Pride wins over shame in Norway

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The tens of thousands of cheering marchers and spectators who turned out over the weekend for Oslo’s annual Pride Parade illustrated a fundamental change in Norwegian society. Attitudes towards sexual preference have become far more tolerant and supportive just in the past two decades, but experts warn that the battle for full acceptance isn’t over yet.

Oslo’s largest-ever Pride Parade was led off by a large rainbow flag. It took well over an hour for the parade to move from Oslo’s Grønland district to Karl Johans Gate. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

That’s probably why an estimated, record-breaking 35,000 people marched in Saturday’s Pride Parade, while tens of thousands more cheered them on from the sidelines. Some marched on behalf of those who still don’t feel they can or dare, others were out to demonstrate the importance of both diversity and solidarity.

“Proud familes and friends” read the signs of one large group that drew applause from the crowd. “Bring your authentic self to work,” read the signs carried by a group from the international consulting firm Accenture. The Lesbiske turlag (a lesbian hiking and skiing association) marched near the front of parade, while other groups represented everyone from doctors and nurses to psychologists and labour unions.

The turnout was so huge that parade organizers, security guards and police faced challenges keeping the parade route open and wide enough for the marchers and rolling exhibits to pass. Security was tight, with a police helicopter whirring overhead, police commando vans parked so as to block sidestreets running through the parade route, and lots of police out on patrol. They were friendly though, while the shone brightly on the highly colourful festivities on the streets of the Norwegian capital.

Also marching up near the front of the parade was Health Minister Bent Høie (in white shirt), marching hand-in-hand with his husband. Høie, from Norway’s Conservative Party, said he’s glad Norway is now much more open and progressive on gay rights issues. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Spectators ranged from toddlers in strollers to elderly Norwegians waving rainbow flags. Many were dressed up, not just in the outlandish costumes that earlier dominated pride parades, but in conventional summer dresses and shirts to mark a special occasion. There were lots of children, dressed up as well, and clearly enjoying the day out with adults. Tourists joined in, too, given all the languages heard among the crowds lining Karl Johan Gate. Norwegian dominated, however, on the streets farther downtown and towards Oslo’s Grønland district, an area known for its mosques and shops that cater to Muslims and where the parade began.

No trouble was reported and the mood was cheerful with many of the marchers celebrating how far the fight for acceptance of all forms of sexual orientation has come in Norway. Homosexuality was illegal in Norway until 1972, when a law that criminalized sex betwen men was repealed. The history of equal rights for gays and lesbians, and more recently for bisexuals and trans-gender people, involved first a battle to make homosexuality legal and then to generate acceptance and equal rights.

Carine Fløystad, a young woman out enjoying events at Oslo’s “Pride Park” with her partner Maritha Henriksen, told newspaper Dagsavisen earlier in the week that she’s “always been open, for example at work, and it’s never been a problem.” Fløystad and Henriksen said they were keenly aware, however, that life is much easier for them in Norway now because of how hard gays and lesbians fought for acceptance for many decades.

This group riding on a trailer carried signs reading that they were “dancing for all who can’t or don’t dare.” PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

“We have gone from being a society that was extremely homogenous when it came to, for example, religion and culture, with very little room for differences, and which was repressive when it came to homosexuality,” historian Runar Jordåen at the University of Bergen told Dagsavisen. He noted that the law against sex between men was rarely enforced, “but there was always that fear of prosecution. It was almost unheard of to stand forward as a homosexual before 1972.”

Newspaper Aftenposten reported over the weekend that Oslo had a thriving if hidden gay community as early as 1900, with around 130 bars or restaurants that welcomed gays. While it was difficult to “come out” openly, however, it was also difficult to gain acceptance within the community. Svein Skeid, a 66-year-old gay man who experienced first-hand how difficult it was to “come out” in Norway 45 years ago, told Aftenposten that to “come in” before 1972 also required an invitation to secret parties and approval from at least two other participants.

“There has been a fundamental change in norms” since then, Jordåen noted, along with a long string of other important changes in the law allowing, for example, marriage between people of the same sex, also now in the state church, and prohibiting discrimination. Asked whether the Norwegian fight for gay rights has been a success, Jordåen said he thinks it has. “At the same time, he added, “it’s been a complicated history of various campaigns carried out by various groups who have fought with varying strategies and goals.”

Oslo’s City Hall (Rådhuset) was also decorated with rainbow flags to honour the Pride Parade, with is second only to the annual 17th of May parade on Norway’s Constitution Day. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

Public attitudes today, compared to 50 years ago, however, are “like night and day,” Jordåen said. “Those who lived through the 1950s and 1960s have to pinch themselves to believe what’s happened in Norway,” he told Dagsavisen. “So do those who lived in small towns in the 1990s.” Skeid mostly blames the prejudices he claims were perpetuated by a strict Norwegian state church at the time, “religious dogma” and attempts by some authorities to asset that homosexuality was in illness that needed to be cured. A fear of differences among people also compounded the problem.

Despite all the changes and openness that exists now, organizers of Pride events in Oslo don’t feel Norwegian society has become free and open enough. It remains difficult for many young people to come out to family and friends. Dagsavisen has reported that “jævla homo” (goddamned homosexual) is still the most common term used by bullies in Norwegian schools. On Saturday, the Pride organizers in FRI (an advocacy group for sexual and gender diversity) awarded prizes both to the hit series Skam (Shame), which raised acceptance for young gays by relating the story of two teenage males who become a couple, and to Esben Esther Pirelli Benestad, who has raised the profile of transgender people in Norway.

Agnes Bolsø, a professor of sociology at NTNU in Trondheim, told Dagsavisen that she also thinks the gay rights campaign in Norway has been “quite successful.” Norway has lagged behind liberation movements in other countries, though, and Bolsø said Norway still does regarding gender-neutral terms and trans-issues.

“You can say that homosexualty has become less provocative in society,” Bolsø said. “Now it’s gender expressions and trans-questions that are creating some trouble.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund

  • JMNORDIC

    Gay people are ok to me. I consider them equal to the straight ones. My question is why gays needs to celebrate themselves all the time?

    • frenk

      Because they have lots of free time and money…