UPDATED: A Norwegian government minister was booed Friday evening as Oslo launched more than a week of events tied to EuroPride, the annual festival dedicated to making people feel proud of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The first of more than 200 events scheduled through June 29 got off to an awkward start, when around 15 demonstrators tried to disrupt the opening address by Norway’s government minister for equality issues.
Solveig Horne, from Norway’s most conservative party, the Progress Party (Frp), didn’t exactly get a warm welcome after being asked by festival organizers to deliver the opening speech Friday evening. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the demonstrators showed up at the festival opening holding placards criticizing Horne and her party for earlier controversial statements on homosexuality.
Despite attempts by the event’s host Nils-Erik Flatø to reconcile with the demonstrators from the stage, they started booing when Horne approached the microphone and interrupted her speech on several occasions. Some claimed Norway’s new conservative government, of which Horne is a member, doesn’t support diversity even though her health minister colleague is openly gay himself as are several state secretaries.
Horne, who had welcomed the invitation to speak at the opening of EuroPride, tried to take it all in stride. “Trying to speak when someone is booing isn’t the nicest thing but it went okay,” Horne told NRK afterwards. While the demonstrators booed, the rest of the audience at Oslo’s House of Literature stayed calm and listened to what Horne had to say. Police were also standing by to maintain order.
“Horne was invited this evening because of her title as minister for equality, and she hasn’t done anything so far that we see as wrong,” Hans Heen Sikkeland, leader of the local gay rights group LHH Oslo og Akershus told NRK. “We do challenge her to keep working towards more diversity.” Sikkeland said he thought it sent an important signal to the rest of Europe that such a conservative minister was invited to speak at the opening of EuroPride 2014, and accepted.
EuroPride was last held in Oslo in 2005 and attracted an estimated 85,000 participants. This year as many as 100,000 are expected to take part in various events from seminars and debates to concerts and parties. EuroPride will also feature an annual, colourful and often wild parade starting from the Grønland district at 1pm next Saturday, June 28, and ending at the plaza on the harbour side of City Hall.
That’s where a so-called “Pride Park” will open from Wednesday June 25 and serve as the center of the EuroPride festival. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that it will feature cafes, a large stage and a string of concerts, all designed to serve as a “city within the city” where the majority is “lhbtiq:” lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, transperson, intersex and queer.
This year even the US Embassy in Oslo has become visibly involved in supporting EuroPride, decorating the security posts around its otherwise often-criticized embassy compound in all the colours of the rainbow that are used to signify gay pride. After some political debate, the city’s trams will also wave rainbow flags as they make the rounds around Oslo, while hosts aboard the Airport Express Train from Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen into the city will also sport rainbow colours to welcome festival participants.
The first EuroPride festival was held in London in 1992 and attracted around 100,000 people who partied in the streets. It later moved on to Berlin and other European cities, and will be held in Riga, Latvia next year. The hype over EuroPride in Oslo has been building for weeks.
Events kicked off at the newly established “Pride House” at Litteraturhuset, the building otherwise known as the scene of literary events and public debates. In addition to Horne’s opening address, the opening featured an appearance by Max Zachs, billed as “one of Great Britain’s most well-known Trans people” who was featured in the British TV series My Transsexual Summer.
Horne earlier had called Pride House itself “a unique venue” that will feature “the largest LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transsexual) political workshop organized on a voluntary basis in Norway.” More than 50 debates, lectures and workshops will be held at Pride House during the week, “putting politics and human rights in an LGBT perspective on the agenda in Norway and Europe.” Horne added that it was “important for me as Minister for Equality to promote the event and show that we in Norway take a clear position and say that LGBT rights are human rights.”
Organizers include Amnesty International Norway and Oslo Pride AS, a volunteer organization owned by the local branch of LLH, the Norwegian lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization in Oslo and Akershus. They also organize the annual Pride festival in Oslo, with a stated aim of showing “that diversity among people is positive and the differences that make us all unique, enrich society.”
For a full listing of events during EuroPride, click here (external link to EuroPride2014.com).