Rights of LGBTQI people

Last updated: 20/12-2022

About Sweden – an orientation about Swedish society.

This text is about sexual orientation and the rights of LGBTQI persons. In Sweden, you have the right to love and be together with whoever you want. You can marry a person who has the same gender as you or one who has a different gender. There are laws that protect your right to love whoever you want.

An illustrated collage with a group of LGBTQI persons.

The text explains what LGBTQI is and also describes discrimination of LGBTQI persons, as well as what the situation in Sweden is like.

What is LGBTQI?

LGBTQI is an abbreviation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex people. A popular symbol among LGBTQI people is the Pride flag. It represents pride, diversity, tolerance, and respect for fellow human beings. It is also used by many people in support of LGBTQI people. Do you recognise the flag?

Your sexual orientation is a description of which gender or genders you are attracted to or fall in love with. A homosexual person is attracted to or falls in love with people of the same gender. A bisexual person is attracted to or falls in love with both men and women. A heterosexual person is attracted to or falls in love with people of the opposite gender.

Every person also has a gender identity. You can express your gender identity in different ways. A trans person is someone who feels like, or wants to express themselves as, a different gender than the gender they were assigned at birth. Some trans people may also want to alter their bodies or their legal gender. For example, a person who was assigned the female gender at birth but who feels that is not right might want to have a male body.

You decide whether you want to call yourself homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, or something else. Some people who do not want to define their gender or their sexuality call themselves queer.

An intersex person has physical characteristics that make it difficult to determine their gender according to society's gender norms. These norms mean that there are definite ideas about what characteristics a woman's or a man's body has.

A Pride flag on a flagpole, waving in the wind.

Photo: Ida Edgren

LGBTQI issues internationally

The UN has declared that people must not be subjected to discrimination due to their sexual orientation or their gender identity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all people are equal in dignity and rights.

The European Union (EU) has also declared that no one may be discriminated against. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This means that LGBTQI people must not be treated worse than other people in hospitals, schools and workplaces, or anywhere else in society.

Discrimination against LGBTQI people

Around the world, LGBTQI people frequently suffer from discrimination, harassment, and abuse. In Sweden, too, LGBTQI people are more exposed to bullying, threats, and violence than other people in society. This violence and discrimination can take different forms. It might be that a man is assaulted because he has a love relationship with another man, or that a trans person is refused a job because of their gender identity.

Homosexuality is prohibited in many countries, and in some of them, it can be punishable by death. This is not the case in Sweden. Discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression is illegal. This is laid down in the Discrimination Act (diskrimineringslagen).

The situation in Sweden has improved

The situation for LGBTQI people has improved in Sweden. But it was not that long ago that LGBTQI people's rights were limited. Homosexuality was a crime in Sweden until 1944. And it was not until 1979 that the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) removed homosexuality from its list of diseases.

Between 1972 and 2013, the state required that trans persons who wanted to alter their bodies be sterile, so that they would not be able to have children. More than 600 people were sterilised. In 2018, the government decided that people who had been sterilised against their will would receive compensation for the treatment they had been subjected to by the state.

In 2003, homosexuals were given the right to adopt children. And since 2009, homosexuals are allowed to get married in the Church of Sweden.

Although laws and attitudes have improved, many LGBTQI people continue to experience discrimination. The fight for LGBTQI people's rights therefore continues. Every year, Pride parades are held in Sweden – the biggest one is in Stockholm. Pride parades are parties that celebrate the struggle for emancipation, equality, and everyone's right to love whomever they want. They are also demonstrations in order to draw attention to the discrimination of LGBTQI people.

RFSL is an organisation working to make society better for LGBTQI people. RFSL is represented in many places in Sweden and also has a project for people who have arrived in Sweden recently, RFSL Newcomers.