OPINION by Ugla Stefanía
The last few weeks have been difficult to digest as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. At the moment it appears we are facing a backlash in Iceland, similar to many other places across the world. In our country, which is often described as a haven for queer people, we are sadly also seeing a sharp rise in hate incidents, hate crimes and bullying of LGBTQIA+ people in schools and on the streets.
Last year, at least four young queer people died by suicide, as a direct result of bullying and rejection they experienced in their every day life. It is clear that we as a society, and our authorities, are failing to protect LGBTQIA+ people.
Similarly there was a report that showed that young people of colour also still face a lot of discrimination and bullying from their peers, ranging from name calling and to more severe abuse.
And recently reports broke of a 12 year old girl that attempted suicide, after repeated and long term bullying at the hands of over thirty students at her school.
It is therefore apparent that Iceland isn’t always the human rights paradise we often claim to be. If our youngest generations are facing such rife levels of hatred and discrimination, we have dropped our guard. Equality and inclusion is a constant effort, which has to be mainstreamed into every piece of work within schools and institutions across this country. Iceland is not immune to this backlash against human rights, and we must make an active effort to counter it.
A lot of this appears to be coming from social media, where hateful behaviour and harassment is encouraged – such as barking at LGBTQIA+ in public and shouting hateful slurs at them. This is certainly the experience of young queer people in Iceland, who have reported high levels of harassment and bullying of this sort, which has the consequence of them not wanting to leave the house out of fear of harassment.
“Schools have a huge responsibility here to protect their students and make sure that every single student has the same access to education, without bullying, harassment and discrimination. […] Failure to address poor behaviour and bullying is failing the fundamental purpose of the services you provide. It really is that simple.”
There have been many reports of this across the community in the past few months, but there appears to be little response from authorities and the government about it. Institutions like the police have often been criticised for their lack of understanding of hate driven incidents, as was illustrated quite clearly a few months ago, when Pride flags in the town of Hella were vandalised.
The Chief Inspector of the area claimed it wasn’t driven by prejudice but was rather just a standard case of vandalism. This was obviously met with heavy criticism, as it was quite evident that the incident had been driven by hated and prejudice towards queer people, as these were the only flags that had been targeted by the persons involved.
Despite all of this, there are also people who doubt that there is a backlash, and claim that they never personally experience any type of prejudice. While it might certainly be their experience, it does little to address the underlying issue we appear to be having. Some people also say that there isn’t an increase – it’s simply that there is more visibility about it, and people are more likely to speak up and draw attention to it now. While that might also partly be the reason, that isn’t the core of what’s at stake here.
Regardless of the reasons behind it, and regardless of people’s personal experiences, it is a fact that in the past few weeks we have seen many, many incidents of hate incidents and hate crimes against our community. Instead of doubting whether there is a backlash or arguing about semantics about why it’s happening, we should be focusing on how we can combat it and how we can stop it.
That’s not just our responsibility of the queer community to raise awareness of and come up with solutions – but the responsibility of our authorities, government and educational system. It is also the responsibility of parents of children to address these topics, and help combat such views and behaviours.
Schools have a huge responsibility here to protect their students and make sure that every single student has the same access to education, without bullying, harassment and discrimination. Failing to provide a safe environment for your students is failing to provide them with education and equal opportunities. Failure to address poor behaviour and bullying is failing the fundamental purpose of the services you provide. It really is that simple.
Where is the governmental response to this? What actions are they putting in place? Why are they not addressing this by supporting queer charities with more resources, funding and support? Why are they not creating more robust policies and ways to tackle LGBTQIA+ bullying adequately?
Despite all good intentions, it is clear that we are not doing enough to protect queer people, and in particular our younger generations. We cannot drop our guard and think we just live in an open and free society, when so many of our young people are still suffering. We need to be unafraid to admit the problem, address it and do our utmost to combat it.
“Instead of doubting whether there is a backlash or arguing about semantics about why it’s happening, we should be focusing on how we can combat it and how we can stop it.”
And that starts with each and every one of us. We need to talk to the people around us, to our schools, to our places of work, to the parties we vote for. We need to hold them accountable, and get everyone to take part in creating a safe, inclusive and equal society where we can all be ourselves – where we can all thrive.
We can and we will overcome this – but we need everyone to be on board. So I implore all of you to do what you can, especially if you aren’t a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. Your voices are important, and you can make a difference.