Iceland Passes Major Gender Identity Law: "The Fight Is Far From Over" - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Iceland Passes Major Gender Identity Law: “The Fight Is Far From Over”

Published June 19, 2019

Andie Fontaine
Photo by
Alísa Kalyanova

Yesterday afternoon, Iceland’s Parliament passed a new law which greatly expands the rights of trans people, including those who are non-binary. While the changes made were celebrated by some of the leading figures in Iceland’s trans community, they also pointed out that there is still a long ways to go, especially when it comes to the rights of intersex people.

The law in question was introduced to Parliament by the Prime Minister’s office, and was passed yesterday with 45 Yes votes and no one opposed, although there were three abstentions, from Karl Gauti Hjaltason, Ólafur Ísleifsson and Sigurður Páll Jónsson—all of the Centre Party. 15 MPs were not present for the vote.

What’s in the law

Up until this point, trans people in Iceland have had to endure a lengthy diagnostic process, involving multiple interviews over a series of months or longer, in order to change their legally registered gender and get access to health care specific to trans people. Further, there has been no third gender option for non-binary people.

That has now changed with the passage of this law, as it institutes an informed consent model, a much shorter process for many trans people to get the medical resources they need, and also adds a third gender option—X—to the National Registry. In addition, those under the age of 18 can change their registered gender with the confirmation of a parent or legal guardian.

“This is an important reminder that the fight for equality and equity is nowhere near finished and we must continue to ensure that everyone from within our community are respected, protected and valued.”

What’s missing

Nonetheless, leading trans figures in Iceland who were a part of the crafting of the original bill have pointed out shortcomings, and areas that are still in dire need of improvement. For one, despite the language of the bill establishing all these changes going into effect with the legislation’s passage, the National Registry has said it could take them up to 18 months to add a third gender option to their system. For another, there is still a considerable ways to go when it comes to the rights of Iceland’s intersex population.

In the form of a bill, this legislation originally sought to ensure protections for intersex children; specifically, to forbid the practice of performing unnecessary cosmetic surgery on the genitalia of intersex infants. Those protections did not make it into the final legislation. Instead, the law outlines the establishment of a special committee which will be tasked with researching a new law specifically for intersex adults and children, with their findings due in 12 months’ time.

“The fight is far from over.”

Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, a trans activist and chairperson of Trans Ísland, has been involved in the crafting of this legislation from the beginning. They responded to the new law in a lengthy post on Facebook about the matter.

“While it’s definitely worth noting this important step, the goal we set out with to begin with is not yet reached and it will not be reached until intersex people are given bodily integrity,” they wrote in part. “The fight is therefore far from over. This is an important reminder that the fight for equality and equity is nowhere near finished and we must continue to ensure that everyone from within our community are respected, protected and valued.”

Alda Villiljós, a photographer and genderqueer activist, described the new law as “bittersweet” on multiple fronts, saying in part, “It’s a huge leap forward for trans people but intersex folks are being thrown under the bus, so celebrating feels a bit off.”

“There are still so many issues facing our community and we must strive towards full equality for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or sex characteristics,” Ugla concludes. “None of us are truly free until we are all free.”

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