Last month our guest Jelena explained in great details how hard it still is to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in nowadays’ Serbia. Today let us hear Emilia about her experiences in Finland, a country we envy for so many reasons.
Can you introduce yourself please?
I'm Emilia, 35, from Finland. My wife Julcsi is Hungarian, and since we're both teachers, we live in Finland during the school year and in Hungary during the summer holiday. Specifically, I'm a secondary school English teacher and actually spent the autumn term of 2017 in the USA on a Fulbright grant, researching the inclusion of LGBTQ+ students in American schools. My hobbies are writing (I have a travel blog, and I also write snail mail letters), reading, music, languages, TV and cats.
Previously, you and Julcsi expressed to me that you don’t really mingle with the lesbian* community and you don’t even feel the need to.
Yes, to be honest, I don't really understand what you mean by my involvement in "lesbian life." I'm a lesbian and I live my life, and I don't see how it's any different compared to living life with a different identity. I don't consider myself or my life particularly different just because I'm a lesbian. I have friends who are lesbians and friends who are not, but I'm not a member of any group of lesbians, nor am I particularly sociable in general, and I usually prefer spending my time with my wife. I watch quite a lot of YouTube videos by lesbian couples and follow some lesbians on Instagram, but don't really feel the need to socialize any more than that.
I guess it's a question of safety and/or acceptance as well - here, you're pretty much allowed to be who you are wherever you go, so the need to have a big community of lesbians around you might not feel as important as in a different environment.
Yes, that’s what I was thinking. But there’s still a reason why I thought you could very well contribute to this interview series. Can you say a bit about that?
Well, something that my wife and I are doing for the community is our Instagram profile @lgbtqplusinschools, which will eventually expand into a website with the same name. LGBTQ+ in Schools is all about providing teachers with material for better inclusion of LGBTQ+ students, and more ways of supporting LGBTQ+ students in general. In addition, we want to support parents with LGBTQ+ kids, kids with LGBTQ+ parents, and LGBTQ+ teachers, as well as encourage teachers, parents and students to become allies to LGBTQ+ students.
What made you start this project?
Generally, being LGBTQ+ in Finland is okay. For example, I'm out to everyone in my family and at my workplace, including both my colleagues and my students, and it's fine. Discrimination based on one's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression is illegal. Equal marriage became legal in Finland in March 2017, and a new maternity law was just passed this year, allowing both parents in a lesbian relationship to be recognized as legal parents of a baby conceived at a fertility clinic already before the baby is born. With equal marriage, external adoption also became legal for same-sex parents in 2017.
Nevertheless, things could be better, for example at schools. Take textbook illustrations as examples, most characters are still pictured as white, straight and cis, which is something that should have changed a long time ago. Similarly, LGBTQ+ teens are not offered safe spaces or included in the curriculum properly, which is something I'd like to change with my Fulbright project in the future. Basically, even if LGBTQ+ people and topics are in general accepted in Finland, they're still not always talked about that much or that openly - sometimes I get the feeling that people are a little bit embarrassed of talking about LGBTQ+ people and identities, unsure if it's too personal.
This sounds like an awesome project, good luck with it. Finally, as visibility is still a very big problem in Hungary, at qLit we are putting a huge emphasis on promoting and facilitating coming-out by sharing influential personal stories. Can you share a memorable one?
In the summer of 2016, I got to be a book in a Human Library during a teacher conference called CONNECTOR in Romania. My book was called "Life as a Lesbian," and I basically told my life story from a lesbian point of view to whoever checked me out. This experience was so powerful! Not only was it amazing to just talk about my experiences and have someone listen to what I had to say, but it was also incredible to see how my readers reacted to my story! When you manage to move somebody to tears with your words, you know you've done something important and meaningful.