Violence and hate crimes against queer people and the LGBTQ+ community have been prominent around this year’s Pride festival. Notably, Oslo pride was canceled this year because of a shooting shortly before at a popular gay club.
In Iceland, hate speech and hate crimes have also increased in that context. Last month, the rainbow-decorated steps of Grafarvog Church were vandalised more than once. Last week, nine flagpoles were cut down on Hella, where rainbow flags were flying in support of queer people. Most recently, a rainbow flag at Hjalla Church in Kópavogur was torn down and damaged, which the parish priest says is an obvious hate crime.
Samtökin ’78, the National Queer Organisation, received 10 reports of harassment against LGBTQ+ individuals after Pride.
Research into negative attitudes
“Canadian criminologist Barbara Perry has talked about the fact that when minorities take up space and increase their visibility, there will always be some part of society that reacts negatively. That is to say that maybe society accepts that people are queer, that there are immigrants and so on, but accepts it with some limitations,” Eyrún Eyþórsdóttir, a doctor in anthropology and an assistant professor in police studies at the University of Akureyri, told RÚV.
Eyrún says people’s attitudes often change when the demand for rights becomes stronger.
“As soon as people start fighting for equal rights with others, fighting for being allowed to be in society on their own terms, it seems to arouse negative attitudes among a certain group of people. And recently, diversity is being celebrated with the Pride march, and the issues of trans people have been discussed a lot recently, and I can imagine that it is creating negative attitudes in certain groups,” says Eyrún.
Young people and social media
Young people aged 14-15 were working in Hella on the day when nine rainbow flags were cut down.
“There are young people working there. There are young people demonstrating this prejudice. We have always thought: the young generation is so enlightened, so open-minded and tolerant and so on. Although research shows that it is most likely true that new generations are more open-minded toward diversity than older generations, there is still a certain amount of prejudice,” says Eyrún.
She says social media plays a big part in reaching people today. Extremist forces take advantage of the information chaos that is created there. “Adults, let alone young people, have a very hard time distinguishing between what is real science and what is just nonsense. Organizations that are working against certain minority groups, working against equal rights, they take advantage of this,” she says.
Social media thrives on controversy and drama creates, which creates an offensive for the media and makes it more addictive. Controversial TikTok star Andrew Tate said in an interview that the key to popularity on social media is to gather 60-70% fans and 30-40% detractors.
Some may have seen the discussion developing in this direction, while others have no doubt noticed nothing because it all depends on how an individual’s algorithm works.
Extremism around the world
“We know there is a rise of various extremist forces around the world. It hasn’t been that long since we started talking about how police authorities need to stop always focusing on terrorism in connection with Islamists, but also need to start looking at white extremist movements because they are only growing in the western world,” says Eyrún. “We’ve just seen the rise of populism, and it’s based on the premise that there is someone who threatens your community and you should be afraid and you need to oppose and preferably exclude. So based on these facts, it’s perhaps not surprising that we’ve come here.”
“One of the largest growing extremist movements in Europe, Identitarianism, is different from other far-right movements because it is basically all young university people. I don’t think this movement has gained a foothold here in Iceland, but it is a very fast growing movement in Europe and they are targeting young people,” says Eyrún.
Eyrún says that when people see hate speech on television or on the internet, not only do they become desensitised to it, but they themselves grow prejudiced. Thus, it is critical to prevent hate speech from gaining a foothold.
Striving for change
“Icelanders have been extremely adamant that there is some paradise of equality here. Icelanders naturally have to be the best in everything in the world, and we are naturally the best in this too, whether it’s gender equality or equality between other groups. But scholars have been pointing out over the years that this paradise of equality may not be quite the case,” says Eyrún.
In order for things to change, she says we need to listen to the people who are the victims of the hate.
“As long as the people who are in power or make decisions are people who don’t experience this themselves, we may not see much change. If you don’t feel this with your own body, you may not feel that there is a great need for action. That’s why I think we’re just very slow to start working against hate violence, for example. That it is not only the more active work against hate crimes, against hate speech, because when we start dealing with hate crimes on such a large scale, as has been shown recently, we have just missed the train. I’ve missed out on being able to counter it at earlier stages,” says Eyrún.
For more on the bigotry that queer people in Iceland are facing–and how Icelanders are fighting it–check out our latest cover story.
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