‘We’re trying to embrace society as it is’

The National Church of Iceland’s new ad welcoming people to Sunday School features a prominent rainbow and a Jesus with a beard and breasts, Vísir reports. The ad immediately sparked outrage in some quarters, but the church says that while they aren’t surprised by the anger, responses have been mostly been positive.

The image appeared on the National Church’s Facebook page on Friday. “There was a reason I left the National Church and found another Christian congregation,” wrote one commenter. “I’ve got to congratulate the church for this,” wrote another. The image was variously dubbed “tasteless,” “wonderful,” and “particularly stupid.”

“Shame on the bishop!” read another comment, while another said that the church should be ashamed for “showing [Jesus] humiliated like this.”

“Where’s the love and tolerance among you people?” chided yet another commenter. “It shows we come in all sorts.”

‘It’s really important that each and every person see themselves in Jesus’

The latter sentiment seems to best reflect the National Church’s intentions with the ad—which, it should be added, is only one of many that were produced for the Sunday School campaign. “It isn’t the only picture,” says Pétur G. Markan, director of communications for the church.

“In this one, we see a Jesus who has breasts and a beard. We’re trying to embrace society as it is. We have all sorts of people and we need to train ourselves to talk about Jesus as being ‘all sorts’ in this context. Especially because it’s really important that each and every person see themselves in Jesus and that we don’t stagnate too much. That’s the essential message. So this is okay. It’s okay that Jesus has a beard and breasts,” he remarked.

Putting words into action

As for the negative reactions, Pétur says they don’t come as any real surprise. “Love can come outrage people. That’s just how it goes. It’s been shown many times throughout human history that love can outrage people.”

Pétur says he thinks that the picture presents an opportunity for growth among parishioners. “I sometimes think that it’s really good, with a project like this, to take in the responses, analyze them, and realize that maybe there’s really a need for something like this. We really need to break open stereotypes, to open our society and [actually] make it diverse, not just talk about [making it diverse],” Pétur concludes. “If people feel like there’s been some kind of change in the National Church, it’s maybe just a change from just talking about things to doing them.”

New Bill Would Expand Definitions of Mother and Father

Reykjavík baby

A new bill introduced by the Minister of Justice would redefine the legal definitions of ‘mother’ and ‘father’ and allow nonbinary individuals to register themselves simply as ‘parents’ if they prefer not to designate themselves a gendered parental role, RÚV reports.

The bill notes that unlike some countries around the world that compel trans people to be sterilized in order to achieve legal recognition of their gender, Iceland has no such requirement. As such, a trans man in Iceland may become pregnant and give birth to a child and a trans woman may beget a child. Per the proposed changes to the bill, parents who have legally changed their gender in the national registry will be recognized as ‘mother’ or ‘father’ in accordance with their legal gender. This would allow a child to have, for instance, two legal fathers or two legal mothers.

See Also: Iceland’s Gender Autonomy Act is a Step Forward for Trans and Intersex Rights 

Last June, Iceland passed the Gender Autonomy Act, which allows, among other things, for individuals to change their official gender according to their lived experience and register as neither male nor female (denoted with an “x” on documents). The new bill would therefore make it possible for a person to simply designate themselves as a child’s ‘parent’ in the national registry, rather than having to choose between being listed as the child’s mother or father.

Should the bill be passed, further changes would need to be made in accordance with the new definitions of the concept of ‘mother.’ Special rights currently afforded to mothers related to pregnancy and childbirth would also need to extend to those identifying as fathers or parents.

The bill would also update the current ‘pater est’ laws, which states that the man who a mother is either married to or cohabitating with is automatically considered a child’s father. Under the new provisions, this would be redefined as the ‘parens est’ principal: a child born to two cohabitating or married individuals would automatically be considered their child, and they the child’s parents. This would not apply, however, in the case of artificial insemination.

In the event that the parens est rule does not apply, the parental status of the cohabitating partner or spouse of a person who gave birth to a child would be determined according to paternal recognition provisions, which would be similar to the current provisions on paternity recognition. (See the current laws on maternity and paternity in Iceland, including paternity recognition, in English here.)

Name Changes In a Week or Less Once Law Goes Into Effect

Iceland trans intersex rights bill

Once the new Gender Autonomy Act goes into effect, individuals will have only a three to five day wait for their requested name changes to be processed, RÚV reports. Although the law has yet to be published, preparations are already underway at Registers Iceland in the hope that the name change process will be as smooth and fast as possible for all applicants.

Alþingi passed the Gender Autonomy Act last week. Per this new law, Icelandic names will no longer be gendered. This means that anyone will be able to take any name in the registry, irrespective of gender, and marks a major change in Icelandic naming conventions. Per the previous provisions of the country’s naming laws, “Girls shall be given female names and boys shall be given male names.” Moreover, individuals will have the right to change their official gender according to their lived experience and register as neither male nor female (denoted with an “x” on documents).

Registers Iceland is preparing itself so as to be ready to process name changes as soon as the law goes into effect says Margrét Hauksdóttir, the organisation’s general director. “…[W]e’ll be ready with electronic forms where people can apply for changes, both to their surnames and given names.”

Per the new law, individuals who register their gender as ‘X’ will be able to take gender neutral surnames in lieu of patro- and matronymics that designate the bearer as being someone’s son or daughter. The status quo is for children to be given a name that specifies them as being either male or female using the suffixes -son or -dóttir. But now, there is a gender-neutral option in the name ending -bur, which doesn’t carry any gendered connotation. (People registered as female will still be required to take the patro- or matronymic -dóttir and people registered as male will still have to use -son.)

Margrét says that Registers Iceland is anticipating a high number of name change applications to be submitted once the law takes effect, as there are a number of people who have been specifically waiting for the law to allow them to do so. Processing time for name changes should be within three to five business days, she says.

“Not much more than that,” she remarked. “If it is, in fact, a name that exists in the name registry and if it doesn’t require any special consideration, it will go through quickly.”

Icelandic Names Will No Longer Be Gendered

Reykjavík pride

Icelandic given names will no longer be differentiated as being “male” or “female” in the national naming registry, RÚV reports. This means that anyone will be able to take any name in the registry, irrespective of gender, and marks a major change in Icelandic naming conventions. Per the previous provisions of the country’s naming laws, “Girls shall be given female names and boys shall be given male names.”

The removal of gender from given names is one of the changes that will go into effect as part of the Gender Autonomy Act that parliament passed last week. It applies to both parents naming their children and to adults who want to officially change their names. The Gender Autonomy Act also gives individuals the right to change their official gender according to their lived experience and register as neither male nor female (denoted with an “x” on documents).

Unisex names allowed

Under the previous naming laws, no name could be given to both men and women, except in rare cases where there was an existing precedent for this. If a woman, therefore, wanted to take a name that was registered as a male name, she would have to submit a petition to the Icelandic Naming Committee for approval, and vice versa.

This very aspect of the law came under international scrutiny in 2013, when Blær Bjarkardóttir Rúnarsdóttir, then 15 years old, was informed by the state that she would have to change her name because “Blær” was only allowable as a boy’s name. Her mother, Björk Eiðsdóttir, had named her Blær as an infant, citing previous usages of the name for women, but had not received Naming Committee approval for this and as such, all of her daughter’s official documents and passport referred to her only as “Stúlka,” or literally, ‘Girl.’ Blær and Björk sued the state for Blær’s right to continue to bear her name, which she won that same year.

Just last year, the same situation came up again when the Icelandic Naming Committee rejected a petition to allow a four-year-old girl to bear the name “Alex.” Per the committee’s rationale, Alex was only recognised as a boy’s name. This decision was reversed in March 2018, as examples were furnished of the name being used for girls as well.

Gender neutral family names

The new Gender Autonomy Act will also allow individuals who register their gender as ‘X’ to take gender neutral family names in lieu of patro- and matronymics that designate the bearer as being someone’s son or daughter. The status quo is for children to be given a name that specifies them as being either male or female using the suffixes -son or -dóttir. But now, there is a gender neutral option in the name ending -bur, which doesn’t carry any gendered connotation.

Take as an example as person named Alex. Instead of having to go by the name Alex Jónsdóttir (literally, ‘Alex, daughter of Jón,’) or Alex Jónsson (‘Alex, son of Jón’), this individual could elect to take the name Alex Jónsbur: Alex, Child of Jón. It’s important to note, however, that this gender neutral option will only be available to Icelanders who are officially registered as neither male not female. People registered as female will still be required to take the patro- or matronymic -dóttir and people registered as male will still have to use -son.

Amnesty International Calls on Iceland to Respect ‘Diverse Bodies’

A new report issued by Amnesty International uses case studies in Iceland to show how a lack of supportive legislation leads to people “born with variations of sex characteristics – who sometimes describe themselves as ‘intersex’” facing social stigma, discrimination, and potentially harmful surgical procedures.

The report calls particular attention to the Bill on Sexual and Gender Autonomy that is set to come before parliament at the end of February. Although Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has emphasized that this bill is part of her government’s commitment to being on the vanguard of LGBTQIA issues, Amnesty International asserts that it “…lacks essential protections for children. In particular, it includes no provisions to end ‘normalising’ non-emergency, invasive and irreversible surgeries on children born with variations of sex characteristics.”

Amnesty International estimates that there are roughly 6,000 people in Iceland “…with sex characteristics – genitals, gonads, hormones, chromosomes or reproductive organs – which vary from the established norms for ‘male’ and ‘female’”. The organization says that during its study of the country, it “found evidence that in Iceland, people who are born with variations of sex characteristics struggle to access healthcare that is appropriate and centres on their human rights, which in some cases can cause lasting harm.”

The organization also spoke to Kitty Anderson, the founder of Intersex Iceland, who echoed their observations, saying “[g]ood healthcare is so hard to get because we are seen as ‘disorders’ that need to be fixed…A lot of the health issues that arise are because of the treatment that we got as children. We wouldn’t have all these cases of osteopenia or osteoporosis if we hadn’t gone through gonadectomies as children and incompetent hormone therapy as teenagers.”

In closing, Amnesty International called on the Icelandic government to “…create a specialised, multidisciplinary team for the medical treatment of children and of adults with variations of sex characteristics” and to “…develop and implement a rights-based healthcare protocol for individuals with variations of sex characteristics to guarantee their bodily integrity, autonomy and self-determination.”

Read Amnesty International’s full statement on this issue, “Iceland: Diverse bodies are not mistakes to be corrected,” in English, here.