To many people around the world, Iceland is a bastion of queer rights, with oft-cited examples such as having elected an openly lesbian Prime Minister and legalised same-sex marriage, among other accolades. While all this is true, there are now signs that Iceland is falling behind when it comes to queer rights.
GayIceland reported that, according to a 2017 review by ILGA-Europe, Iceland now ranks 16th in the world—tied with Greece—when it comes to queer rights, down two points from the year previous.
Kitty Anderson, the International Secretariat for the queer organisation of Iceland, Samtökin ’78, and chairperson of Intersex Iceland, is not surprised.
“We do have full marriage equality here in Iceland, but we still do not have automatic co-parent recognition,” she explained. “We do have legal provisions so same-sex couples can adopt, but Iceland does not have an adoption agreement with any country that will adopt to a same-sex couple, and adoptions are very rare within in Iceland domestically. So, de facto, gay men can not adopt. Lesbians do have access to fertility treatments, but must go through degrading bureaucratic processes to be both recognised as parents.”
Iceland was weakest on the points of prosecuting for hate crime and hate speech. While Iceland does have laws against these things, they are broadly open to interpretation, and recent court rulings on hate speech have invariably found in favour of the defendants.
While most Icelanders are fairly tolerant of the queer community, Kitty says, this does not mean that everyone is, and this leaves a lot of people vulnerable.
“Especially equality and non-discrimination and hate crime and hate speech, we at Samtökin get various informal complaints brought to us where we get information about things taking place,” Kitty said. “So we know that there are things going on which are basically unmeasurable because there is no legislation in place that gives access to mechanisms where you can actually complain properly.”
The matter doesn’t just affect Icelandic citizens, either: queer asylum seekers are especially vulnerable.
“We used to have two solid points there and lost them purely due to the fact that we have no knowledge of any positive measure that was taken in 2016,” Kitty explained. “Every queer asylum seeker who has come to Iceland that has contacted us is either still here waiting or has been deported. There isn’t any positive story this year when it comes to queer asylum seekers.”
Kitty is not especially optimistic that Iceland will turn things around, citing UN obligations that Iceland has accepted and yet hasn’t implemented. The ball is now in the court of the Icelandic government to not only honour its obligations, but to update its legislation to be more in keeping with a changing world.
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