr, also basked in applause as he danced atop a float, wearing a dress and balaclava with a sign which read ‘FREE PUSSY RIOT.’ Saving the best till last, the final float received an equally resounding cheer from the crowds as it carried none other than Páll Óskar. A local celebrity and unapologetically flamboyant, Óskar has been a stalwart of Reykjavik Pride since its inception. This year, his chosen theme was the sea; boasting a blue sequin all-in-one number, the 42 year-old instructed a posse of ‘swimmers’ to music while a nubile young Icelander disguised as a sailor danced behind him. It was deliciously camp and whipped the onlookers into a frenzy. A particularly stirring moment followed as the assembled crowd gathered behind Páll Óskar’s float and followed the parade down to its ultimate destination, Arnarhóll to the sound of Loreen’s ‘Euphoria’, everyone’s hands in the air.
The open-air concert which followed the parade included performances from the aforementioned Páll Óskar and Fridrik Omar, as well as Sigga Beinteins, who has represented Iceland three times in the Eurovision Song Contest. At one point, her backing group included three other former contestants. There were also appearances from an Icelandic boy band, Blár Ópal and Thorunn Antonia, former lead-singer with Angl0-Icelandic electronica band Fields. Local favourite Helgi Björnsson sang and danced enthusiastically while wearing a short skirt; even as the rain continued to lash down on the audience, the impassioned jubilation of the spectators diminished not a single iota. It was truly heartwarming.
That evening, we made our way to Club Broadway, a venue in the Reykjavik suburbs, for the annual Pride Party. There, we were treated to yet another performance by Páll Óskar – the love for this man truly knows no bounds. He gave extremely polished renditions of some of his most famous tracks, including ‘International’, ‘Betra Líf’ and ‘Gordjöss’. Those present screamed, sang along, clapped, jumped and applauded merrily. Afterwards, there was drinking and dancing galore before we made our way back into central Reykjavik at 3am to sample more of the local nightlife.
What really struck us about Reykjavik Gay Pride 2012 were two elements: first, the sheer diversity of what was on offer during the five-day festival, there truly was something for everyone. From literary walks to photographic exhibitions to a family festival on a nearby island, it became clear to us very quickly that Pride as a concept is interpreted far more widely in Iceland than in many other countries. This is a truly inclusive event, celebrating all that is great about Iceland’s LGBTQ community and beyond. Second, this inclusivity means that the events are attended by a vast spectrum of people. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Pride Parade, at which local celebrities, gay and straight, as well as babies, toddlers, teenagers, parents, grandparents, disabled people – you name it – came together in the pouring rain to show their commitment to and belief in equality for all. Watch and learn, world. This is how it is done. Right here, in the northernmost capital city on the planet.