OPINION Amongst the horror that was 2020, many people probably think there is little to celebrate. It was a pretty shit year, right?
But even amongst all that, within Netflix binges, baking experiments, half-dressed-for-zoom-calls and an obscene amount of houseplant purchases, there were definitely some positive things that happened.
One of the biggest achievements, in my opinion, had to do with the legal rights of trans people and intersex people.
In July 2019 a law was passed called The Gender Autonomy Act (Kynrænt sjálfræði), which in short solidified the rights of trans people and intersex people. The law sought to give trans people more autonomy over legal gender recognition (changing names and gender legally) as well as more autonomous access to health care and also sought to ban unecessary and irreversible surgical interventions on intersex infants.
Well, or at least it was supposed to.
Through the process in the parliament, the law saw certain changes. While trans people made significant progress, the rights of intersex people were effectively put on hold. Unlike the law originally proposed, the parliament decided not to place a ban against the aforementioned interventions.
A significant change was the fact that non-binary people were finally being recognised legally, with their gender being marked as “kynsegin/annað” (non-binary/other) instead of “man” or “woman” and “x” instead of “m” or “f” on ID such as passports. This change will come into force, today, on the 6th of January 2021.
Trans people also had more informed based consent access to health care, that allows trans people to access care without the humiliating and invasive diagnostic process — instead, it will be based on the most modern and up to date guidelines on how to give health care to trans people.
The rights of trans children and teenagers were also solidified in law, allowing them legally to access health care and change their name and gender with parental consent.
But last December, we thankfully saw some much needed changes to the law being adopted.
The changes were threefold: The age limit to change your name and gender was moved from 18 years old to 15 years old, several changes were made to phrasing within various laws to reflect non-binary people and gender diversity, and almost all interventions on intersex infants were banned.
Small, but important steps
The age limit being changed from 18 to 15 is significant in so many ways. It allows trans teenagers to take control of their legal name and gender at a crucial time in their life.
In Iceland kids go to primary school from the age of 6-16 and then from he age of 16-20 they go to what is called framhaldsskóli (mix between high school and college). It’s an important time and allows them a chance to start life as themselves in a new environment and without being outed to their fellow pupils by their teachers during name-calls, for example.
The changes made to phrasing in various laws are pretty straight-forward, and mostly have to do with taking out unnecessary gendering or gendered terms that don’t apply anymore.
Despite these changes being quite insignificant, it didn’t stop a member of one of the political parties in Iceland — who have now effectively become a populist propaganda party of misinformation and conspiracies — from writing an article about how this was erasing words like “mother”, it was replaced with “parent” or “person”.
Anyone of a sound mind can quickly gather that this a ridiculous and exaggerated claim. The reason this phrasing is being adopted is because not everyone that give birth are mums — some trans men and non-binary people do not connect with that term at all, and take on a different parental role to their child.
That doesn’t mean that mums can’t call themselves mums. On the contrary, it’s about allowing people to decide what terms fit best for their family structure without laws contradicting that. It’s therefore creating freedom for everyone, and making sure that laws reflect that diversity.
But of course the parliamentarian in question does not recognise this and likely does not recognise that trans men and non-binary people are who they say they are. So the result is an inaccurate, uninformed and unhinged ‘article’ that has no basis in modern society.
Laws do not govern what words we can or cannot use. Mothers don’t stop being mothers because some insignificant phrasing in a law was changed.
When marriage laws were changed in Iceland in 2010, they replaced the phrasing “marrige is between a man and a woman” to “between two people” — as we all know, the words “man” and “woman” have not since been erased.
So don’t worry, I think we’re good — mums will continue to be mums.
The biggest step
The most significant change — the ban on unnecessary and irreversible surgical inventions on intersex infants, save for those that are life-threatening — was finally passed. The reason this was so important is that intersex people have been subjected to these surgical interventions for decades, often without horrible consequences and deep secrecy. Now that will no longer be allowed without the informed consent of the person involved, granting them autonomy over their own bodies.
Intersex people are people who are born with atypical sex characteristics. This means that physical factors such as genitals, gonads, reproductive organs or chromosomes don’t fit the typical classification of “male” and “female”. There are over 40 different variations, and according to research intersex people are about as common as people with red hair.
But for intersex people that are seen to be intersex at birth, doctors have often performed surgical interventions in order to ‘normalise’ their bodies to fit typical standards of ‘male’ and ‘female. This is often presented as a medical necessity that will improve the quality of life for them growing up.
But the fact is that the vast majority of these interventions are unnecessary and irreversible. Doctors therefore remove or operate on perfectly healthy organs, that leave people dependent on medical care such as hormone therapy or continued surgeries as they grow up. Many suffer life-long complications that can cause serious health issues and loss of sensitivity.
It’s therefore a huge step in ensuring equality for intersex people in Iceland, although the law has a few exceptions. The law is set to be reviewed, and hopefully future reviews will make sure that all intersex people and infants are protected against such surgical interventions until they can give their informed consent on whether or not they want any surgeries.
The ban was celebrated and welcomed across the parliament as an important step in ensuring equality for intersex people in Iceland.
But that wasn’t acceptable to a few random men in suits from the aforementioned party, who made it their mission to try and derail, mislead and misrepresent these changes as best they could. They tried to claim that kids were being denied necessary health care, which couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The way they tried to twist this significant change was met with heavy opposition from their fellow parliamentarians, which felt surprisingly moving.
To see parliamentarians defending the rights of intersex people with such conviction showed me that they truly cared deeply about this issue, and about making Iceland a better place for intersex people.
The fight continues
I’m hoping that we will continue to see more legal changes and improvements for the wider LGBTQIA community in Iceland, too. Even though we’ve come a long way, there are still many issues we need to address.
Iceland still doesn’t have a comprehensive anti-discrimination policy that addresses all queer people, we don’t have a proper anti-hate speech legislation, certain queer people are not allowed to donate blood, queer refugees and asylum seekers are still not acknowledged in law and some queer people still face unequal treatment when registering as parents of their children.
Beyond direct legal issues, there are also social issues that need to be addressed. This has to do with general awareness raising and the inclusion of queer people at work, at school, in sport, and in most avenues of society. Queer people still face signficant barriers in many places, and issues such as queer people in care homes, comprehensive sexual education and bullying in schools are but a few of the many challenges we still face as a society.
So while we can certainly celebrate the steps we’ve taken, it’s important that we remember that there is still a lot to be done. We cannot, and we will not stop until every queer person in this country can be who they are just as freely as anyone else, without fear and persecution.
Only that way will we create a free and just society.