Transnational LGBTQIA+ couples share their experiences of the pandemic.
Pride Month is an international celebration of love and our right to love whoever we want in whatever way we want. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has restricted international couples throughout the world from seeing each other. International LGBTQIA+ couples have to deal with discrimination and outdated family ideals on top of being separated in terms of location, leading to double marginalization. How does the Norwegian government decide who is allowed to see their loved ones? Where do they draw the line for what is considered ‘close family’? We reached out to Miriam in Norway to hear how the pandemic has impacted her and her fiancée from South Africa.
What has been / is the hardest being apart?
I’m a lesbian trans woman from Norway, and my fiancée is a pansexual cis woman from South Africa. For me, the hardest thing has definitely been the fact that we haven’t been physically together for more than six months. I miss physical closeness and just being together in an everyday sort of way – things that most couples take for granted. We live very far apart geographically and would’ve had to be apart for long periods even without the pandemic, but the quarantine rules and travel restrictions make visits much more difficult than they would’ve been otherwise. My fiancée isn’t allowed to enter Norway at all under the current rules, and for me to visit her in South Africa requires a lot more planning than usual, since I have to spend ten days in a quarantine hotel when I return to Norway. It’s the same challenge faced by every international couple/polycule and every Norwegian with loved ones abroad.
What challenges does your significant other face in the country they are from / stuck in?
Fortunately, my fiancée lives in a country with good protective legislation for LGBTQIA+ people. She also has a rewarding job, a steady income, a nice home, and a network of friends in the city she lives in. Relationship-wise, I think she struggles with the same as me – that is, the pain of not having been together physically for so long.
What would you like the Norwegian government to change about the way they have been going about this pandemic for LGBTQIA+ couples?
What annoys me the most is the way that different restrictions apply to different types of visits, and the way different types of visits are defined. Under the current rules, spouses are considered “close family members”, as are partners who have cohabited for at least two years or who have (or are expecting) a child together. People like myself and my fiancée, who are engaged but not married, have no children together yet, and have only cohabited for one year, are not considered “close family members”, and my fiancée is therefore not allowed to come and visit me. It feels like the government is judging our relationship as being of lesser value, which is honestly rather insulting. This, however, is a problem for everyone who is in an international relationship, including cishet people. With regard to LGBTQIA+ people specifically, the current practice seems heavily and unfairly discriminatory against polyamorous people as well as couples where one or both partners come from a country where homosexuality is illegal or where same-gender marriage is not recognised.
Does the Norwegian government ease your process in finding the right information, support and people to contact for answers?
I feel that they do, yes. The government is good at communicating the rules that apply at any given time, as well as changes to the rules. For us, the problem isn’t knowing the rules, it’s the rules themselves.
What is something you look forward to doing once your significant other is able to join you here in Norway?
I look forward to just being with her in the same room, sharing hugs and kisses, and having real-life conversations. When she’s finally able to visit me in Norway (which will hopefully be this coming Christmas), I look forward to showing her proper Norwegian winter weather and finally introducing her to pinnekjøtt!
The pandemic has been challenging for everyone. Those with loved ones outside of Norway however, deserve special attention, as they have been more or less forcefully kept apart for a majority of the duration of the pandemic.
Travel rules and regulations have changed more than 199 times since March 2020 (Aftenposten, 2021). Creating confusion and a lack of predictability many of us have never experienced, on top of the already stressful pandemic situation. With fast changing and at times contradictory travel rules and regulations, the group “Oss med familie eller kjæreste i utlandet under Covid-19, 2020/2021“ has put political pressure on the government to open the country for loved ones, and to acknowledge that love is not tourism (NRK, 2020). Now that we are (finally) seeing the light at the end of the pandemic-tunnel, we have chosen to reflect on a unique segment of this group with loved ones abroad: transnational LGBTQIA+ couples. As highlighted by Miriam, the problem is not knowing the rules, it is the rules themselves. How does the Norwegian government understand the concept of family in 2021? Is it merely a married cis-gendered straight couple with their biological kids under the age of 18? Are you less of a family if you have been living together on and off during a long distance relationship? Are you any more of a family after receiving a marriage certificate? We are happy to see that the Norwegian government is opening up and has expanded on its rule for boyfriends and girlfriends from the EU, but there is still a long way to go for people like Miriam who have family in countries beyond the EU/EEA area. And perhaps an even longer process for those in non-traditional families, like LGBTQIA+ couples or people in long-distance relationships. To quote Miriam: “It feels like the government is judging our relationship as being of lesser value, which is honestly rather insulting.” Family is essential for all of us – and family is as diverse a concept as the rainbow.
We wanted to highlight one out of many stories from an unusual period in the time of Pride month. We wanted to highlight the experiences of transnational LGBTQIA+ couples during these exceptional pandemic times as the theme for Oslo’s Pride is international solidarity. We are fortunate to have Miriam and her fiancée tell their story, as well as shed a light on the rules that have constricted them from being together during the corona pandemic.
Miriam Aurora Hammeren Pedersen (she/her)
Thea-Caroline Zwahlen (she/her) International coordinator and finance manager and the international team: Oliver Johan Finden (he/him), Andrea Vik (she/her), Sophie Post (she/her)