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Trans Iceland Gets Involved In Refugee Case: An “Absolute Tragedy”

Trans Iceland Gets Involved In Refugee Case: An “Absolute Tragedy”

Photos by
Art Bicnick/Sæborg Ninja/Sharon Kilgannon

Published May 23, 2018

Trans Iceland has been reaching out to numerous organisations, including the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), on the case of a trans man misgendered in registration by immigration authorities, despite granting him asylum for being trans in the first place. A trans activist and writer we spoke with also contends that this matter also relates to a confusion between gender expression and gender identity, calling it “incredibly discriminatory and frankly outrageous”.

As reported, Prodhi Manisha was granted asylum in Iceland in large part because he is a trans man, for which he would have faced concerted persecution in his country of citizenship. This is outlined extensively in Directorate of Immigration (UTL) case work on Prodhi, which Grapevine has reviewed, and he was previously issued an asylum seeker ID that gendered him correctly. However, upon picking up his refugee ID last week, he discovered that he had been registered in the system – by UTL – as female.

“It is an absolute tragedy,” Sæborg Ninja, the treasurer of Trans Iceland, told Grapevine. “A person having their gender recognised, and then de-legitimised by the same organisation, is horrifying.”

“As a starting point, each person’s profound, self‐defined gender identity should be respected, regardless of whether the refugee has undergone any surgery or hormone treatment.” – United Nations Refugee Agency’s Guidelines for Settlement.

Sæborg says they have been in contact with various other organisations, including Samtökin 78, to determine their next steps. In addition, Sæborg has been in contact with a UNHCR representative and, with other board members, have been reaching out to further contacts within the human rights sphere.

While UTL has contended that Prodhi must take the matter up with the National Registry, a number of sources we spoke with believe that there is nothing in the law preventing UTL from correcting their error, Sæborg amongst them.

“I do not believe that ÚTL’s registration choice is a matter of being confined by the law,” Sæborg says. “The law relating to trans folks, or as the law calls it ‘people with gender identity disorder’, relates largely to the medical services and diagnoses trans people are required to have to change their registration within the National Registry. Getting through that system, if not requires, then strongly urges hormone treatment as well as surgery. However, UNHCR (which Iceland belongs to) guidelines state, for the protection of trans and intersex people, that their gender shall be respected and they shall not be made to go on hormones or have surgery.”

According to UNHCR’s guidelines for resettlement, it is stated in part that a refugee’s self-defined gender identity “should be respected, regardless of whether the refugee has undergone any surgery or hormone treatment.”

Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, a trans activist, writer and co-creator at My Genderation, believes the case also has something to do with a confusion between gender expression – for example, how a person chooses to dress – and gender identity.

“This is putting even more stress on someone that has already gone through a lot and is vulnerable to transphobia and discrimination.”

“I believe that [UTL’s] reluctance to change their ID has a lot to do with their prejudice towards Prodhi’s gender expression,” Ugla told Grapevine. “While he is a trans man, his expression is very feminine. I believe that if his expression was more masculine, UTL would not have made an issue out of this. It demonstrates how society doesn’t differentiate between gender identity and gender expression, and how people are more reluctant to recognise the gender identity of people that do not conform to strict gender norms in terms of expression.”

As such, Ugla says, what UTL is doing is causing active harm.

“It is also incredibly discriminatory and frankly outrageous that they are refusing to recognise his gender, when the main reason he sought asylum was because of his gender identity,” they say. “He is literally unable to have it changed in his country, and the least UTL could do is recognise him legally for who he is and have a positive effect on his quality of life. This is putting even more stress on someone that has already gone through a lot and is vulnerable to transphobia and discrimination.”

As pointed out previously, a trans “quota refugee” (refugees expressly invited to and settled in Iceland by the government) was correctly gendered when registered by authorities, and Sæborg does not believe the law makes exceptions in this matter.

“Neither is it permissible to discriminate refugees based on whether they are quota refugees or not,” Sæborg tells us. “Prodhi’s gender was recognized by the state until this month. I would think that rules and regulations relating to the status of refugees should be followed when it comes to registering a person in the National Registry. This clearly goes against what is considered permissible or humane treatment of trans or intersex refugees.”


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