The ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map and Index 2020 has been published and Iceland moves up from last year, from 18th place to 14th.
Each year since 2009, ILGA-Europe ranks 49 countries in Europe in regards to queer rights. While the latest report shows that, sadly, there has been no positive change in 49% of countries in 2019 and that some are in fact moving backward for the second year in a row, Iceland stands out by recognizing the right to self-determination for trans people. However, while there have been big wins for LGBTIplus people in the country last year, which we must acknowledge, celebrate and build upon, we must not forget that there is still room for improvement. Þorbjörg Þorvaldsdóttir, president of The National Queer Organization of Iceland, Samtökin ’78, reacts to ILGA’s report
“It certainly feels good to finally move up in the ILGA Europe index and for the country’s color to turn from yellow to green on the Rainbow Map,” she says. “It inspires us to continue our advocacy, as it would be wonderful to jump even higher next year.”
Iceland is in first place when it comes to civil society space and fifth place when it comes legal gender recognition and bodily integrity. What are your reactions to that?
“It’s great to lead the map in the category of civil society space, and thankfully we share that first place with an overwhelming majority of countries on the map. Iceland scores high on civil society space by default, due to constitutional protections of e.g. freedom of expression, association and assembly. The overall positive attitudes towards queer people in the country also contribute to this category, as queer human rights defenders are not considered to be at risk.
“We have been trying to obtain data from the state regarding hate crime and hate speech but, as far as we know, no good data exists.”
When it comes to legal gender recognition and bodily integrity, a lot has happened in the last couple of years and the new Gender Autonomy Act is certainly the reason for our relatively good standing within this category. With the new law people have the right to change their gender and name registration without first receiving a medical diagnosis or undergoing medical treatment. The Gender Autonomy Act also ensures that e.g. non-binary people have a third option available for gender registration, marked by X in passports. This change is to take effect within the system by law in December. The Gender Autonomy Act obliges everyone that collects data on gender to have a third option available. Therefore, Samtökin ‘78 and Trans Iceland have written guidelines and made them available on Samtökin’s website, samtokin78.is.”
Iceland stands among the lowest-ranking countries when it comes to equality and non-discrimination (29th place) and and when it comes to asylum seekers (29th place). How come?
“One of the reasons is that our constitution and many of the existing laws on non-discrimination do not include references to all SOGISC grounds. Among other things, conversion therapy is not outlawed, and there is no equality action plan in place. I think that the reason for Iceland being so behind in this category is simply a form of negligence by the authorities that stems from the prevalent misunderstanding that discrimination against queer people is a thing of the past in Iceland.
Regarding laws on asylum, Iceland is light years behind. We finally got our first point in the Rainbow index within that category, and that is – again – thanks to the Gender Autonomy Act, as asylum seekers can now change their gender registration within the system. However, our Foreign Nationals Act does not recognize members of the queer community as people in a particularly vulnerable position. There are no explicit protections on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. For that reason, Iceland scores embarrassingly low in that category.”
The country doesn’t do well either when it comes to hate-crime and hate-speech, ending up in 22th place. Does that surprise you?
“No, it does not. There are existing legal protections against hate speech, but Icelandic law, regretfully, does not specifically address hate crime when it comes to sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics. Furthermore, there is no policy when it comes to tackling hate crimes in general. Hate speech is addressed in The General Penal Code and there it tackles both gender identity and sexual orientation, but lacks protections on the grounds of sex characteristics.
We have been trying to obtain data from the state regarding hate crime and hate speech but, as far as we know, no good data exists as the registration of these crimes hasn’t been up to standards. We therefore have started collecting our own data. People within the community can let Samtökin ‘78 know about hate crimes they have experienced by filling in a form on our website. This gives us a better grasp of the situation and helps us in our advocacy work. As the Rainbow map shows, there is plenty of room for improvement in this category.”
All that being said, what should be done in order to improve the situation of LGBTIplus people in Iceland?
“First and foremost: Finish the Gender Autonomy Act! Intersex children were left behind when that law was passed last year, and the necessary legal protections against unnecessary medical interventions are now being discussed by a committee. The committee should finish their work next month and following that work a bill could be introduced to the parliament in the fall. We hope that the committee will introduce a bill that protects intersex children, values the human rights of all intersex people and stops unnecessary and harmful surgeries on intersex newborns. In addition, we must build modern and inclusive anti-discrimination laws and explicitly mention sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics in our laws on asylum.”
“Intersex children were left behind when that law was passed last year.”
Do you see Iceland moving on the chart up next year?
“Yes, now is the time for the authorities to make that happen! As the Rainbow Europe map and index shows, there is plenty of work to be done in Iceland when it comes to legal protections and equality for queer people. I would like to challenge all political parties in Iceland to introduce bills that tackle the issues mentioned as lacking for Iceland. It is high time that our legislation mirrored the high acceptance of queer people in this country.”