Silas Aliki and Joakim Lundqvist – two Stockholm-based lawyers – recognised the need for lawyers with LGBTQ+ expertise and founded their own law firm, Folkets Law Firm (Folkets Juristbyrå), in 2017. Although small and somewhat newly founded, Folkets Law Firm has become an important resource for a minority whom authorities often do not properly understand.
Being LGBTQ+ lawyers, as they call themselves, Aliki and Lundqvist have specialized in LGBTQ+ matters both from a legal perspective, and from an inter-personal perspective. They have invested time in thoroughly understanding relevant laws and case law as well as tried to learn how to make their clients feel comfortable. Society and the authorities, they say, often discipline their clients, and the last thing their clients need is a lawyer doing the same. Making their clients feel safe and understood, Aliki says, is not only important for the clients personally, it also positively impacts their legal procedures. In asylum cases, for instance, it is important that the asylum-seekers explain in a detailed manner why they risk persecution. If they feel comfortable, Aliki believes, they will be more willing to share personal details, which can prove to be crucial for a successful asylum claim.
Aliki and Lundqvist mainly work with asylum cases but also often deal with cases concerning, for instance, police violence, hate crimes and trans-related legal matters. The latter include cases concerning registering in the Swedish Population Register, parenthood and crossing borders. LGBTQ+ persons, as Aliki puts it, more regularly face difficulties when it comes to administration and authorities than members of the majority do.
Not only a lawyer, but also a cultural interpreter
According to Lundqvist, being a lawyer working with LGBTQ+ matters often involves acting as a cultural interpreter. While lawyers should always guide their clients in the legal procedures, Lundqvist and Aliki have experienced that they need to guide not only their clients, but also the authorities when it comes to LGBTQ+ related topics. Lundqvist mentions that he has had to explain what the networking and dating app Grindr is to a Case Officer at the Migration Agency – an experience that Aliki shares:
“I have done that multiple times! I often interpret LGBTQ+ terms and have, for instance, had to explain the difference between intersex and trans” Aliki says.
In an asylum procedure, it is important that the Migration Agency understands the asylum-seeker properly to be able to conduct a thorough assessment of the asylum-seeker’s need for international protection. This involves possessing knowledge of LGBTQ+ matters, in particular in the asylum-seeker’s country of origin. When this is not the case, it is crucial that the applicant’s lawyer has such knowledge and can pass it on to the Officer:
“We have seen cases where the Migration Agency has asked asylum-seekers strange questions or tried the wrong persecution ground because they have not understood the asylum-seekers properly”, Lundqvist says.
On their social media channels, Folkets Law Firm sometimes share examples of such questions and decisions. Their clients have been asked questions such as “How come you have children even though you are homosexual?” and in an Instagram post, Folkets Law Firm themselves commented that the majority’s conceptions of lives of LGBTQ+ persons often are “quite… narrow”.
Applying human rights in Sweden
While Aliki and Lundqvist mainly work with Swedish national legislation, they also use human rights arguments and refer to human rights instruments in their pleadings.
All photos in this article are taken by Anna Sturesson
However, such arguments are often disregarded by the Swedish authorities and courts. In cases concerning legal gender recognition, for instance, they have experienced that Rättsliga Rådet (the Swedish body deciding on the matters) does not take human rights arguments into account:
“The legislation is so bad, the argumentation so loose and the authorities’ knowledge regarding LGBTQ+ persons so limited that human rights arguments have no impact”, Aliki says and refers to cases concerning legal gender recognition.
They find that human rights claims of the minority that they represent are more often disregarded than those of majority groups. While it is easier to claim, for example, the freedom of speech or right to property in Sweden, they see that rights that their clients find violated, such as the right to private life, are much more difficult to claim successfully:
“If we talk about human rights or a rights-based approach to the legislation, the right to property weighs heavily. It is not something that people have to argue about – mine is mine and yours is yours. But, when it comes to other questions, it is much more difficult”, Lundqvist says.
A part of the problem, as Lundqvist sees it, is the common trust in the state and the legislation. If the law requires the authorities to conduct thorough investigations e.g. in asylum procedures, the requirement itself is by many believed to automatically result in correctly performed investigations, Lundqvist says.
Working with LGBTQ+ rights in a conservative field
Working with LGBTQ+ and asylum matters as well as participating in the societal debate on such topics can sometimes cause negative reactions. Particularly topics concerning migration and Muslims are perceived as provoking by some. Aliki and Lundqvist have received angry letters and negative comments online, but say that they so far have been mostly spared from such. However, they suspect more will come in the future.
Some officers at different authorities have also reacted in an unpleasant way, Aliki says, such as by hanging up in the middle of a phone call or saying rude things. While most officers have behaved well, Aliki points out, the legal field can be very conservative.
“I hope I never have to see you again”
It is easy to get a negative worldview by working with clients who are experiencing difficulties because of societal norms and the ways the legal system is built, Lundqvist says. However, it is clear that Aliki and Lundqvist enjoy their work and the cases they take on.
“The last thing I usually say after the final meeting with a client is ‘I hope I never have to see you again’” Lundqvist says with a smile.
Aliki laughs and adds:
“Or maybe at Pride!”