As Iceland strengthens trans rights, hate crime in the UK rises. We should be ashamed
Earlier this month, Iceland passed a monumental law on transgender rights, with the potential of expanding it to make a huge difference for intersex people too.
People are now allowed to change their name and gender by handing in a form to the national registry, as opposed to having to go through a humiliating diagnosis process to prove their gender identity to a stranger.
The law allows trans people to access healthcare based on an informed consent model, meaning trans people no longer have to undergo a medical diagnosis of a mental disorder, much in line with new guidelines from the World Health Organisation.
There will also be a third gender option available, marked with the letter X, meaning that non-binary people will have legal gender recognition for the first time in Iceland. Children and teenagers can also change their name and gender marker with parental consent.
The law has led to many public discussions that have been challenging, but worthwhile. Because there is a lot of misinformation and fear surrounding the lives of trans people in the world, there are a lot of misconceptions that need correcting. There have been questions around trans people using locker rooms, prisons, participating in sport and trans women accessing womens shelters.
But these discussions have all been handled in a very common sense led way and without the media facilitating outrage, as trans people have been and will continue to use all these services and facilities without trouble. Much like in the UK, this law has no effect on peoples access to them and does not create an avenue for people to misuse it.
The bill had support from human rights organisations and related institutions, such Amnesty International, childrens protection services and the Womens Rights Organisation of Iceland.
The fact the discussion was handled respectfully and based on evidence and experience meant that MPs were fully informed and not a single MP voted against the bill. The prison service and national sports union have been clear and implemented trans-inclusive policies as a result of the law passing, with many other organisations and institutions following suit.
Similar discussions and media coverage here in the UK are a completely different story. As someone who lives in the UK but does a lot of work in Iceland, and its incredibly frustrating to see how the UK treats this discussion with such hostility and misinformation. And its not just in society at large, there are also deep tensions within the LGBTQI+ community itself.
I was not surprised when a new report revealed that transphobic hate crimes have risen by 81 per cent in the past years. This might partly be due to trans people being encouraged by the authorities to report crimes and those crimes being taken more seriously, but I believe the instances of violence have also gone up, and the mainstream media in the UK has a lot to answer for.
It has created a climate of hostility towards trans people, who are constantly and inaccurately described as a threat to society. Media coverage does inevitably shape opinion
The way trans issues are reported now is reminiscent of the media coverage of gay, lesbian and bi people which were common up until 20 years ago.
Look no further than the misleading headlines and articles claiming kids are being turned trans, that echo the same unfounded fears used to justify passing Section 28 – a law that effectively banned teachers from acknowledging the existence of LGB people, and was only reversed in this country in 2003.
The stats around hate crimes shows that the UK has a serious problem with transphobia. According to a report by the LGBT charity Stonewall UK, 41 per cent of trans people faced a hate crime during a 12 month period, 50 per cent hid their identity at work, 34 per cent faced harassment in public places, 48 per cent reported not using public toilets out of fear of harassment and 44 per cent avoid certain streets at night because they dont feel safe.
If the UK is to combat transphobia adequately, we need to seriously address the impact of media promoting negative opinions of trans people. Most of the time discussions about trans issues are less about a constructive way forward, and more about a gladiator-style shouting match between two people on either side of the spectrum.
Some may argue Iceland is a significantly smaller country than the UK, making it easier to be progressive in these areas. But there are other much bigger countries around the world that have already made similar changes or are moving towards making significant and meaningful changes for the LGBTQI+ community, such as Argentina, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Canada and more.