These are RFSL's Guiding Principles, adopted at the Gävle Congress in 2012.
RFSL works for a society characterised by diversity and respect for individuals’ differences – where all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and how they choose to express their sexuality or gender identity, have equal rights and obligations, and equal possibilities to live and work.
The purpose of RFSL’s work is to improve the overall situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and other people with queer identities (LGBTQ people) in Sweden and in the world.
RFSL’s work consists of political advocacy, information provision and social engagement. The foundation of RFSL’s work is the principles and positions that our members have voted on. The main form of work in RFSL is non-profit, with international collaborations and our partnerships being a central part of RFSL’s work for LGBTQ human rights in Sweden and internationally.
The core issue for RFSL is to make visible, criticise and work to abolish the heteronormativity in society that suggests that there’s only one way to live. This built-in homophobia and transphobia is the basis of the discrimination that LGBTQ people are subjected to.
RFSL, the Swedish Federation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer rights, is a non-profit organisation founded in 1950. RFSL’s goal is that LGBTQ people shall have the same rights, possibilities and obligations as everyone else in society.
RFSL’s job is to improve the overall situation for LGBTQ people, through advocacy directed towards individuals, politicians, authorities, companies, and the media, working at local, regional, national and international levels. The different Branches within RFSL should be financially and legally separate from the federation, but shall share its goals, target groups and focus. The work within the federation is first and foremost non-profit.
RFSL is religiously and politically independent. This does not prevent collaborations with, or distancing itself from, communities, political parties or other organisations in specific issues. The religious independence should not make people who are religious feel less welcome.
RFSL’s work is to improve the overall situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and other people with queer identities (LGBTQ people) in all areas of society, and promote co-operation and diversity within the movement that works for LGBTQ rights.
RFSL should also support individuals by providing them with the possibility of interacting with others and share information on LGBTQ issues, strengthening the self-confidence, identity, pride and knowledge within the group. Such a process enhances the ability to change one’s position and increases the level of commitment to fight injustices. The right to self-identification is central within RFSL. A person’s sexual orientation and gender identity can only be defined by themselves. In self-identification, there is always the right not to identify oneself. Regardless of how someone identifies, their choice should be respected.
Solidarity is the foundation of RFSL’s work, taking a stand for all people’s human rights. The mechanisms behind discrimination are similar regardless if based on gender, gender identity, gender expression, ethnic background, religious beliefs, ability, age or sexual orientation. Discrimination based on gender, gender identity and gender expression is linked to discrimination based on sexual orientation and vice versa. Rights should not be gained at someone else’s expense. The political and educational work of RFSL is about challenging and changing opinions and norms that lead to discrimination.
RFSL strives to make all LGBTQ people and allies who support RFSL’s founding principles − regardless of social background, ethnicity, religious beliefs or HIV-status − feel welcome in the organisation. RFSL should be an inclusive organisation that works actively against norms that might exclude people within the organisation. RFSL is a feminist and anti-racist organisation actively working against gender norms, norms regarding skin colour and racist vocabulary, and other norms, such as ability, both within and outside the organisation. RFSL should be a welcoming alternative to everyone who challenges the hetero norm and/or questions heteronormativity, homophobia and transphobia.
RFSL works closely with RFSL Ungdom, our youth organisation and closest partner.
2. Norms, Gender and Sexualities
2.1 Human Rights
The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights was established in 1948, and declares that all people are born free and equal in worth and rights. This means the right to life, privacy, equality, personal freedom, the right to seek asylum, the right to start a family, the right to health and the right to not be discriminated against. LGBTQ people often have less access to their human rights than others in society, and RFSL wants to change that. The human rights of LGBTQ people are violated all over the world, and in Sweden. The Yogyakarta Principles, drafted in 2007, are a series of principles that clarify how human rights should be implemented to include the specific situations and experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people. These principles are a foundation pillar for RFSL in the work for LGBTQ human rights.
The recognition that human rights apply to all is one of the most fundamental principles in international law. The acknowledgement that everyone has the right to a full and safe life, regardless of where you live, your gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation, is crucial for RFSL’s international work. According to RFSL, a country that does not respect, protect and/or realise LGBTQ people’s basic rights cannot be seen as fulfilling its international human rights obligations. In such a society, there is no democracy, since discrimination of LGBTQ people dictates who can organise and engage in politics, and what issues are given attention and become part of the public debate.
2.2 Normativity and Queer Perspectives
Society, including the LGBTQ community, is steeped in norms – explicit and implicit. Norms are everywhere and affect everyone. They tell you how to act and how things should be. They exist, gain power and are spread by our actions, language, and culture. Norms are an important and cohesive part of the social structures, but if they are forced or limiting for the individual they become an obstacle that can lead to discrimination.
There are two principles for building norms – one is separation, where one thing is separated from another and that creates opposites; you can be either or, not both. Norms simplify. Something is either normal or abnormal with no shades in between. The other principle is value, that which follows the norm is more valuable than the other, the “deviation”. This creates a disruption in power where people who follow the norm have a privileged place in society and those who break the norm receive less power and risk different kinds of punishment. This creates a cycle where norms are continually being reproduced.
Heteronormativity is based on the notion that there are only two sexes and that these sexes are different from each other, excluding and complementing each other. Tied to these gender norms are stereotypical ideas of certain characteristics, like the man being active and the woman, passive. The normative consensus is that the sex assigned at birth is the sex that an individual will feel comfortable and identify with. People who follow this pattern are called cisgender. Within the hetero norm, cisnormativity is strong and people are assumed to be heterosexual and want to live and have sex with someone of another sex. Heteronormativity also holds a strong conviction that living as couples is the only way to have a relationship. Thus, single people and people who have more than one romantic and/or sexual relationship are met with suspicion, and their needs are not addressed in legislation.
Heteronormativity is the basis of much prejudice and discrimination against LGBTQ people. Even the LGBTQ community is affected by society’s norms, which can lead to not valuing one’s own relationship, identity and expression. Such internalised homophobia, biphobia and transphobia affects the well being of LGBTQ people and is something RFSL works to counteract.
Within the LGBTQ community, a homonormativity with idealised notions of what an LGBTQ person is supposed to be can be felt. These ideas can differ from those in mainstream society. The LGBTQ movement must counter homonormative ideas that LGBTQ people are supposed to be gay, which makes bisexual, straight and queer people invisible and subject to suspicion. The cisnormativity within the LGBTQ movement also needs to be addressed, so that trans people can access more space and a bigger influence on LGBTQ issues.
It is not uncommon that people who break norms are ostracised, discriminated against, harassed and subject to violence. RFSL believes that society’s heteronormativity makes it impossible for LGBTQ people to gain the same rights and possibilities, and this must be counteracted. A respect for diversity of different ways to live should be sought and must exist at all levels of society.
2.3 Gender, Gender Identity, and Gender Expression
Identity means how a person views and values themself as an individual in a larger social context. Gender is often the most basic and can be perceived as the most important aspect of identity. Gender can be understood as biological sex, gender identity and gender expression. Added to that is legal sex, which is society’s way of defining an individual’s gender in a binary gender system. RFSL feels that a person’s gender identity must be respected by others, regardless of if they choose to define themselves as male, female, both, or neither. Gender identity does not have to correspond with background or behaviour; gender is not always fixed, as an identity or over time.
How someone chooses to express their biological, social/psychological and/or self-defined gender can be called a person’s gender expression. Social norms regarding gender identity and its attributes, such as clothes, body language, make-up, and hairstyle, prevent people from freely expressing their personality. The cis norm is especially powerful, where society’s expectation that all social/psychological expressions should be coherent. Trans people and others who deviate from norms regarding gender expression are often harassed, discriminated against, subjected to violence, threats of violence, and other forms of negative social consequences. A society strictly built for cis people creates an exclusion that is not acceptable.
RFSL believes that every individual should have the right to define or not define their gender identity, and that all people, regardless of age, should have the right to decide their legal gender. It should also be every person’s decision how they want to express their gender and gender identity. With a queer perspective of gender, it is obvious that gender, gender identity, and gender expression are fabricated. None of these factors exist on their own, but are part of a phenomenon that is constantly creating and recreating.
It is RFSL’s fundamental belief that every person should be ascribed bodily, sexual, and emotional autonomy. Bodily autonomy means that the individual should have the right to form, use and name their body. Sexual and emotional autonomy correspondingly means that an individual should have autonomy of their feelings and sexuality. Bodily autonomy is often denied to trans people who wish to transform their bodies due to limited accessibility of care and the law.
It should be an easy process to change legal gender, without a medical diagnosis or treatment. RFSL works to make legal gender less visible in passports and social security numbers. In the long run, RFSL is not opposed to remove the registration of legal gender completely. As long as legal gender is required, RFSL works to include more than two categories so that more people could get their identity legally recognised.
Intersex children who are born with, or develop, atypical sex characteristics are often denied bodily autonomy when they are subjected to examinations and surgeries with the intent of assigning them a gender that fits society’s norms. This can have severe consequences for the individual, psychologically as well as physiologically.
2.4 Sexuality and Sexual Orientation
Sexuality is an important part of personality throughout our lifetime that encompasses different needs and actions that manifest in infatuations, fantasies, and sexual and emotional relationships. Sexuality is a force that makes us search for love and intimacy, but can also be experienced as a lack of sexual drive. It affects our thoughts, emotions and actions, and therefore our mental and physical health. It is important to get the opportunity to explore one’s sexuality, particularly when it comes to determining an individual’s gender identity and sexual orientation. Sexuality is not static, but can change and evolve over time.
Sexual orientation can be understood, based on one’s gender, as the gender/genders one is attracted to, or have relationships with on an emotional or sexual level. First and foremost, sexual orientation must be based on the self-experienced sexual identification.
Sexualities are complex and multi-dimensional; sexual orientation cannot always be squeezed into constructions such as heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality. Sexual orientation can be changeable and should be viewed that way. For some, the term sexual orientation can feel limiting, static and excluding, and other terms can feel more appropriate. That is why it can be better to focus on desires rather than orientation, so as not to link sexuality to gender identity. Some sexual terms, for example regarding how an individual likes to practice sex, may be confused with sexual orientation.
With a queer view on sexuality, it is obvious that sexual orientation and sexualities are constructed and reconstructed continuously. Such a perspective questions the normative function of heterosexuality and its polarising effect on sexualities, where sexualities are seen as static and excluding of each other.
RFSL believes that all people are sexually autonomous and hold the right to identify themselves sexually and define their sexualities. An individual’s sexual orientation and sexuality should be respected by society, regardless of how they are expressed. The norms surrounding sexuality and sexual orientation are permeated by notions of gender and gender roles. Women’s and trans people’s roles in the LGBTQ movement are diminished by society because they are not only invisible because they deviate from the norms regarding sexuality and gender, but also as sexual beings. RFSL has a sexuality affirmative and sex positive position and works against all signs that people’s sexualities are diminished and that they are deprived of the right to define and practice their own sexuality.
In society, there is a strong normative view on relationships and expressions of sexuality. Some forms of sexual expression and practices are viewed as more desirable than others and this can lead to discrimination of people who do not follow these norms, for example, those who practice BDSM and fetishists. BDSM is an umbrella term that stands for bondage/discipline, dominance/submission and sadism/masochism. In BDSM, consenting individuals seek pleasure through different forms of voluntary exchanges of power. Fetishism means that pleasure increases in the presence, or use, of a specific object or material. This type of sexuality is generally not recognised by the norm. As long as sexuality is expressed in a way that does not entail abuse of power or abuse, for example, using sexual violence against a partner’s will or abusing under-aged children, there is no need for society to have any opinions or to intervene. In all voluntary interactions, it is those who engage who can best judge whether the relationship is meaningful.
2.5 Societal Power Structures
Men, maleness, and all that is considered masculine have a superior position in society, while women, femaleness, and all that is considered feminine are inferior. Being white is also a powerful norm in society, giving privileges to people who are perceived as Swedish and Western and discriminating against people who do not fit these stereotypes. Racist structures are strong, often subconscious, and must be made visible and countered. Specific forms of racism that target specific groups include anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, but racism is found throughout society and is often expressed in general terms. Other norms that mark our society are those regarding ability and wellness, where people without disabilities and illness are viewed as superior.
RFSL, as an organisation is not without power structures. LGBTQ individuals also act according to the gender they identify with, belong to or are assigned, and the privileges they have been assigned because of their colour or gender.
Feminism is about the awareness that there are a wide range of factors that work together and lead to men, and what is perceived as masculine, being favoured at the expense of women, and what is perceived as feminine. Feminist work is about making visible patriarchal structures and gender norms, and questioning them.
The patriarchal structure of society creates obstacles for everyone’s, including LGBTQ people’s, possibility to influence their own lives. These structures can also lead to lesbian, bisexual, and queer women being made invisible in the LGBTQ movement, and their demands becoming secondary. As an organisation, RFSL has a special responsibility to make visible these structures and create spaces where women can exist on the same terms as men, and where the feminine is valued equally as the masculine. Perspectives on gender, skin colour, and sexuality must be brought to the fore, and the connections between them must be made clear.
Anti-racism is about an awareness that norms surrounding skin colour, ethnicity, and religion lead to prejudice and discrimination, and give some people more power and access to opportunities. These structures are found in all society, within as well as outside the LGBTQ movement. Anti-racism means taking a stand against racism, defining what forms it can take, and actively preventing and countering racism.
An anti-racist and feminist perspective means making visible the power structures that work together to cause oppression and discrimination because of gender, gender identity, gender expression, ethnicity, religious beliefs, ability, age, and sexual orientation. RFSL counters exclusion of any person based on these factors.
3. Family and Society
3.1 Family and Co-Habitation
It is every person’s right to define their family. A pluralistic view of family enriches society and makes it easier for an individual to choose a family structure that suits their needs. Laws should not prevent people from forming the types of families they want, and people should be able to live within their families protected by the law.
The right to enter into marriage should not be limited or judged differently depending on sexual orientation or gender identity. The laws on co-habitation must be based on how people actually choose to live, not on a norm which dictates that some relationships are better than others. International agreements on the recognition of marriage and partnerships entered into in other countries should include marriages and partnerships between people of the same legal gender. RFSL believes that laws on co-habitation should be equal and gender neutral in every aspect, and that society should not judge relationships between consenting individuals that include multiple people. The law should be reviewed to guarantee legal security for people who live in families of more than two people.
Many people have a strong desire to become a parent. Children that grow up with LGBTQ parents should have the same protections, opportunities and respect as other children. No legal differentiation should be made between LGBTQ people and others’ rights to become a parent. Assistance in having a child, through artificial insemination, adoption, and surrogacy should be open to everyone, regardless of relationship status. That trans individuals are refused biological parenthood is a human rights violation. The law should be amended to include families of more than two adults who care for the child. RFSL believes that children should be able to have more than two legal guardians.
Many LGBTQ people have difficulties with parents and relatives who do not accept their sexuality, gender identity and/or gender expression. Society needs to take action to ensure that young LGBTQ people have the possibility to live their lives according to their own wishes.
3.2 School and Education
Preschool, middle school, high school, and other education facilities are not only work places for staff and pupils, they are also institutions that form an important part of people’s lives. It is in school that people learn what norms are the basis of their development, and the values that they will carry with them in life. Thus, it is important that education presents a fair picture about feelings, gender, gender identities, gender expressions, sexual orientations, and sexualities.
Forming of identity needs positive role models, culture and social interaction, particularly during adolescence, when society’s expectations are a strong influence and it can be difficult to find one’s inner voice. In the dependent position that exists between a student and a teacher, students can feel forced to live according to the hetero norm if they feel that staff at the school distance themselves from, or make invisible, LGBTQ experiences. In middle school, the dependent position is most evident as the students are underage and school attendance is compulsory.
The education system should present different sexual orientations, sexualities, genders, and gender expressions, and different ways of understanding one’s gender identity. Knowledge of these topics should then be further studied in sex education. All students have the right to relevant sex education, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. The environment at the school should allow students and staff to be themselves and be respected for who they are. The school has a great responsibility to address and counteract negative attitudes between students. There should be concrete goals and methods for how LGBTQ issues and heteronormativity are integrated into the curriculum in middle school and high school, as well as in relevant vocational education and subjects at university. In the education system, from preschool to university, there should be an overall protection against discrimination of students with the school being a safe place for both students and teachers.
3.3 Research and Science
Scientific research can be of great value when it comes to understanding the experiences of LGBTQ people, or determining the effects of political decisions on equal rights. It can also act as a basis for political decisions and demands that aim to better the situation of LGBTQ people.
The science field and its research perspectives are largely heteronormative. These viewpoints must be challenged, and other methods and ethical alternatives must be considered. Moreover, researchers should ensure that discrimination on an individual basis or based on choice of topic does not happen.
Today, there is a lack of relevant research being carried out on LGBTQ people’s experiences. RFSL welcomes research that aims to, in an accurate and responsible manner, fill the gaps of knowledge in society. The different sources of research funding, as well as the research environments, must actively engage in this work.
Even though research is supposed to be objective, there is a risk of it being used to worsen the situation for LGBTQ people. A critical political debate about research methods, purpose, aims and outcomes is therefore needed. For example, it would be unethical to conduct research on how sexual orientation and gender identity develops if the intention was to counteract variations in sexual orientation or gender identity. Research needs to problematise the norms that surround gender and sexual orientation, and the effects of these norms.
3.4 Culture and Media
Even though it has been expressed differently over time, culture has always been an important part of the LGBTQ community, including in political work, where culture has often been an advocacy tool. The LGBTQ community has formed its own cultural expressions and codes. In Swedish culture, LGBTQ people are often demeaned and made invisible, especially lesbian, bisexual and trans individuals.
RFSL believes that Swedish cultural policy should be defined by diversity and considerate of LGBTQ experiences. It is also important that the LGBTQ community is described from within, from different perspectives and angles, with proper resources to ensure that.
Media and Freedom of Speech
Some of the most important foundations of a democratic society are freedom of speech and freedom of the press with an independent media. Freedom of speech is a prerequisite for a diversity of perspectives within a society. With freedom of speech, which is protected by the constitution, comes the responsibility to not antagonise in speech or in writing. Incitement to hatred on grounds of sexuality, gender identity, or gender expression should not be tolerated.
The LGBTQ movement in Sweden has been able to gain understanding and respect for its human rights work because of a strong freedom of speech. Media coverage is an important part of bringing about change in society, however the media still lacks LGBTQ competence with the biggest problem that LGBTQ lives are not portrayed as being a part of society, but rather as different. Media competency in LGBTQ issues must be increased, and the hetero norm must be broken.
LGBTQ media is produced by LGBTQ people focusing on LGBTQ culture and lives. Since the beginning of the LGBTQ movement, this media has been very important, especially for people in their coming out process. It is vital that LGBTQ media is given the opportunity to develop, and that the public regulations for funding take into consideration its importance to individuals and the public debate. The Internet is instrumental as a tool for networking and spreading information to different LGBTQ communities, so it is important that schools, libraries, and authorities do not restrict access to LGBTQ sites with the motivation of sexual content.
RFSL defends the right to use, or not use, pornographic material. Pornographic material means descriptions of sexual acts in images or text with the purpose of creating sexual stimulation. The line between pornography and different sexual images, however, is not clear. Pornography can be a way to embrace your sexuality and explore sexual feelings, however, many pornographic images present an unrealistic view and can contain stereotypes and/or demeaning attitudes, especially towards women and trans people. Pornography with a BDSM content, where the participants are consenting adults, should not be prohibited. RFSL rejects pornographic imagery where people unwillingly participate, where children are involved, or other forms of abuse take place.
3.5 Civil Society
Associations and organisations form an important part in facilitating voluntary social engagement. Sport, organisations for people who have migrated to Sweden, youth, and old people’s organisations are just some examples of the importance that non-profit organisations can have for an individual. The opportunity to become part of collective activities should not be affected by sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Therefore, the subtle or explicit attitudes that contribute to LGBTQ people’s exclusion need to be made visible. Organisations that discriminate against LGBTQ people should not receive public funding.
Faith Communities and Other Belief Communities
For some faith communities and other belief communities, norms are an important part of life. Religion or beliefs should never be used as an excuse to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The ability to be a part of faith communities and other belief communities should not be affected by sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
Many people of all ages are active within sport, however, LGBTQ individuals are often excluded from physical activities because of the gender norms, gender division, and heteronormative attitudes in the sports world. There is a need for LGBTQ competence in sport as a whole and among individual trainers to ensure that LGBTQ people can participate on equal terms. Sport should be an environment where all people can be themselves and be respected for who they are.
Youth organisations are the most important actors when it comes to issues relating to children and young people, giving them the opportunity and tools needed to engage in debates about things that matter to young people. The opportunity to develop and be listened to is very important. The important principle in independent youth organisations is that the organisation is run by, with, and for young people.
The right to organise is a fundamental right that is of great value for people’s well being, including LGBTQ individuals. RFSL and other LGBTQ organisations are important actors working for rights, educating institutions and the general public about LGBTQ issues and heteronormativity, and creating spaces for LGBTQ people. LGBTQ organisations can facilitate involvement in LGBTQ political issues and help strengthen identities. Societal support of LGBTQ organisations is important both locally and nationally.
3.6 Municipalities and City Councils/Regions
Municipalities and city councils/regions have a great responsibility when it comes to addressing the needs of LGBTQ people. The municipalities are in charge of schools, childcare, geriatric care, and social services, while the city councils/regions are charged with healthcare and public health issues. This demands that the staff have LGBTQ competency to be able to address all students’, care recipients’ and clients’ needs and rights. City councils/regions must provide trans-related treatment without delay. City councils/regions should not be allowed to treat same sex couples differently when it comes to assisted reproduction. The municipality should not disregard or discriminate against elderly LGBTQ people and its social services have to be able to handle adoption cases involving LGBTQ people in a legally certain and respectful manner. The national organisation, Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SKL), has a responsibility to oversee, for example, through guidelines and active work on diversity, that the municipalities and city councils/regions meet the standards of providing LGBTQ people with equal education, healthcare, and services. LGBTQ people should have a good life no matter where in the country they live and this responsibility rests with the municipalities and city councils/regions.
Everyone should have the same rights and opportunities to work regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The ban on discrimination in employment and education should include sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. RFSL believes that BDSM practitioners, fetishists, asexual individuals, and people who have multiple relationships are at risk of being treated negatively because of their sexual practices and/or relationships. Protection against discrimination for these groups must be evaluated and be strengthened.
Apart from counteracting obvious discrimination, it is equally important to make visible and challenge the unspoken norms that heterosexuality and traditional gender expressions are the only truths. A work place where many LGBTQ people are afraid of being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity perpetuates discrimination and prejudice and causes human suffering.
Anti-discrimination legislation that covers all LGBTQ people in employment is necessary and should address harassment, direct and indirect discrimination.
The employer, as well as the employer’s association, are always responsible for preventing and stopping discrimination. The trade unions must also have the power and responsibility to ensure their members are treated equally regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. The right to protection and redress should not depend on affiliation with an organisation or access to financial resources and that is why a public legal framework and assistance of authorities is needed. Employment regulations must take into consideration that workers move between countries and there needs to be a strong international legal framework to protect against discrimination.
3.8 The Business Sector
The private business sector affects LGBTQ people in many ways. Apart from companies’ roles as employers, they need to deviate from the hetero norm and this is important, not only in the service sector but in production, so that what is produced is also based on the needs of those in diverse living situations, or other needs that the heteronorm conceals.
In a heteronormative business sector, where there is discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, LGBTQ people rarely achieve leading positions. Thus, the business sector misses the opportunity to maximize people’s potentials.
Advertisements both reflect and affect the values in society. Companies and advertisers have a responsibility to make sure that the advertisement does not make invisible or portray a one-dimensional image of LGBTQ people, and questions existing norms regarding gender, sexualities, ethnicities, and ability.
Entertainment, culture, media, and other companies which mainly target LGBTQ people play an important role when it comes to quality of life, connection, and contact opportunities. This is especially true in countries and societies where the government is hostile towards LGBTQ individuals. International companies can contribute to changes in attitudes towards LGBTQ people by serving as positive examples in regions where prejudice and discrimination is widespread.
3.9 Crime and Punishment
A society fraught with heteronormative values decreases LGBTQ people’s sense of security. Crimes committed due to hatred and prejudice towards sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression are not only violations against the victim, but also affect the wider LGBTQ community where being at greater risk of crime limits a person’s choices. If a crime is committed based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, it should be considered as an aggravating factor by the court and an increase in the severity of penalty should be applied.
All actors in the legal system must have good knowledge of the crimes directed at LGBTQ individuals. The quality of engagement with, and respect shown to, victims of crimes should not be dependent upon their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Negative and prejudiced attitudes towards LGBTQ people within the legal system are another violation. The same respectful process should be applied to LGBTQ people who are sued or in the correctional system. In these cases, trans individuals are most at risk, as they are held according to their legal gender.
Crime Victim Support
People who have been subject to crimes related to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression have specific support needs. Men and trans people who have experienced violence in close relationships are often made invisible and this needs to be highlighted. Young LGBTQ people are often more at risk for sexual abuse, compared to other young people, and LGBTQ individuals that live with honour norms are often invisible. Efforts need to be directed to support these groups.
If someone is involved in or subjected to sexual acts, against their will or due to dependency, this is abuse and a violation of power, not sexuality. RFSL rejects all forms of sexual abuse and involuntary sexual violence. Rape and sexual abuse of children by adults is particularly serious. Sexual acts that cause any person involuntary harm or suffering is never acceptable.
The image of someone who sells sex is full of stereotypes. Current laws that ban the purchase of sexual acts rests on a gender power perspective, where the act of buying is seen as an example of men’s sexualised violence towards women. The law is based on a heteronormative understanding of sex work that excludes a majority of LGBTQ people that buy and/or sell sexual acts. The law limits the reality of sex work, which can make it hard for people who do not fit the stereotype to seek help.
Sex work that is the result of an economic, social, psychosocial or physical obligation has many risk factors that can harm the individuals involved. RFSL does not believe that criminalisation of sex work is the answer, but rather it enhances stigmatisation, exposure, and marginalisation of the individual that sells sex. RFSL recommends the development of social work in this area, with active measures to combat the social exclusion of those who sell sex, and the support of sex workers’ own organisations.
HIV and Criminalisation
RFSL supports UNAIDS’ policy regarding HIV transmission that states only those who knowingly transmit HIV to another person should be viewed as having committed a crime, and calls on Sweden to do the same. The obligation to provide information required by the Communicable Diseases Act should be abolished, and the enforcement of the law in cases of HIV transmission, or attempted transmission, should be reviewed.
3.10 Migration and Asylum
It is sometimes a matter of life or death to get a residence permit in Sweden for people who are persecuted in their native countries because of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. This should be statutory and has to be enforced in practice. All healthcare, regardless of diagnosis, should be available to people with a permanent residence permit, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. This should also include asylum seekers, individuals who have had their asylum application refused, as well as people without documents and trans individuals who need care.
It can be hard for an asylum seeker to prove that there is a well-founded fear of being persecuted. Praxis should be that it does not prevent the granting of the right to asylum in reality. When assessing the situation of LGBTQ people in different countries, the legislation should be taken into account, and the actual situation in the country should also be assessed by accessing relevant information. No one should be asked to conceal their identity as LGBTQ individuals in order to avoid persecution.
If the responsible staff that administer asylum applications lack LGBTQ competency, then the rule of law is compromised for the asylum seeker, as the decision is at risk of being ill-informed and erroneous. RFSL believes that it is unacceptable for people who, through their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, break the norms of society to be at a disadvantage when seeking asylum. Safety and security at refugee facilities also needs to be guaranteed.
Identity has different meanings for different people across the world – feelings, behaviours, and practices regarding gender identity, gender expression, and sexuality vary greatly. When Swedish authorities process asylum cases based on persecution due to sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, assessment should be made with legal certainty regardless of the language used to define their identity or situation. This also should apply to individuals who want to migrate to Sweden because of family association.
4.1 LGBTQ People’s Health
Physical and mental health issues are more common among LGBTQ individuals than the rest of the population. Young lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer people are more likely to commit suicide compared to other adolescents. Marginalisation, stigmatisation, and internalised prejudice can greatly affect an individual’s well being. LGBTQ people are also over represented among those with mental health issues and/or addiction. Efforts to enable LGBTQ people to improve their quality of life must be an integral part of public health work.
The norms of society and its power structures control the accessibility of healthcare and, therefore, the possibility to attain the best level of health, which disadvantages cis women, LGBTQ people, and people of colour. The validation of self, also when it comes to gender and sexuality, is for most people a prerequisite for a full life. Work to improve people’s health must have the diversity of expressions of sexualities and gender as a starting point. When people visit different healthcare facilities, they have the right to be acknowledged without having to explain themselves. The healthcare sector must take the specific needs of LGBTQ people into account and all healthcare employees need to have LGBTQ competency. A way of achieving this is through certification of health facilities, youth care facilities and other healthcare providers, ensuring mandatory training in LGBTQ knowledge and norm criticism.
4.2 RFSL’s Health Work
RFSL’s view on health has an holistic perspective where the human being is seen as a whole and more than the sum of the individual parts – ethnicity, sexuality, gender, age, and so on. RFSL believes that the best way of achieving health and good quality of life at the physical, mental and social level must be determined by the individual, depending on their priorities and life goals.
To maintain good health, an individual’s sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity needs to be affirmed, and the individual must be supported in their identity – this is the basis of RFSL’s health work. The goal is to make it easier for the individual to express their sexuality and their gender in a way that suits them, without health risks. It is given that RFSL’s health work should not have a moralistic approach to gender and sexuality.
Alcohol and other drugs are some of the factors that can negatively affect an individual’s health, limiting the ability to control one’s sexual activity and prevent someone from using protection against HIV and other STIs. RFSL believes that realistic and objective information is needed to highlight the risks of using alcohol and other drugs, and works preventatively to address the negative aspects of alcohol and drug use. Consequently, RFSL supports needle exchange programmes.
As an independent LGBTQ organisation with expert knowledge in LGBTQ lives and experiences, RFSL has a unique ability to reach out to LGBTQ people. For many years, RFSL has worked to improve LGBTQ people’s health through, for example, psychosocial support, counselling, health information, and HIV and STI prevention. An important part of RFSL’s health related work involves identity support to build and strengthen good self-esteem among LGBTQ people. Society has the responsibility to utilise RFSL’s experience and support RFSL’s work as a non-profit organisation.
4.3 Sexual Health
Sexual health means being able to enjoy one’s sexuality as you wish, to be able to choose ways to experience pleasure, regardless of whether it fits the norms regarding sexuality or not. Knowledge and insight into one’s own sexuality makes it easier to enjoy sex. Unfortunately, sexual health is often only mentioned in the context of HIV and other STIs. RFSL believes that sexual health is a big part of overall health, and needs specific attention.
Women who only have sex with women and some trans people are both groups that are less exposed to HIV, which means that the tools to work for women’s and trans people’s sexual health are lacking. RFSL believes that resources should be allocated to promote sexual health among LGBTQ individuals, without them being specifically linked to HIV. Women’s and trans people’s sexuality is generally invisible, and needs more attention.
RFSL believes that every individual has the responsibility to prevent HIV or other STIs from being transmitted sexually. The responsibility is the same regardless of whether an individual knows, or thinks they know, about their own or their partners’ health status. This perspective must be reflected in the disease control, to make the work of HIV prevention more effective. For this reason, RFSL rejects a mandatory obligation to inform, as well as coercive measures directed towards people who carry diseases that are not transmitted via social contact.
Society’s ignorance, prejudice, and fear makes people who live with HIV feel very exposed and this is true even in the LGBTQ community. The stigma that HIV positive people experience must be countered with the work against stigmatisation supported in national and international public health work. RFSL’s sex positive standpoint includes HIV positive individuals’ right to their sexuality.
Gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, and trans people who have sex with men are exposed groups when it comes to HIV. HIV preventative measures must be directed at these groups and funding for HIV prevention must be ear marked. Youth health clinics, STI clinics, and other providers that do testing need to have LGBTQ competency. In a Swedish context, research on HIV/STIs among trans people is lacking and this needs to be prioritised.
4.5 Trans People’s Health
Trans people’s right to healthcare must be strengthened. There are many issues regarding accessibility and quality of care, even within public health, trans competency is lacking. This results in trans people refraining from seeking the care they need, which has a negative effect on their health.
Having a trans identity is not a mental illness, and diagnoses such as transsexualism or gender identity disorder must be removed from the mental health section of the diagnostic manuals currently in use. Gender assessments should be changed so that focus is moved from psychiatry and pathology to the individual and their self-determination. Today, only those with the diagnosis of transsexualism can access public health for gender affirming treatments. RFSL believes that all trans people who need care should get it and those who want to engage with a gender team should be able to contact directly without being referred by another physician. It is extremely troubling that trans-specific healthcare varies in quality depending on which county you live and the staff you encounter.
5. European Union and International
5.1 European Union and the Council of Europe
The European Union, EU, plays an important role in LGBTQ issues, both in Sweden and other countries. All legal acts within the EU should be devoid of discrimination because of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. It is important that the EU’s by-laws on basic rights, Article 21, states that discrimination on the basis of, among other things, gender and sexual orientation should be forbidden, but this needs to be applied in practice. Same sex couples should not be treated differently when they move from one EU country to another; the same rules that apply to straight couples should apply to same sex couples.
Joint decisions within the EU affect the situation of LGBTQ people in member countries as states are forced to adapt their laws to EU decisions that aim to prevent and combat the discrimination of LGBTQ people. The institutions within the EU need more powerful tools to pressure member states which make decisions that go against EU treaties, and that affect LGBTQ rights. Sweden has a special responsibility to act as gatekeeper against repressive laws targeting LGBTQ people taking hold in Europe. When countries apply for EU membership, the application process can result in reforms in the applicant country, since it cannot be accepted if it does not comply with human rights. The human rights situation in an applicant country must be reviewed from an LGBTQ perspective, for example, the right to make decisions about one’s personal life, and the right to have one’s family acknowledged.
The Council of Europe and its position matters greatly when it comes to maintaining and defending the human rights of LGBTQ people, especially through the European Convention on Human Rights.
A global co-operation for LGBTQ rights is necessary for the liberation from the hetero norm. Decisions that affect LGBTQ people’s rights are being made in international mechanisms. Discrimination and violations run contrary to the principle of equal rights, regardless of where they take place. LGBTQ rights are human rights.
The situation of LGBTQ people varies greatly from country to country. In some countries, persecution and prohibition of same sex sexual acts and/or cross-dressing is sanctioned by the state, while other countries have far-reaching legal equality and protection against discrimination by law. RFSL, Sweden, and the EU have a responsibility to engage in the international work for LGBTQ human rights, and influence Swedish organisations to address LGBTQ issues in an international setting. RFSL’s ambition is to take a leading position in the global work for LGBTQ human rights and Sweden should influence the UN to take a stand for these rights.
Development co-operation should be used as a tool to strengthen LGBTQ rights, with an LGBTQ perspective incorporated in all development co-operations and the focal point of LGBTQ projects.
Respect is a guiding principle for RFSL’s work outside Sweden – local actors, including LGBTQ people’s own organisations, should be setting the agenda and formulating the problems. We shall not impose a certain approach or strive to spread a western LGBTQ culture.