Iceland has fallen far behind the other Nordic countries regarding laws which ensure that LGBTI people have legal rights. The ILGA-Europe’s 2016 Rainbow Europe chart, published this week reveals an increasingly unequal picture of developments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people across Europe and that Iceland is now in 14th place regarding the legalised rights of queer people.
“One of the reasons is that Iceland has been scoring too high on the chart in the past,“ says Kitty Anderson, the International Secretariat for the queer organisation of Iceland, Samtökin ’78, and chairperson of Intersex Iceland, asked why Iceland is doing so poorly this year. “The Rainbow chart looks at the legal situation of LGBTI people all over Europe, and only the legal situation, and in the past Iceland has been listed as one of the countries where it is illegal to fire people from their jobs for being queer. But when the lawyers looked closer at it, they found out that there is no such law in Iceland. This misunderstanding stems from the fact that Iceland is one of the countries where society accepts LGBTI people the most and nobody would ever think that it was within the limits of the law to fire people for being queer. It shows that the acceptance of society is further ahead than the lawmakers.”
Kitty says that the other main reason for the falling of Iceland on the Rainbow chart is not that it been doing worse than before but because other nations have been doing things better, especially in the matters of trans people. “Malta has one of the most progressive law regarding intersex people in the world and is now leading the chart, after having been in the third place last year.“
Apart from not being progressive enough in making the legal situation of trans and intersex people better Iceland is also sorely lacking in other areas. “We are now 5% behind Norway, Sweden and Finland on the chart and 10% behind Denmark, which is leading in LGBTI rights in the Nordic countries. It‘s also interesting to see that countries like Austria and Croatia are now ahead of us, and Greece and Ireland are getting close. The countries that we compare ourselves to, like Holland, UK and Belgium for example, are ahead of us.“
“Many European countries are ahead of us in legal issues for queer people and all the Nordic countries … are way ahead of us. We are doing the worst.“
Kitty hopes that a committee on queer matters that the minister of welfare, Eygló Harðardóttir, founded in 2014 will hand in its conclusions shortly, and hopefully new laws will follow, but she is adamant that we have to do much better in the legal sector, especially regarding the legal rights of trans and intersex people. “One of the things measured on this chart is discrimination in the educational system and here we only have laws that forbid discrimination against gay people, there is no mention of trans or intersex people. The other factor where we are doing poorly is in the health system. We don‘t get one point in that section. There is no specific mention of LGBTI people within laws about health services in Iceland.“
Asked if these are worrying results, Kitty says that of course it is a matter of concern that we are falling behind the countries that we compare ourselves to in securing the legal rights of LGBTI people. “There seems to be a tendency to regard laws about equal marriage rights as some kind of victory and that the battle is won. For sure Iceland is doing well when it comes to family matters for queer people, for the most part anyway, but that does not mean they have equal rights on all accounts.“
What has to be done to bring on the necessary changes? “There is actually a lot that needs to be done here in Iceland. We need strong legal frameworks regarding workplaces, the school system, health services, and we need to act quickly to bring on some action plan to change the current
situation. We need laws that grant all LGBTI people protection and equal rights in every sector of society. Even though we pride ourselves on our progressive and liberal views in these matters, the laws are still far behind the public opinion. That has to change.“
Iceland has prided itself on being some kind of Utopia for queer people, are we deluding ourselves? “Yes and no. Iceland has done an excellent job in marketing itself as a queer Utopia and in many aspects it is. Queer tourists here don‘t need to worry about being denied service in hotels or restaurants because they are queer, or being attacked on the streets. A large part of people living under the queer umbrella here do have more rights than in many other places.
On the other hand, there is no one under the queer umbrella that ticks all the boxes of fell legal protections in Iceland. We are not an example for anyone in these matters. Many European countries are ahead of us in legal issues for queer people and all the Nordic countries, which we consider ourselves a part of, are way ahead of us. We are doing the worst. That‘s not how we want to be seen.“
Do you think that the conclusions of the aforementioned committee will set these things right? “I don‘t believe that one committee is going to cover all the sections where we have fallen behind, but it‘s an excellent first step. We hope these changes in the law will be executed in the next few years; we certainly don‘t want to fall further behind. And if we don‘t change these laws within the next year we will be even further down the Rainbow chart next year. It‘s worrying that we have stagnated in these matters and we need to change it fast.“