After three years, a trans woman in Reykjavík has finally gotten her discrimination case against a downtown nightclub opened in Reykjavík District Court. The case was at one point dropped by police, who did not want to pursue the matter, but it has at last gone to trial.
The incident in question occurred at the club Hverfisbarinn in November 2018. There, Sæborg Ninja Urðardóttir hoped to celebrate her sibling’s birthday with some friends. However, the doorman for the club denied Sæborg entry, saying that she was not dressed according to the dress code. When pressed further, he said “I just couldn’t let a guy in a women’s fur coat into the place.” Despite being told that she is a trans woman, the doorman continuously misgendered her in front of others, telling her to come back wearing a men’s suit jacket.
While the defense is sticking by the contention that the club’s doorman, Þór Bergsson, was merely enforcing its dress code, not only was there no dress code accessible at the time; Íða Finnbogadóttir, who was with Sæborg’s group, told reporters that she was allowed into the club despite wearing the same outfit as Sæborg; namely, she was wearing a fur coat. In fact, they both wore the exact same fur coat; when worn by Sæborg, the doorman had an issue, but took no exception to Íða wearing it.
The matter drew considerable media attention at the time, prompting the university student group Röskva to cancel an event they had scheduled at Hverfisbarinn. Sæborg sought to pursue discrimination charges against the club, but police mishandling of the case nearly led to the matter being dropped altogether.
Ultimately, Sæborg was able to raise the legal funds to hire a lawyer, and the first session of the trial was held last Friday at Reykjavík District Court. Sæborg shared some of her thoughts on the trial with the Grapevine.
“He absolutely did speak to me,” she told us, contrary to what the doorman testified. “He told me to dress like a man. There were a group of us there. People were super upset about this. They stood there silently for a moment, and then left. From what I heard of his version of events, it does not sound true in the least.”
One telling interaction happened very early on in the trial, when the defendant’s attorney began his question of Sæborg by misgendering her.
“After I corrected him, he didn’t do it again,” she said. The lawyer apologised as well in front of others at the session’s end, reportedly saying, “He was going to try so hard to be careful about this. Which I think is perhaps a clue to how he speaks about me with his client. Because if he has to be really careful when he meets me, that means he’s not talking about me as a woman when I’m not in the room, or when he’s in a room with a judge in a case about transphobia.”
Sæborg is fairly confident on her chances, saying that she got the impression she was being heard by the court. In addition, “The law is pretty clear that you cannot discriminate against a person based on their gender expression. But the defense seems to be running with their being a dress code, and that we didn’t match it. Which doesn’t align with how he acted that evening, and the testimonies of witnesses. Also, they didn’t have a dress code at the time that was accessible.”
Sæborg emphasised the importance of this case, and its implications, whichever way the verdict ultimately goes.
“If this is a victory, it sends a really clear message out into society that this isn’t OK; that you actually have to respect us and give us our place,” she said. “We deserve to have a place in society, and that place is protected. If it doesn’t go great, it sends the message that we don’t matter. That they can write laws that supposedly protect us, but the people who run the whole system, they don’t care and they will sabotage us every step of the way. This has taken three years to get to court. The police didn’t want to investigate it. So this case being won would also incentivise the police to investigate transphobia.”
In the event of a loss, Sæborg says she is prepared to appeal the matter—all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, if need be. For her, it is imperative.
“If I don’t, I’ll feel like I’m failing my community,” she said. “Someone has to do this. And I just happen to be in the position to do so. So for me, it’s a moral requirement.”
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