LGBTI people and equality
Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation is prohibited under the Non-Discrimination Act. Sexual orientation is used to describe to whom a person is attracted to sexually and/or emotionally.
The position and rights of LGBTI people, and the attitudes towards LGBTI people have become more positive over the past few decades but discrimination has not disappeared.
Rights have improved - discrimination has not disappeared
Over the past few decades, the status of LGBTI people has changed as a formerly disregarded group has become a symbol of diversity. For example, “publicly encouraging adultery between individuals of the same gender” was a punishable act under the Finnish Criminal Code until 1999. Entry into force of the Marriage Act guaranteeing equality in spring 2017 and parliamentary approval of amendments to the Maternity Act in February 2018 have been part of a process in which the discrimination of LGBTI people is being stamped out from legislation.
Non-governmental organisations and civil activism have served as important drivers of change in the efforts to improve the position of LGBTI people. Citizens’ initiatives on equal marriage and maternity legislation are good examples of civil activism.
However, correcting legislative inadequacies does not automatically ensure equality. In addition to structural discrimination, there is also discrimination and inappropriate treatment in everyday situations and in many different areas of life. Despite the progress achieved, more work is needed to tackle discrimination, harassment and discriminatory attitudes.
There is discrimination against LGBTI people in many areas of life
There is discrimination against LGBTI people in many areas of life and it takes many forms. LGBTI people may encounter structural discrimination but also face discrimination and harassment in everyday situations. Discrimination and harassment which LGBTI people experience may manifest for example, as a local register office refusing to marry a same-sex couple, pupils being bullied at school because of their sexual orientation, LGBTI people having to hear offensive jokes about their sexual orientation, or a same-sex couple being unable to rent a flat.
Discrimination against LGBTI people takes place for example in public spaces, at work, and when seeking housing or work. Harassment in everyday situations also remains a common problem in Finland and elsewhere in Europe. Furthermore, studies have shown that in addition to discrimination the fear of discrimination and harassment brings challenges to the lives of LGBTI people. This can, for example, discourage LGBTI people from using services.
Many of the obstacles to equality are connected with attitudes, which might be even unintentional, lack of information or lack of understanding. Heteronormativity, gender- and partnership norms are still so deeply entrenched in our society that we may not always even recognise them. However, many of these norms cause discrimination and exclusion, and it is important to be aware of them so that equality can be promoted. For example, the assumption that a marriage is a relationship between different genders is such a norm-based assumption.
Much of the discrimination remains hidden because of underreporting
The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman receives only a small number of discrimination contacts on grounds of sexual orientation. Because of underreporting, only a small percentage of the discrimination experienced by LGBTI people is entered in official statistics. Underreporting of discrimination is a major problem. When the authorities are not aware of discrimination, the individuals cannot exercise their rights and discrimination cannot be addressed with targeted measures. At worst, the discrimination continues.
When persons subjected to discrimination do not report their experiences to the authorities, neither statistical nor qualitative information on discrimination as a phenomenon can be collected. Thus, its societal development may remain unknown. As a result, the measures taken by the authorities are reactive instead of preventive.
The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman is a low-threshold actor who can be contacted through a variety of different channels if you face discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman has many ways to tackle discrimination and promote equality. Every contact is extremely important and provides valuable information on how the measures to combat discrimination and promote equality should be focused.