This year’s salmon is rotten

Last Saturday the Pride parade overtook Copenhagen’s streets. On this occasion LGBT Denmark awarded their annual prize, ‘The Salmon of the Year’, which is given to:

“… a person, organization, or other group that swims against the stream. To be considered, one must contribute to making the world a better place” (Source: lgbt.dk).

Yesterday the prize was awarded to The Parliamentary Health Committee (and by virtue all the parties that sit on this year’s committee), because they decided to move the ‘transsexualism’ diagnosis off the list of psychiatric diagnoses from January 1, 2017.

Moving the diagnosis does not change treatment

We, Trans Political Forum, believe it is problematic that the committee has been given this prize on multiple levels. This choice has caused us to ask ourselves the following questions: What does such a prize symbolize? What meaning does it carry? Whose benefit does the prize serve?

We are obviously glad that the diagnosis will be removed from the list of psychiatric diagnoses and see this as a step in the right direction for trans individuals within the Danish health system.

But relocating the diagnosis in itself does not change the treatment we have access to in the Danish health system. A treatment that is humiliating, disempowering, disrespectful, and which has been heavily criticized – especially over the past six months.

Read the commentary (in Danish) “Transgender people are still facing discrimination” (Berlingske)

See the article “Danish Minister of Health To Push For De-Psychiatrization of Transgender Persons

As the situation looks at the moment, we will still be treated at Sexological Clinic (which is within the psychiatric system) and thereby will be treated from the perspective that we have mental health issues.

This perspective manifests in, among other things, the long psychiatric evaluation that takes place. In an opinion piece for Berlingske, Sexological Clinic described to what degree treatment for trans people would change as a result of ‘transexualism’ being declassified as a mental disorder: “This political decision does not call for changes from our side. We follow the Danish Health Authority’s guidelines and the information coming from them.” (Holst, H.K. Berlingske, June 14, 2016)

The Danish Health Authority has indicated in writing that removing the diagnosis in itself will have no consequences for the investigative process and transgender people’s access to treatment.

An Empty Symbol

Two things happen when LGBT Denmark chooses to ‘honor’ the Parliament’s Health Committee for their decision to move the diagnoses. Firstly, they are giving a pat on the back to an institution that has actually done nothing for trans rights in practice.

The prize thus functions as a symbol given to individuals or organizations that merely chose to deal with anything that smells like LGBT rights as opposed to an award for individuals and organizations who have dared to swim upstream.

Secondly, this invisibilizes the people and organizations that have fought long and hard to make politicians aware that categorizing the diagnosis as a psychiatric disorder is a massive problem.

Amnesty International is among those who contributed to the fight through a major campaign over the last six months focusing on moving the diagnosis. Many transgender people and organizations have dedicated time and personal energy collaborating on the campaign’s development and educating the public. These people have put themselves on the line by sharing their own stories in the media, in schools, in front of activists, and more. In other words, it is these people who have ‘swum upstream’ and them who have made a difference.

See Amnesty’s report on transgender people’s access to healthcare in Denmark (Danish)

Rewarding people in power who are not making change

If ‘The Salmon of the Year’ goes to anyone connected with moving the diagnoses, it would have behooved LGBT Denmark to give the prize to some of these organizations and people.

This would have shown LGBT Denmark prioritizing solidarity with their own community over the politicians who, in practice, fight against true improvements to our rights.

When LGBT Denmark instead chooses to honor the Parliamentary Health Committee, they are honoring those who have the power to create concrete changes for trans people – but have simply chosen not to do so.

We think this is deeply problematic. It undermines the monumental critique of these very politicians. We’re talking here about a committee that is known for the discrimination that we as trans people are subjected to – a committee which, though it holds the power to stop this abuse, has not chosen to actively fight it.

This makes the committee complicit in the continued discrimination taking place. The Health Committee is not going against the current. They’re actually just doing their job by correcting a mistake that never should have been there.

We see the committee’s decision to move the diagnosis as a symbolic act and one that should in no way be rewarded.

Are trans rights ‘brave and controversial’?

When you choose to give a prize for ‘swimming against the stream’ to a political committee for their decision to move the diagnosis, you are also indicating that fighting for trans rights is controversial and brave.

You are thereby reproducing the idea that trans politics and trans people are something strange and dangerous to involve yourself with. In giving The Salmon of the Year, LGBT Denmark is saying to the Parliamentary Health Committee: ‘Thank you for daring to stand by our side – that was really quite brave’.

We believe this is a wrong and dangerous signal to send, and again we wonder what ‘The Salmon of the Year’ even stands for – what’s the point in giving it out? What are we supposed to celebrate?

LGBT Denmark choosing to reward acts of political symbolism risks doing more harm than help. It can send the message to both the Parliamentary Health Committee and the broader public that the fight for basic trans rights is over and that the politicians have done the necessary work.

This is the last thing we need right now when we are so far from the goal. Quite the opposite – if you measure actual rights we are in exactly the same position we were two years ago.

We in Trans Political Forum are still fighting for the right to make decisions about our own bodies, for informed consent, and for real change to trans people’s rights within the Danish healthcare system.

Original by Transpolitisk Forum, translated 3. november 2016.