For Heiðrikur Heygum, living in freedom meant leaving Tórshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands. This happened 15 years ago. Now, although every July 27 Pride colors the streets of this city of just over 20,000 inhabitants with rainbows, being part of the LGTBI community in the middle of the central Atlantic continues to be a challenge.
Far from the metropolis, the Faroes have traditionally been a very conservative and religious Danish region. This characteristic has influenced the public policies of the islands, delaying until recently the legal protection of basic LGTBI rights. Like Heygum, many others had to take refuge in Nordic cities to avoid being stigmatized for their sexuality. And, although the situation has changed a lot, living in Copenhagen was a liberation for him. “There are more people who love like you, you stop being the weirdo in class,” he explains.
Being able to be who you are and love who you love is a right that continues to be violated in many parts of the world. The Faroes, a country under the tutelage of Denmark It is, however, still at the bottom of Europe as far as human rights are concerned. “When a society is small and disconnected from the rest of the world, it is easy to manipulate,” says Heygum, who finds it annoying that hatred is hidden behind aspects such as religion. “The problem is with the elderly, but we cannot ask too much of them,” he says.
Although perception is changing, generations born before the 1980s are having a hard time seeing the modernization of society favorably. “We are the young people who are organizing ourselves and we are pushing the great social changes”, explains Sonja J. Jógvansdóttir, member of the association LGTBI Føroyar. “There are those who believe that we are corrupting the Faroese population, but we are only fighting for our lives.”
Tail in the protection of basic rights
Despite the recent liberalization of attitudes, it was not until 2006 that hate speech began to consider sexual orientation and gender identity as motivation – something that has not yet happened with hate crime. With this law, the Faroe Islands became the last region in Western Europe to make this legal modification. Furthermore, although Denmark was the first country in the world to recognize same-sex couples in 1989, the Government of the archipelago did not. until just four years ago. This and other policies have led the region to be illustrated as “rural” and “not very advanced.” However, Heygum points out that it is a consequence of the country’s disconnection with the rest of the Western world.
As far as effective equality is concerned, “there is still a long way to go”, highlights Jógvansdóttir, as the LGTBI community continues to face legal challenges that other Faroese do not experience. For example, transgender people cannot access gender change if they do not get sterilized first. According to the organization’s spokesperson, “this is far from Danish standards, but it is not visible as it should”. In the same way, another demand of the group in the country is the modification of the reproductive assistance law, which recognizes the right of heterosexual couples to receive money from the State for fertilization. “This does not happen with homosexual couples.”
Regardless of the commitments Denmark undertakes to fulfill, the autonomous regions can disobey them without consequence. This affects sexual rights
In addition, the recognition of maternity or paternity only applies to one of the two parents, the one who has a biological link with the baby. In other words, “they deny you the possibility of being a mother or father because you are not the one who has put the egg or sperm in the in vitro fertilization process,” says the activist, who explains that she has experienced a similar problem firsthand.
In addition, the recognition of maternity or paternity applied until recently only to one of the two parents of the homosexual couple, the one who had a biological link with the baby. This relates the activist: “They denied you the possibility of being a normal family, with full rights.” However, this December and in a controversial process that has ended with the resignation of two ministers, the proposed law to equalize parental rights in LGTBI couples has been approved.
And why all these differences with Denmark? In the autonomous territories, both the Faroe Islands and Greenland have the independence to adhere – or decide not to do so – to international treaties that have been negotiated with Copenhagen. In other words, although the central government has the power in foreign policy, human rights and its legislation are specifically exempted. In other words, regardless of the commitments Denmark undertakes to fulfill, the autonomous regions can disobey them without any consequence. This affects, in particular, sexual rights.
Globalization, an opening process
“When I was little I didn’t know anyone who was gay. They told you that it was something disgusting and repulsive, unnatural… Because nobody knew what it was ”, says Heygum, who considers that the Faroe Islands have undergone a very important generational change with the arrival of the internet. Thanks to technological advances, forums and chats became accessible to many citizens of the archipelagos. “LGTBI people realized that there were others like them out there, and this changed everything. Young people don’t feel so lonely anymore ”.
But in a region like this, the transition came too late and happened suddenly. “Technological advances were very fast. My 65-year-old father was not like the children of Denmark, who grew up watching television. He never had any of this, he played with the barrel he had outside the house. Therefore, it is not comparable. The Faroese are a completely different generation ”, points out the young man, who considers that it cannot be expected that, from one day to the next, society will change its mentality completely. “They need to see the results of this whole process,” he says.
Before the 2000s, demonization of the collective was the order of the day. Jógvansdóttir explains that they used to be considered monsters or fanatics, especially by churches or religious leaders. “It was quite common,” he notes, and not long ago when some knowledge about the community reached the islands. Still, in the 2008 crisis, scores of citizens again blamed sexually dissidents for economic problems. “They told us that God hated us and that he had punished us for advocating perversion,” says the activist.
During the crisis, they told us that God hated us and that he had punished us for making an apology for perversion
Sonja J. Jógvansdóttir, activist of LGTBI
All this hatred pushed many to leave the region, as did Heygum, who when he moved to Copenhagen felt “more normal”, he describes. “I had an environment that supported me in my decisions, that did not judge me, and I found myself much safer.” This, according to Jógvansdóttir, is “very symptomatic.” In 2003 he already tried to found LGTBI Føroyar, but did not succeed until 2011. “When, almost 20 years ago, we managed to gather eight or nine interested parties, the project did not last. Within a few months the vast majority had moved to another Nordic city. There was, and still is, a lot of silence around our reality. And when it is not silence, it is condemnation ”, he concludes.
Today, many parliamentarians and government officials still maintain homophobic attitudes to criticize and block social movements towards an increase in LGTBI rights. “We cannot expect anything from the Government, it is not worth putting our efforts into trying to change the legislation. For this reason we serve as a support group, and little else, “says the activist, who in turn denounces persecution in her political struggle.
For Heygum, the support of families and friends is essential. “The movement is growing since many attend Pride because they are tired of their friend, brother, mother or cousin being criticized or mistreated. It is a way of teaching politicians that public opinion is evolving. This is how the difference is made.
Although in recent years many steps forward have been taken in the reform of legislation and in public visibility, the country has obtained very low scores in the annual ranking Rainbow Map Europe. Sonja J. Jógvansdóttir, Heiðrikur Heygum and many others continue to fight for their freedom and safety in a region that continues to be the Achilles heel of northern Europe in terms of respect for sexual diversity.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.