The two-day workshop I attended on LGBTI rights held by RFSL Stockholm was interesting and valuable, with attendees gaining knowledge about the rights of LGBTI individuals in Sweden.
I believe there was a fundamental question that underpinned all the discussions that were held during the different seminars: how to talk about discrimination from both a position of global privilege and a position of disadvantage in a heteronormative society?
While Sweden is one of the most progressive countries regarding the protection and promotion of LGBTI rights, there is still a lot to work for. For example, in the seminar about LGBTQ families we learned that even though same-sex couples have the right to be legally registered as the parents of a child, the norms that regulate parenthood in general are highly heteronormative and do not take into account the special situation of these couples.
A partner of a biological parent must apply for adoption (for the child) – it is not otherwise possible to be registered as a parent. International adoption for same-sex couples is also quite complex; the legality of same-sex adoption in a foreign state usually creates a barrier.
The Swedish Genetic Integrity Act also adds complexity and makes it really difficult for same-sex couples to access procedures such as IVF, as the genetic material must belong to at least one member of the couple.
RFSL acknowledge these kinds of problems which all come from the heteronormative Swedish legal structure. They use “norm-criticism” methodology, which studies of power structures within society, and thus questions what is considered to be normal.
It is also essential to understand, however, that despite these problems, LGBTQ individuals in Sweden have it far better than those in other countries. While discussing the issues mentioned above, we learnt about the difficulties faced by a LGBTQ activists in Bangladesh. There, promoting the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities can become dangerous.
The challenge for RFSL has been to acknowledge cultural diversity and international contexts while continuing to campaign for LGBT rights. The goal is to avoid falling into neocolonialist approaches and discourses.
I found it really interesting that by using the language of intersectionality to tackle this issue, RFSL initiated innovative projects. For example, the RFSL Newcomers programme is a network that aims to provide support and advice to LGBTQ asylum-seeking, undocumented, and newly arrived people.
The core of this project is recognising that identifying as LGBTQ in Sweden does not mean the same thing for everybody and that the migratory status of a person, their country of origin or cultural background could give a different meaning to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I appreciate that the Swedish Institute has opened up a space to talk about this topic. I firmly believe that gender and queer approaches are fundamental to the work of the SI and to the education of the future global leaders.
Special thanks to RFSL for opening their doors and experiences to all of us, and to each one of the current and former scholarship holders I had the pleasure of interacting with during those two days.
Thank you for reminding me that we are a big family, and collectively we have the power to fight homophobia, transphobia and any other form of violence against our community. It is our common experiences that drive us towards the desire for change.
Juan José Verheist
Swedish Institute Study Scholarship
LLM International Human Rights Law – Lund University