Opinion Why is it important that we as a community come together and make a firm stand for human rights? Trans activist and chair person of Trans Iceland, Ugla Stefanía tells you why.
As Queer Christmas comes once more the small city of Reykjavík, with all it’s celebration, glitter and politics, the disgruntled voices of the nation’s known queerphobes also fill the comment sections.
While most of us might just dismiss them as “a few crazy people”, it would be naive to deny that these voices are increasingly becoming louder. All around the world we are seeing an increase in stigma, hate crime, and violence against the queer community. The most tangible being what’s happening in the US and the UK, where rights are under attack and are being stripped away.
While the anti-equality voices try to paint us as attention-seeking deviants that want special rights, living as a queer person in Iceland feels far from equal. We have certainly made some significant progress in the past decade – most recently with the new Gender Identity & Sex Characteristics Bill which is worth to celebrate – there’s still a long way to go.
“It’s clear that we are living in pivotal times, where toxic nationalism and populism are on the rise.”
Intersex people at large still suffer genital mutilation and irreversible interventions based on binary and heternormative standards of what their sex characteristics ‘should be like’. This causes irreparable psychological damage to them as they are forced to keep their intersex history a secret and endure countless medical interventions as a result. Many are even lied to about their own history by doctors and their families, and are unable to access medical records on precisely what was done to them.
Sexual health of queer men in particular is very poor, with high numbers of queer men contracting serious STI’s/STD’s, such as syphilis and gonorrhea. While HIV infections are going down all around the world due to medication such as PrEP, it isn’t enough to get queer men to have safer sex. With the rise of chemsex parties, queer men – and trans women in some cases – are engaging into more risky sexual behaviour.
Prevalent stigma and shame is a large contributor to queer men and trans women engaging in risky sexual behaviour, and schools aren’t offering queer people the sexual education they need. We’re failing groups that are already neglected and marginalised.
Two women who conceive through IVF still struggle to both be recognised as the parents of their child, while heterosexual couples face no such barriers even if they used a sperm donor. Queer families that consist of more than two parents also have no way of being registered or becoming legal parents, leaving out many queer families that are unconventional.
Queer asylum seekers and refugees still face specific challenges in accessing asylum based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, or sex characteristics, and deportations and lack of recognition, or the challenges they face, remains a serious problem in Iceland. The recognition of people’s gender identity in legal terms has also been ignored, with cases of trans asylum seekers having ID in line with their gender identity taken away from them.
Our older generation faces particular challenges as they grow older and start needing late life care, and many are forced to go back into the closet, and fear being separated from their same sex partners. Trans people and intersex people might also have specific care needs, such as different needs in terms of hair removal, wig-care or physical needs due to surgery, or have sex characteristics or genitals that don’t fit society’s traditional mold. Your average worker in a care home won’t know how to deal with those challenges without proper training and education.
A worrying state of affairs occurred earlier this year, when the Minister of Justice proposed changes to penal laws in Iceland, effectively making it harder to prosecute people for hate speech. This is very concerning, considering that we are facing a serious increase in hate speech and negative public opinion. This is no doubt due to the rise of nationalist and populist political parties, that are currently gaining traction all over the world, including in Iceland.
Just recently I criticised a sketch in Morgunblaðið that was based on poisonous propaganda against the progress of trans rights, which then garnered a lot of backlash. This week the chair of Samtökin ‘78, Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir, wrote an article to criticise the fact Mike Pence – the Vice President of the United States – is being welcomed to the country by the government. Just reading the public discourse that has ensued – especially in the comment sections – reveals a horrifying reality where people are becoming even more extreme and radicalised, and have become very vocal and abusive when queer people speak up for themselves.
It’s clear that we are living in pivotal times, where toxic nationalism and populism are on the rise. This does not bode well for anyone, especially disenfranchised groups in society. That’s why it’s important that we as a community come together and make a firm stand for human rights.
That’s why it’s important that we as a community come together and make a firm stand for human rights. We need to stand with each other and speak out against injustice, prejudice and stigma wherever we witness it.
And that is precisely why we have Reykjavík Pride. That’s why we paint the streets in rainbow colours, have the church bells at Hallgrímskirkja play Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and have a parade in downtown Reykjavík. We need more than for people to tolerate us as long as we behave. We need full equality both legally and socially. We need unconditional respect.
So until queer people can feel free to walk the streets and live their lives as themselves without prosecution, discrimination and stigma we’re going to continue speaking out.
If that offends you, you’re probably a part of the problem.
Happy Reykjavík Pride.