City officials are currently investigating a possible case of discrimination against a trans man who sought to use a city pool’s showers but was told “we can’t guarantee you won’t get into trouble”. The incident may have been a violation of Reykjavík’s own Human Rights Policy, but gaps in current legislation still exist, a vice councilperson for Reykjavík City Council told Grapevine.
“I called Vesturbæjarlaug and told them I was a transgender man who would be using the men’s showers, and I just wanted them to keep an eye out to be sure I wouldn’t be harassed,” Prodhi Manisha told Grapevine. “They said they wouldn’t do this. They told me instead that it is an official policy that people must go to the showers based on their genitalia.”
When he pointed out that being forced to use the women’s showers would set off their dysphoria, he was reportedly told that the pool has “to do what’s comfortable for everyone, and that they can’t promise I won’t get into some kind of trouble.” The pool staff member also reportedly kept saying “trans people and other ‘different people’ like this need to use individual stalls at other pools”.
As such, he opted not to go to the pool.
What is the actual policy?
Grapevine contacted Þórgnýr Thoroddsen, a vice councilperson for the Pirate Party on Reykjavík City Council, and asked if there was indeed a policy that stated pool showers are assigned by genitalia. It turns out there is no such policy.
Reykjavík’s regulations on pool health and safety only mention that pools “must provide showers for both sexes”, which Þórgnýr told us “clearly” needs to be updated. Furthermore, Article 7 of Reykjavík’s Human Rights Policy expressly states, “It is forbidden to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sexual characteristics”.
Grapevine contacted Vesturbæjarlaug on the matter. Management there said they would not comment as this particular case is currently under investigation and assessment by city authorities. Þórgnýr believes the case deserves extensive review.
“These issues are being looked at by the human rights office of the city,” he told Grapevine. “There’s a need for clarification on the issue, but not a blame game. The result will be that the staff of the swimming pools will get information and/or education to be able to properly deal with those circumstances when they come up. The swimming pools are for everyone and it is our intention to keep it that way.”
“A regular experience for trans people”
“I asked them, what if someone of a difference race went into the shower, or a gay man, and a racist or a homophobic person complained about that?,” Prodhi told us. “Would they kick people out to make the complainers comfortable?”
Prodhi says he has run into similar experiences elsewhere, such as at Kópavogslaug, where he was asked directly by a staff member whether or not he had a penis.
“The thing is this isn’t just about one bad staff person,” he told Grapevine. “This is a regular experience for trans people, and a big reason why a lot of them will not even go to the pool anymore.”
Þórgnýr encourages anyone who believes they have been discriminated against to not be shy about reaching out to City Council.
“Contact the city and voice your concerns,” he says. “The goal is always to get things right. If things go totally awry, then Umboðsmaður Borgarbúa [the City Resident Ombudsman] may be the office to speak to.”