Mike Pence can’t stop getting protested on his tour of Europe.
After the vice president was greeted with a disco protest during a Tuesday meeting in Dublin with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, he was met with an even frostier reception in Iceland. On Wednesday, a mass of LGBTQ+ people and allies gathered with rainbow flags and protest signs outside the Althing in Reykjavik, which is home to the Nordic country’s parliament.
In addition to more straightforward messages like “Intolerance Unwelcome Here!”, some signs were pretty creative. The better ones included “Did You Choose to Be Straight?” and “Not Today, Pence — Not Today.” The clear winner, however, was a sign reading: “#PenceIsPants.”
For those unfamiliar with the particularities of European slang, Bjarndis Helga Tomasdottir is happy to explain. “In the U.K., you say something is ‘pants’ when it’s shit,” Tomasdottir, a board member of the LGBTQ+ organization Samtökin 78, tells Out.
Samtökin 78, one of the 11 advocacy organizations which came together for the protest, had previously called on Iceland to cancel the visit.
According to Iceland Magazine, the other activist groups which joined on Wednesday included Trans Iceland and the Association of Opponents to Warfare (SHA). An estimated 300 people showed up to the demonstration, despite the fact that many of the streets in Reykjavik were blocked off for Pence’s meetings with Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and President Gudni Johannesson.
Sæborg Ninja Urðardóttir, the treasurer for Trans Iceland, says the scene in Reykjavik during the vice president’s visit was surreal. Pence was “surrounded by U.S. snipers on nearby buildings,” according to Urðardóttir.
“For all of yesterday, local residents were under the thumb of the whims of [Pence’s] inflated ego and need for a safety bubble,” she tells Out. “There were more of his security staff than police officers in the capitol area, and they were flying in cops from the countryside.”
The rally outside the legislature wasn’t the only demonstration in Reykjavik against Pence’s visit. Advania, a technology firm located in the Icelandic capital, lined its offices with LGBTQ+ Pride flags for the occasion.
Meanwhile, both Johannesson his wife, Eliza Reid, wore rainbow bracelets in support of the LGBTQ+ community while meeting with Pence.
The displays weren’t surprising, given Iceland’s long history of supporting LGBTQ+ rights. The European country was the first in the world to elect an out LGBTQ+ head of state, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, in 2009. Iceland legalized marriage equality less than a year later, while same-sex couples have had full adoption rights since 2006.
But for both of the activists present at the Wednesday rally, the demonstration was less about Iceland’s LGBTQ+ community and more about the queer and transgender people impacted by Pence’s politics. As the governor of Indiana, he signed a law in 2015 allowing people of faith to deny service to LGBTQ+ people on the basis of religion and has fought to pass a similar law since entering the White House in 2017.
While Pence denies speculation he supports conversion therapy, he hasn’t condemned the practice, either.
For Urðardóttir, it’s difficult not to be emotionally affected whenever she sees news roll in about the Trump administration’s latest attack on the LGBTQ+ community — of which it is responsible for more than 120. She lived in the San Francisco Bay area for a year and a half and says the past two years have been “like seeing something you love turn into a monster before you.”
“It has been a heartbreaking horror show,” Urðardóttir says.
“It's terrifying to watch and the feeling that there is nothing you can do is crippling,” Tomasdottir adds. “For me — and for many of us — the protest yesterday was not all in protest — it was also a token of solidarity.”
If Pence wasn’t greeted by Iceland with open arms, the situation wasn’t any better in the Emerald Isle. In addition to Amnesty International blasting RuPaul and The Village People outside his meeting with Ireland’s gay PM, the streets of Doonbeg were totally empty when the vice president dropped by the western coast to visit the town where his great-grandmother grew up. He also stayed a Trump hotel in the area.
In contrast, thousands of people lined the streets of Dublin in May 2011 for President Obama’s visit to the country.
Pence is now off to the United Kingdom for the last leg of his European tour, where things are already off to a bad start. On Thursday, he urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to follow through on the Brexit deal to dissolve the country’s membership in the European Union, claiming Johnson would be rewarded with immediate negotiations on a “free-trade deal” with the United States.
“Our message is clear: the minute the UK is Out, the US is In,” he tweeted.
The tweet couldn’t have been more poorly timed. This week, Johnson suffered a major defeat when Parliament voted in favor of a Brexit delay bill and against the Prime Minister’s call for an early election.