"The artwork reminds us that Skúti is a safe space for LGBT people to be themselves," says Andrea Ósk Sigurbjörnsdóttir, a student in leisure studies at the University of Iceland. A colourful piece of art created by students now decorates the wall in Skúti, the base for student organisations in the School of Education at Stakkahlíð. The artwork has attracted a lot of attention and is inspired by the flag of the LGBT rights movement.
Away with prejudice!
The space was created to provide LGBT students with a safe haven where the language used is free of prejudice. "Within our walls, for example, if someone uses the wrong pronouns they will be corrected. We do not use outdated and derogatory words, do not ask about sexual characteristics, do not question anyone's sexual orientation or gender expression, and so on. Individuals are also treated as more than just their LGBT identity," Andrea explains, emphasising that above all, people are allowed to break the rules of the gender system without experiencing prejudice.
Sólveig Daðadóttir, vice-president of Q, the Queer Students Association, is delighted with the initiative and hopes that students in other schools at the University follow suit. The Q-Association was founded in 2008 with the aim of serving the interests of the diverse LGBT student population. "Safe spaces are essential for LGBT people, who regularly experience prejudice or have to hide who they are. The student school council at the School of Education has also campaigned for single-user toilets in the building to be made gender neutral with appropriate signs. Measures like this are designed to increase the number of safe spaces," explains Sólveig, who hopes that the idea will be executed as soon as possible.
"The artwork reminds us that Skúti is a safe space for LGBT people to be themselves," says Andrea Ósk Sigurbjörnsdóttir, a student in leisure studies at the University of Iceland. Colourful pieces of art created by students now decorate the walls in Skúti, the base for student organisations in the School of Education at Stakkahlíð. The artwork has attracted a lot of attention and is inspired by the flag of the LGBT rights movement. (PHOTO/Kristinn Ingvarsson)
Care about the interests of LGBT people
The status of LGBT people has been prominent in Icelandic public discourse recently. A new law on gender self-identification was passed by parliament earlier this year, marking a significant change in LGBT rights. This law confirms the right of an individual to change their official gender in accordance with their own experiences.
Sólveig says that although this law marks a significant improvement in the status of LGBT people, there is still a lot of work left to do. "Iceland is 18th in ILGA-Europe's ranking of countries by LGBT rights, meaning that it is no paradise as policy makers have frequently pointed out. It has been evident that people outside the LGBT community do not actually know much about their reality."
According to Andrea, the University of Iceland Student Council has advocated tirelessly for the interests of LGBT students, since it is one of the Council's main priorities to ensure that the University community is for all of us. "In accordance with the Student Council Equality Action Plan, heteronormativity, binary thinking, and gendered language should be things of the past at the University. Last year, we also changed titles and names in the Council's regulations with a view to reducing gendered language. The Student Council both supports and seeks the advice of the Q-Association and our collaboration has proved invaluable. There are a great number of LGBT people in our society and this applies equally to the student population or workforce at the University," says Andrea, adding that many of the nation's LGBT icons work or study at the University.
See: Stúdentaráð gerir titla sína ókynjaða (in Icelandic)
Changed attitudes with more discussion and education
Members of the Student Council believe that it is vital to offer more education to staff and students, increase the number of gender neutral spaces and toilets, and support more discussion of LGBT issues. "There are many different ways that we could improve education and encourage more discussion. We urge student organisations within the University to take field trips to the Q-Association and Samtökin '78. More discussion will make society more open and people who are exploring LGBT identities can learn about concepts that might apply to themselves," explains Andrea.
Sólveig takes a similar line and believes that education is the key to improving the status of LGBT people. "We see many points of contact at the School of Education, since this is where people who will most likely work in the education system are educated. If the positions of LGBT people are part of the message that these people will pass on in their work, this is a giant step in the right direction."
The University is dedicated to an ambitious equality action plan and equality is one of the three core values named in the Strategy of the University. "Universities should be leading the discussion around greater equality and the discussion must include all LGBT people. Issues related to LGBT people should also be covered in learning material, courses, assignments and research. We have to understand how important it is that the University community reflects genuine diversity and prepares students for the future in an appropriate way. We want to encourage all Icelandic universities to collaborate with Samtökin '78 and the Q-Association, because together we can make society better for everybody," concludes Sólveig.