Felix Bergsson. Photo / Jónatan Grétarsson

Reclaiming Freedom: Felix Bergsson On Why Trans Rights Matters To Him

Felix Bergsson is a beloved actor, writer, playwright and singer who has entertained Icelanders of all ages for decades on screen and stage alike. Internationally, he is probably best known as Iceland’s Head of Delegation at the Eurovision Song Contest. He has also been openly gay for decades–starting in times when it was far from easy to be so in Iceland–and more recently, has taken to publicly defending the rights of trans people.
On June 7th, Felix fired off a status on Facebook that inspired some pretty strong reactions, publicly calling out a number of public figures for hiding behind “freedom of speech” in order to slander trans people, saying in part, “[T]ry to put yourself in the shoes of people who are just trying to get through the day like the rest of us but live with a lot of insecurity and fear for their existence due to growing hostility in society. Animosity and violence created precisely because of the writings of these men and their access to mass media to spew their ignorance and hatred. This is completely intolerable.”

These sentiments are not new. Philosopher Karl Popper, in his treatise on the “paradox of tolerance”, keenly observed that absolute tolerance, such as in the guise of total “freedom of speech”, can paradoxically pave the way for the oppression of marginalised people.
Felix understands this very well, recounting his experiences as an openly gay man in the 90s in Iceland.

What’s old is new again

“In the late 90s, when I would visit schools and talk to teachers and parents, there were people who couldn’t even say the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’,” he says. “So that was always a start, to get people to say these words without dying somehow. Then you have to start talking about things like: ‘We are no danger in the showers. We can use the same dressing rooms. We have families, like you. We go to work, like you.’ All these basic things where you just had to calm people and tell them we’re a part of society and we’re no threat to society.”

Felix ties these experiences in with those of other marginalised people, remarking, “It’s always the same. There was a time when women were struggling to get public restrooms for women, or Black people not being allowed on the same buses as white people in the US. It’s always the same kind of nonsense that we are some kind of danger in the public space. So when you see this repeat itself with trans and nonbinary people, it’s really just like, ‘Come on… here we go again.’”

Despite this, Felix sees little choice other than to forge ahead and try to educate, because the stakes are too high to ignore.

“To begin with, it’s not me who’s suffering. It’s other people. I’m just advocating for human rights in general, and trans rights are human rights”

“I suppose it’s part of the freedom process, that you need to show to people that you are no danger,” he says. “It takes time, but it really is a very tedious business to have to go through this all over again. So after seeing all this nonsense going on on these big platforms, I decided I really needed to say something here.”

One word sums up what’s on the line as far as Felix is concerned:

“It is about freedom. The freedom of the individual. And it’s also about powers in society that pretend to be about the freedom of the individual, but are only thinking about conservative values and are plagued by prejudice.”

Debate me, bro!

Not everyone has agreed with Felix’s stance on trans rights, but he takes the pushback in stride.

“I just continue with my life,” he says. “To begin with, it’s not me who’s suffering. It’s other people. I’m just advocating for human rights in general, and trans rights are human rights. The pushback doesn’t touch me at all.”

Part of his ease with the situation is because he’s been down this road before.

“When I was speaking up for gay rights in the 90s, radio and TV stations were always trying to get me on to have a debate with somebody from the church or some prejudiced person,” he recalls. “I was supposed to sit there and try to convince a person who hated me that I wasn’t as bad as he or she thought I was. I would not take part in that nonsense.”

Here Felix pauses, and adds:

“But it’s not really about me. And I really don’t want this to be about me in anyway because I want this to be about the human rights struggle that we are going through, and that we all need to stick together to win in the end.”

“I was supposed to sit there and try to convince a person who hated me that I wasn’t as bad as he or she thought I was. I would not take part in that nonsense.”

He also points out that the intolerance we’re witnessing today has been a long time in the making.

“I remember I produced Cabaret, the musical, in 2005,” he says. “At that moment, Bush was the president of the United States. Many people were surprised when I said we really need to re-visit this piece of art because we really need to realise the danger that fascism is staring us dead in the face. And many were quite angry at me for saying that, but suddenly we’re faced with what we have today: Trump, DeSantis, Putin, and forces in Europe that are very dangerous, even here in Iceland. So we need to keep awake, and we need to push back. I encourage everyone to do that.”

Checking our own ranks

Iceland being as queer-friendly as it is–the country ranks high up on the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Map–there are still always places where we can do better.

“I think we can improve in the rhetoric and what we tolerate,” Felix suggests. “I think freedom of speech is important. It’s all about education. Continue speaking and telling the stories and explaining. To try and get peoples’ ears. And to stick together and support each other, especially within the queer movement. There is a certain movement within the queer movement, especially in the gay and lesbian part of it, where trans people are really put down. We really need to speak within our own ranks very openly about these things.”

“I think we need to reclaim freedom. Freedom is our expression; it’s not owned by the conservatives”

I ask if he believes these anti-trans gay and lesbian folks truly comprise a significant percentage.

“I think it’s a very small number but still, they are quite vocal, and they are quite dangerous, because they try to give the impression that gay people don’t support trans people,” he says. “But the rest of us need to speak up.”

Reclaiming freedom

“I think we need to reclaim freedom,” Felix says. “Freedom is our expression; it’s not owned by the conservatives. They always talk about freedom, but we are really the people who should be talking about freedom. We are the people who are really working for the freedom of the individual, and that should never be forgotten.”

In closing, I ask if he has any advice for potential or current cis allies of trans people.

“To listen,” he says. “To learn. Get to know a trans person is always very helpful, so that you know who you’re talking about and who you’re talking to. Come join the fight. Meet trans people. Make trans friends. Learn to use the words and educate yourself, because that’s the key to it all.”

Á. Óskarsson
Á. Óskarsson

Á. Óskarsson offers a variety of products and services to sports centers, swimming pools, schools, kindergartens, and the general public. The company specializes in sport-related products, activity-focused games, and a wide range of solutions for sports facilities.

Á. Óskarsson has been involved in numerous big projects related to building sports facilities and has made it their benchmark to offer good quality products and equipment since the company was founded.

See links to social media in the upper left-hand corner


Á. Óskarsson selur fjölbreytt vöruúrval fyrir íþróttahús, sundlaugar, skóla og leikskóla og einnig ýmsar vörur til einkaafnota. Fyrirtækið selur vörur til íþróttaiðkunnar og leikja ásamt því að bjóða upp á ýmsar lausnir fyrir íþróttamannvirki.

Á. Óskarsson hefur komið að fjölda stórra verkefna við byggingu íþróttamannvirkja og hefur frá stofnun kappkostað að bjóða vandaðar og endingargóðar vörur.

Tenglar á samfélagsmiðla eru í efra horninu vinstra megin.



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    Omnom Chocolate
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        Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

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          VSÓ Ráðgjöf er alhliða ráðgjafar- og verkfræðifyrirtæki sem leggur áherslu á trausta og faglega þjónustu sem tryggir viðskiptavinum hagkvæmustu lausnir hverju sinni, skilar raunverulegum árangri og stuðlar að samkeppnisforskoti.  Á skrifstofum VSÓ í Reykjavík og í Noregi starfar yfir 80 manna samhentur hópur verkfræðinga og annarra tæknimenntaðra starfsmanna.

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          Ísey skyr
          - once tasted never forgotten

          Our Story
          Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

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