OPINION by Ugla Stefanía
It’s that time of year. Where we all bring out our favourite outfits, get our placards really, find solidarity with each other, attend events, celebrate, protest, enjoy, shout, feel. We come together as a community to remember how far we’ve come – and how far we still need to go. Never has Pride been more important than now.
There’s a storm brewing, and it has been for a long time. The facade of Iceland as a queer paradise has quickly faded, much like a mirage in a desert. You only have to glimpse under the surface to find deep-seated prejudice and bigotry bubbling underneath.
This isn’t just happening in Iceland, but across the world. While we have progressed further in terms of human rights than ever before, our rights have also never been more fragile. All over the world, far-right political forces are rising and stripping away hard-won human rights and protections.
At the same time, ‘gender critical’ groups fighting for ‘sex-based rights’ have gained more traction, masquerading their bigotry as issues of ‘safety’, and pitting trans rights against women’s rights. While these two forces might seem separate, their goals are one and the same: to undermine trans rights and strip back legal protections.
As a result, rights are being stripped away across the world. As an example, Poland has banned abortion and many places across the country have established so-called “No LGBT-zones”, where LGBT people are ostracised, excluded and banned. The Hungarian government has also blocked advancements of women’s rights and protections, and revoked trans people’s rights to change their legal gender.
In the US alone, over 200 bills have been introduced in the past few years targeting trans people to varying degrees – including a bill that allows you to be prosecuted for ‘child abuse’ if you support your trans child.
“The facade of Iceland as a queer paradise has quickly faded, much like a mirage in a desert. You only have to glimpse under the surface to find deep-seated prejudice and bigotry bubbling underneath. This isn’t just happening in Iceland, but across the world.”
Moreover, international organisations are banning trans women from elite sport, which is having a trickling effect on trans inclusion in general, and fuelling anti-trans rhetorics, bigotry and discrimination.
This has even trickled down to Iceland, where Sundsamband Íslands recently banned trans women from competing at elite levels – without any conversation or consultation from the community. Their blatant disregard for our community is visceral, and a testament of how quickly organisations turn their backs on LGBTQIA+ equality.
In the past few years we have also seen an increase in anti-queer rhetoric across media and politics – in particular against trans people. On any article about queer issues there is a wave of negative comments, claiming things have ‘gone too far’ and this ‘must be stopped’.
We’ve seen licensed psychologists advocate against life-saving care for trans people, using language that can only be described as a jumble of ancient and outdated terms, a media specialist write incomprehensive and deeply cruel articles laced with conspiracy theories in a conservative newspaper, and the editor of said newspaper writing an ill-informed, rambly and deeply misleading article about abortion, reproductive rights and trans rights.
Beyond that we have seen a political party consistently advocate against trans rights in parliament with pure propaganda, with their leader writing misleading articles about trans rights in the wake of a deadly shooting at a queer venue in Oslo. We’ve seen our vice public prosecutor claim that queer asylum seekers are ‘lying’ about their sexuality and claiming he wasn’t aware ‘there was a lack of gay men in Iceland’.
This type of discourse isn’t just an article, or a comment online. It spreads further than that – it spreads into schools, into society and into our everyday lives.
Recently a group of young people bravely spoke out about the violence and abuse they suffer from their peers. They described horrifying harassment, including aggressive and intimidating ‘barking’ at them when they saw them on the street. This harassment has left many of them feeling vulnerable and afraid to leave their house.
Similarly a gay couple described getting barked at on the street while getting in a taxi after celebrating their four year anniversary together.
We’ve seen a member of our community unjustly arrested and detained by the police during Pride.
We’ve seen a group of young men anonymously calling and contacting queer people, saying they are the ‘homo exterminators’ and they are here to exterminate queer people.
We’ve seen a trans woman being denied entrance to a bar for being ‘a man in a women’s furcoat’. We’ve seen instances of violence.
These instances don’t exist in a vacuum. They are a part of a bigger picture, and are entirely predictable and expected. They stem from the hateful and demoralising discourse we allow to remain unchallenged. They stem from far-right political forces that advocate against our rights. They stem from ‘gender critical’ voices advocating for ‘safety’ and ‘fairness’.
If we don’t want to start regressing as a society, we have to challenge this discourse at every turn. We have to condemn it, eradicate it and make it clear that we do not accept it. Because these aren’t just ‘opinions’ or someone exercising their ‘freedom of speech’. These are people hiding their bigotry, justifying their hatred and trying to absolve themselves of the consequences.
“So let Pride this week be a reminder of how much we still need to fight for. Let it be a reminder that we can never get complacent. Let this week be our fuel, our inspiration and our source of energy as we continue the fight for liberation.”
But your freedom of speech ends where your words start to damage other people’s well-being and safety in society – and it becomes nothing but violence. We have to hold people accountable for the damage they do to other people and continue building a society of understanding, freedom and compassion. Intolerance should never be tolerated and protected.
So let Pride this week be a reminder of how much we still need to fight for. Let it be a reminder that we can never get complacent. Let this week be our fuel, our inspiration and our source of energy as we continue the fight for liberation.
In the words of Marsha P. Johnson: “No freedom for some of us, without liberation for all of us.”