Set to Rights

Trans Ísland

The year is 1996. After spending several years in Sweden, Anna Kristjánsdóttir moves back to Iceland. She struggles to find a job, and when she finally does, harsh bullying leads her to quit. Anna is a public figure, though not everyone looks at her in a positive light. But it’s not living abroad that has made her an outsider: Anna is trans.

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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.”

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

Iceland trans intersex rights bill

Trans people in Iceland will now be able to change their official gender according to their lived experience, and register as neither male not female (denoted with an “x” on documents). The Icelandic Parliament passed a Gender Autonomy Act yesterday that is a big step forward when it comes to trans and intersex people’s rights in the country.

The bill confirms the right of the individual to change their gender in the official registry in accordance with their own experience and without having to meet conditions for diagnosis or medical treatment. The Act also ensures that children under the age of 18 can change their registered gender and name in the National Registry with the consent of their parents. If parents’ consent is not available, the decision is put before an expert committee.

“The bill aims to respect and strengthen the self-determination of each individual as their own understanding of gender identity is the basis for decision-making regarding their public [gender] registration, as others are not better suited for this,” reads a government press release. “The Act is also intended to safeguard the individual’s right to bodily autonomy and a working group will be appointed to ensure the legal status of children born with atypical sex characteristics.”

Iceland moves forward

“In order to truly improve people’s rights, political courage and political will are needed,” stated Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir about the legislation. “With the passing of these laws Iceland puts itself in the forefront internationally.”

The Gender Autonomy Act is in line with the Government Declaration of the Progressive Party, the Independence Party and the Left Green Movement, which states that the Government intends to bring Iceland to the forefront of LGBTQ+ issues with ambitious gender autonomy legislation, in accordance with the recent recommendations of the Council of Europe on intersex people’s human rights. Under these laws, individuals should be able to determine their own gender, their gender identity will be recognised, individuals will enjoy bodily integrity and equality before the law regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics, and gender expression.

Rights Groups Express Concerns

In a statement about the passing of the legislation, rights groups Samtökin ’78, Trans Iceland and Intersex Iceland released a statement celebrated the Act “with all our hearts, as it comprises extremely important advances for trans and intersex people in Iceland.” The groups’ statement, however, outlines some concerns regarding revisions that were made to the bill through its readings.

A proposed complete ban on medically unnecessary interventions on intersex children was scrapped by the government, which will instead appoint a task force to examine the issue further. The statement expressed dissatisfaction that intersex children “are not immediately protected against the human rights violations that unnecessary and irreversible interventions to their bodies entail.” The statement also criticised that the original age requirement for changing one’s registered gender without the consent of parents or an expert committee was raised from 15 to 18.

Icelandic writer and trans rights activist Ugla Stefanía Kristjönudóttir Jónsdóttir, who helped draft the bill, echoes these concerns. “While it’s definitely worth noting this important step, the goal we set out with to begin with is not yet reached and it will not be reached until intersex people are given bodily ingregrity [sic],” she wrote in a Facebook post.“The fight is therefore far from over. This is an important reminder that the fight for equality and equity is nowhere near finished and we must continue to ensure that everyone from within our community are respected, protected and valued.”