Norwegian fired for tweeting about “only two genders”


Northern Europe


Trans issues can be very sensitive and polarising. Photo EPA, Diego Fedele

Rianne Vogels is in the midst of a court case about her job since she warned against gender transition on social media. The Norwegian media see this as a “historic trial”.

Rianne worked in a management position for the non-profit organisation Papillon in Bergen, an organisation that she co-founded in 2018, according to the newspaper Dagen. The organisation assists young women with a migrant background.

The general manager of Papillon got an anonymous e-mail in February 2022 stating that Vogels had expressed a critical view about the trans theme on Twitter.

The manager looked at the tweet and decided that Vogels had broken loyalty. In response, he felt the need to fire her. Papillon believes Vogels’ statements were so damaging to the organisation that they couldn’t continue with her in a leadership position.

Now, Mrs Vogels is suing her former employer for unfair dismissal. Last week, the Hordaland District Court heard her case. Vogels’s lawyer Birthe Eriksen said: “Rianne Vogels has been ostracised from her workplace because she used her freedom of expression.”

Not transphobic

Vogels’ lawyers believe the case is similar to other whistle-blowing cases in the workplace. “Rianne is not transphobic and has nothing against people who are trans. She is concerned with the debate about gender identity, but to a greater extent than people elsewhere in society”, said lawyer Nils Olav Nøss in court. “She has used Twitter as it is used.”

Vogels. Photo Facebook

Vogels told Dagen she had worked with medical innovation for 15 years before co-founding Papillon in 2018. In court, it was emphasised that her statements are professional assessments.

“I’m a nerd, and I’ve dug and dug, but my professional perspective doesn’t make this subject come up. As an employee of an organisation for girls and women, I have thought that we should keep an eye on what consequences a shift in understandings of gender could have for our organisation”, says Vogels to Dagen.

Similar cases

There have been several similar cases of expression on social media regarding trans issues and (homo)sexuality. Maya Forstater won a similar court case in the UK after being fired from a think tank over trans Twitter messages. In Finland, MP Paivi Räsänen is still waiting for her appeal case in August, after she was dismissed of all charges against her for a tweet about the Pride in Helsinki in 2019. Vogels’ lawyers also highlighted the campaign against Harry Potter author JK Rowling after social media expressions.

Lawyer Birthe Eriksen, therefore, believes that this case is about freedom of expression in Norway. “An anonymous notification to her employer triggered this case, and it has emerged that this is a common way to force critical voices to silence.”

Papillon’s lawyer Trine Lise Fromreide said that Vogels had acted disloyally. “Here, Papillon becomes involved in a public debate in an area that affects the target group and can destroy users’ trust in Papillon. Papillon has, therefore, always been keen to move carefully in debates that affect users.”

Trans debate

According to Dagen, this is a historic trial for Norway. “Now the court will decide whether employers can refuse people who believe there are only two genders to participate in the trans debate”, the paper reports. “A central question in the court case is the extent to which an employer can demand that employees refrain from speaking out.” The case is reported by other media as well, such as TV2 and Aftenposten.

Dagen quotes a freedom of expression expert, Anine Kierulf. She said in another media interview in Bergens Tidende that an employer could set limits on what an employee can say, but that it is difficult to say where the line is. “In an employment relationship, you also have a duty of loyalty.”



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