Annual Review 2013
A number of developments in Finland offer promise for greater recognition of LGBTI people in the country. Finland adopted a National Action Plan for Human Rights and a Gender Equality Policy Programme, while the Ombudsman for Equality published a report on trans and intersex persons opening the discussion towards greater recognition in Finnish society. However, while marriage equality enjoys wide public support as well as the support of a significant number of parliamentarians, little progress was achieved during the year. Similarly, the amendment of the Act on Legal Recognition of the Gender of Transsexuals seems to be increasingly problematic due to the difficulty that the removal of the sterilisation requirement, including for the Minister of Health and Social Services.
- In January, YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, published a news article on the Fleeing homophobia in Europe research, which showed that Finland has deported asylum seekers to countries where they could be subject to capital punishment for their sexual orientation. Some applicants were asked to conceal their sexuality to ensure they remain safe. The Ministry of the Interior promised to investigate the case.
- In January, the Supreme Administrative Court gave a decision in the case of a homosexual Iranian asylum seeker. The applicant had explained that he had been convicted of homosexuality in an Iranian court and feared that if returned to Iran he would be detained and eventually executed. The Finnish Immigration Service had denied the asylum application because, according to them, there was no reason to believe that the applicant would be in danger upon his return to Iran. The Administrative Court considered that there was insufficient proof that the applicant was in fact convicted for homosexuality and given the death penalty in his country of origin. The Administrative Court also considered that the applicant would be able to live in Iran without fear of persecution if he relocated outside of his home town. The Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the Finnish Immigration Service and the Administrative Court had not given proper consideration to the applicant’s possible situation in Iran and returned the case to the Immigration Service.
- In March, the Finnish Immigration Service invited Seta, the national organisation for LGBTI rights in Finland, to train their staff on sexual orientation and gender identity issues.
Bias motivated speech
- In July, a few members of the extremist right-wing group Finnish Defence League (FDL) attempted to take part in the Pride Parade in Tampere. The Finnish Defence League wanted to highlight the “Islamic threat” to homosexuals, which the FDL maintained the LGBTI movement in Finland has ignored. However, the members of the FDL were not able to attend the parade because they were booed away by other participants of the march. The Pride march was then conducted without disruption.
- In August, Member of Parliament James Hirvisaari of the right-wing True Finns party was quoted on the website Hommaforum as saying: “In my opinion there is a good reason to ask if homosexuality is some sort of disability in sexual development if a person cannot develop in the natural order [being able to reproduce] of things,” and continued “It’s [homosexuality] not a sickness but only a disability.” An anonymous request to investigate Hirvisaari’s views was made to the police of the Finnish Päijät-Häme region. The police reported Hirvisaari’s views as an offence saying that his views may be considered as inciting hatred against a group. The local police said that it had forwarded the case to the office of the Prosecutor General because it felt that the case required the Prosecutor General’s expertise in deciding whether Hirvisaari’s views are in fact criminal or whether they are protected under freedom of expression. In September, Helsingin Sanomat reported that the Deputy Prosecutor General had decided to end the investigation into Hirvisaari. According to the Deputy Prosecutor General Hirvisaari’s writings did include defamatory and improper remarks which may be considered as hate speech but that the investigation would most likely not lead to a prosecution.
- In October, a candidate representing the Centre party in the municipal elections compared gays to sodomites in a panel debate at a school. This was widely debated in the media just before the elections. Leaders of the Centre party said that this did not represent the party’s line.
Bias motivated violence
- In June, a man and a woman threw eggs at participants of Helsinki Pride. A police investigation followed and in November charges were brought against the two people. They were charged with resisting a person maintaining public order, one defendant was charged with two assaults, the other defendant with one assault and both were charged with nine violations of political freedom.
- In June, following his visit to Finland, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks, published a report in which he stated that he “welcomes the explicit prohibition of homophobic hate crime in the Finnish Penal Code and urges the authorities to extend such a specific provision to cover transphobic hate crime as well”.
- In July, in an event affiliated with North Pride in the city of Oulu, the main speaker Dan Koivulaakso, a politician from the Left Alliance who has written about extreme right-wing groups in Finland, was attacked with pepper spray. The attacker managed to flee before the police arrived. The case is under investigation.
- In January, the Ombudsman for Equality published a report on trans and intersex persons. The report included a review of legislation concerning trans and intersex persons and a review of the challenges that trans and intersex persons face in Finnish society.
- In May, Seta received funding from the Programme for Developing Child and Youth Policy to conduct a study on the well-being of LGBTI youth together with the Network for Youth Research. Preparations for the study were made in autumn, and the study is expected to be conducted in spring 2013.
- In April, teaching material by the Swedish RFSU, Association for Sexuality Education, about sexuality and sexual rights was translated and published in Finnish. The material presents heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality as equal and equally ‘normal’ and also makes reference to transgender identity. The suitability of the material was discussed in public mainly due to the strong reaction of the Federation of Parents. The Federation argued that the material was not suitable for all areas of the country due to varying attitudes. Seta and other organisations and experts defended the material and claimed the right of all pupils to non-discriminatory and empowering information on sexual and reproductive health and rights.
- In May, Seta received funding from the Programme for Developing Child and Youth Policy for a project to prepare materials about the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity for teachers. The project is being implemented together with two national student organisations SAKKI and FSS. A website to collect pupils’ and students’ experiences about normativity in schools was launched in December.
- In October, municipal elections took place in Finland. Seta and some of its member organisations around the country campaigned under the theme Rainbow town. A poll of leading civil servants, related to school in the 15 biggest cities and coordinated by Seta’s youth committee, received some public attention. The responses by the interviewees showed that LGBTI teachers were accepted in principle but concrete measures to tackle LGBTI discrimination or advance LGBTI pupils’ and teachers’ rights were lacking.
Equality and non-discrimination
- In January, the Human Rights Center was established and started its work, and thus the National Human Rights Institution became complete. Seta’s Secretary General was appointed as a member of the civil society council associated with the Center.
- In February, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs organised a seminar on LGBTI rights that was aimed at Finnish public servants and Members of Parliament. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs also published a Finnish translation of the Council of Europe CM Recommendation 2010/5.
- In February, the government adopted for the first time a National Action Plan for Human Rights. During the preparation of the plan a panel consisting of human rights actors was set up by the Ministry of Justice to monitor and comment on the preparation. Prior to the adoption the panel gave a long statement unanimously proposing a number of measures to be included in the Action Plan. A reform of the Gender Recognition Act and a human rights based evaluation of intersex persons’ care as well as setting a focal point for LGBTI issues were part of the panel’s common statement. These measures were not included in the Action Plan as concrete projects. In the Action Plan there is only a reference to the need for coordination of LGBTI issues, and a measure to include protection of trans and intersex persons in the Gender Equality Act. In the autumn, the panel was re-established to monitor the implementation of the Action Plan. An inter-ministerial network of human rights focal points was established as part of the Action Plan.
- In May, Finland received a recommendation from Iceland in the Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council to increase its efforts to eliminate discrimination against LGBTI people with regard to family and parental rights and the right to security and integrity of the person, inter alia, by reviewing national legislation and administration. The Government accepted the recommendation.
- In May, a statement was distributed from a working group under the Ministry of Labour, which had been set up in 2011 to prepare a draft for new non-discrimination legislation for employment. The working group disagreed so strongly that a draft could not be formulated. After that, preparation for a general anti-discrimination law continued in the Ministry of Justice. NGOs and ombudspersons tried to influence the procedure in order to ensure strong anti-discrimination provisions for all discrimination grounds in all fields of life. In November, NGOs were invited to participate in a network that would discuss the reform in detail. The first hearing was in December and the proceedings will continue in 2013.
- In June, the government approved a Gender Equality Policy Programme, which included a general notion of improving the status of gender minorities albeit without the concrete measures that NGOs had demanded. Even though there was internal disagreement within the government about the matter, the policy programme included the aim of reforming the Gender Equality Act to provide protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression. During the summer there was a round of consultation about the reform. Several NGOs and bodies for children’s rights and gender equality gave statements strongly in favour of an inclusion of protection against discrimination based on gender identity and expression as well as the inclusion of intersex people.
- In September, Seta addressed the UN Human Rights Council for the first time. The speech was a part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Finland. Seta demanded that Finland adopts a comprehensive LGBTI human rights policy. Moreover Seta stated that despite progress, significant challenges remain in the human rights situation of LGBTI people in Finland: (i) gender non-conforming children face transphobic bullying in schools; (ii) discrimination in the employment market is common, and many trans persons remain outside the labour force; (iii) intersex children sometimes suffer serious mental and physical complications due to surgical operations that lack medical grounds. Lastly Seta noted that the recently adopted National Action Plan for Human Rights has very few references to sexual orientation or gender identity. Seta suggested drafting a comprehensive LGBTI policy action plan. Seta also raised the importance of some on-going legal reforms.
- In September, Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, launched a report based on the findings of his visit to Finland carried out in June. Following the launch he stated that “the Finnish Government has started a timely reform of the national equal treatment legislation. It is now crucial to ensure accessibility of the protection framework to all victims of discrimination and avoid unnecessary fragmentation of equality bodies.”
- In February, a bill to open marriage to same-sex couples signed by 76 Members of Parliament was submitted in Parliament. A first debate was held and the bill was sent to the Legal Committee of the Parliament. However, the Committee has no obligation to select the bill for a vote and nothing further happened with it in Parliament during 2012. A group of private citizens started preparing a popular initiative on marriage equality. The initiative and a campaign will be launched in March 2013.
- In May, Sateenkaariperheet was appointed to take part in a group tasked with monitoring the work of a group preparing a reform of the paternity law. This group was appointed by the Ministry of Justice.
- In July, a new reform of the adoption law came into effect. However, even after the reform of the adoption law, same-sex couples are not able to file for joint adoption. The reform included minor improvements for LGBTI families. In cases of second parent adoption, the biological mother’s consent for the adoption may be obtained without the eight weeks consideration time if the applicant lives in a registered partnership with the biological mother and the child has been born as a result of fertility treatments given during the registered partnership. The law also makes it possible to establish a right to maintain contact between a child given for adoption and the parent who has given his/her consent to the adoption. The child’s biological mother’s registered partner may apply for this, for example, in cases where a child’s father gives his consent for adoption in the case of a second parent adoption.
- In October, about 60 NGOs and institutions participated in a consultation organised by the Ministry of Justice on the potential need to reform the law on fertility treatment to allow surrogacy. The results were to be published in early 2013 and the political conclusions are yet to be reached about whether or not a legal reform will be initiated. Among others, Seta and Sateenkaariperheet (Rainbow Families) submitted statements demanding that if surrogacy is to be allowed, the prerequisites have to be non-discriminatory and take into account family forms other than married different-sex couples.
- In November, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) decided on the case of H. v. Finland (Application no. 37359/09). The applicant, H., had undergone gender reassignment surgery in 2009 and had previously changed her first names. H. wished to obtain a new identity number that would indicate her female gender in her official documents. However, in order to do so her marriage to a woman would have had to be turned into a civil partnership, which H. refused to accept. She complained that making the full recognition of her new gender conditional on the transformation of her marriage into a civil partnership had violated her rights under, in particular, Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) and Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court rejected the applicant’s claim. The availability of the fall back option of registered partnership for same-sex couples in Finland and lack of a consensus on marriage of same-sex partners across Europe were crucial in this determination. However, the ECtHR held that the legislation interfered with the applicant’s right to privacy, and Finland admitted this.
- In March, Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja participated in the LGBT conference at the Council of Europe and spoke strongly in favour of LGBTI people’s rights.
- In 2012, Finland supported ILGA World with a grant of €100,000. This was the first time Finland gave direct financial support to ILGA World.
Legal gender recognition
- In February, the Minister of Health and Social Services, Maria Guzenina-Richardson, fired her Special Advisor for discussing a draft legal amendment to repeal the sterilisation requirement as a precondition for legal gender recognition, without the Minister’s consultation. The incident was discussed publically and it fostered a wide debate on the sterilisation requirement in the media. The Minister’s motives were speculated on.
- In March, the Finnish Ombudsman for Equality, Pirkko Mäkinen, restated her earlier views and condemned the current procedure of forced sterilisation.
- Also in March, MP Astrid Thors of the Swedish People’s Party asked in a written question whether the government would take action in order to combat discrimination faced by trans people and how the government would work in order to abolish the sterilisation requirement. In April, the Minister of Health and Social Services, Maria Guzenina-Richardson replied that the Ministry will set up a working group to assess the possibility of abolishing the sterilisation requirement.
- In June, following his visit to Finland, the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks, said that the “Finnish authorities should give particular attention to improving the protection afforded to trans people and intersex persons. Infertility and non-marriage requirements for the official recognition of gender reassignment should be abolished.”
- In September, the Finnish Government gave its reply to the UN Human Rights Council on the Universal Periodic Review recommendations. The Government accepted the LGBTI recommendation given by Iceland and stated in its answer that a working group will be appointed to examine the need to amend the Act on Legal Recognition of the Gender of Transsexuals.
- In October, the newspapers Lapin Kansa and Pohjolan Sanomat reported that the reform of the “trans law” had stopped in the Ministry of Health and Social Affairs due to a lack of resources and because bigger law reforms had been prioritised. The Ministry’s newly appointed Permanent Secretary, Päivi Sillanaukee, was reported to have said that it was not certain that the group considering the reform would be appointed during the mandate of the government. Ms. Sillanaukee also said that abolishing the sterilisation requirement would in fact mean the introduction of a third gender in Finnish legislation. The news generated many reactions. In a written question to the government MP Astrid Thors from the Swedish People’s Party urged the Minister of Health and Social Services Maria Guzenina-Richardson to immediately appoint the group considering the reform of the trans law and asked whether the government would take action in order to combat discrimination against transgender persons and whether the group to consider the law reform would be appointed in the near future. In November, in the reply to Ms. Thors, Minister Guzenina- Richardson promised that, as previously stated, the group would be appointed in 2013.
- In October, 20 Finnish civil society organisations sent an open letter to the Finnish government demanding a reform of the gender reassignment law. Also in October a demonstration was organised to demand the same.
- In November, a gender studies conference with some 140 participants at Tampere University issued a statement condemning forced sterilisation. The leading Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat interviewed Professor in Women’s Studies Päivi Korvajärvi from Tampere University. She is quoted as saying: “The present law violates the human rights of trans people. We do not understand that gender is so strongly tied with reproductive capacity.”
- In November, Seta and Trasek met with the Ministry of Health and Social Affair’s Permanent Secretary Päivi Sillanaukee. In the meeting, Sillanaukee promised that the Ministry would cooperate with the NGOs in reforming the trans law. Also in November, the Minister in charge of equality, Paavo Arhinmäki from the Left Alliance, and Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja from the Social Democratic Party were both quoted as saying that the sterilisation requirement of the trans law should be abolished.
Participation in public/political life
- In February, the first openly gay presidential candidate, Pekka Haavisto from the Green Party, came second in the race for the presidency. Prior to Election Day, the suitability of a gay President and tolerance were widely discussed in the media.
- According to Eurobarometer 2012, 50% of Finns believe sexual orientation discrimination is widespread. This is slightly above the EU27 average (46%). 51% believe gender identity discrimination is widespread. This is slightly above the EU27 average (45%). Finns scored 5.2 on a scale from 1 (‘totally uncomfortable’) to 10 (‘totally comfortable’) when asked how comfortable they would feel with an LGB individual in the highest elected political position in their country. This is slightly below the EU27 average (6.6). Finns scored 3.9 on a similar scale when asked about a transgender/transsexual person in the highest elected political position in their country. This is significantly below the EU27 average (5.7).
Sexual and reproductive rights
- In December, the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) asked Seta to provide feedback on the government’s current action plan for sexual and reproductive health and rights as a new plan will be drafted in 2013. Seta suggested that diversity of sexual orientation and gender be mainstreamed in the new programme.
Social security and social protection
- In December, a law reform was approved under which the length of paternal leave was extended to 54 days. The right to paternal leave also applies to families in which a second parent adoption has been completed.