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The Swedish Government Still Thinks Being Trans Is the Same as Being Mentally Ill

This week, LGBTQ rights organisation Transförsvaret tried to change that by occupying the Swedish Board of Health and Welfare.
Photos by Simon Edström

This article originally appeared on VICE Sweden

This week, Socialstyrelsen [The National Board of Health and Welfare] in Stockholm was occupied by activists from Transförsvaret [The Trans Defence]. Transförsvaret is an LGBTQ rights organisation determined to take action against injustices facing transgender people in Sweden.

On Monday, a group of more than 60 transgender activists made their way into a conference room at the board's premises. The aim was to protest against the fact that being trans in Sweden is still classified as being mentally ill. Transförsvaret also feel that the reforms of Swedish policy on transgender rights, laws and regulations take too long.


Transförsvaret's activists on their way to the National Board of Health and Welfare. Photos by Simon Edström

"One month ago, we sent a list with 13 demands to the Swedish government – to Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Equality Minister Åsa Regnér and Health Minister Gabriel Wikström," Transförsvaret's Rhea Bengtsson told VICE. "But they never answered and that's why we decided to occupy the National Board of Health and Welfare." According to Ola Billger, Director of Communications at the National Board of Health and Welfare, the occupation was peaceful. "We had a great dialogue with the activists and we hope they got the attention they wanted," Billger told VICE. "But after office hours, we had to contact the police since we couldn't let the activists stay overnight."

"Activism by organisations such as RFSL and FPES is good. There's no denying that lobbying and 'gentle' activism are required for change. But that change is currently taking way too long and trans people are dying while they wait. Gentle activism only works when the people in charge care, and they currently don't. What is needed is to make them care; rights don't come just because you ask nicely," Transförsvaret wrote in a statement on their website.

It's not the first time Sweden's government is criticised by the trans community. It was only in January 2013 that the Swedish government stopped sterilising transgender people. Unfortunately, the government thought that move was enough and continued to label being transgender the equivalent to having a mental health disorder. In fact, according to Amnesty International, Denmark and France are two of very few countries in the world that don't consider transgender people to be mentally ill.


Transförsvaret hope to change this. And what better place to do that than by occupying the national authority responsible for listing what and what isn't considered an illness?

"We haven't got an answer from the government yet. It's not really a surprise but we're happy we got some attention from the media and we hope that an answer will come soon," Bengtsson told VICE. "If we don't get a response, we will continue with similar actions in order to get heard. Although for now, nothing is planned."

Monday's occupation lasted seven hours and ended around 8PM, when the police started to escort members of Transförsvaret out of the building. "Any future demonstrations might have a better penetrative power if they take place inside the parliament building," Billger said. "Our conference room is better fitted for conference meetings [than occupations]." When asked about what the state of conversations regarding classification of gender identification, Billger said that "nothing will be changed this year, at least."

This is not the first time Swedish LGBTQ-activists use occupation as a strategy to make themselves heard by the authorities. In 1979, between 30 to 40 gay activists occupied a stairwell of the National Board of Health and Welfare in Stockholm demanding to stop listing homosexuality as an illness. Shortly after the 1979 occupation, homosexuality was removed from the authority's diagnostic records over diseases and disorders. The 1979 event is now seen as an important milestone in Swedish LGBTQ history.


VICE reached out to Health Minister Gabriel Wikström for comment but so far we have gotten no response.

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