One of Norway’s most high-profile and respected gay rights activists, author Karen-Christine “Kim” Friele, turned down an invitation to attend a garden party hosted by Prime Minister Erna Solberg in connection with EuroPride in Oslo this week. The reason: Solberg’s decision not to welcome the Dalai Lama when he was in Oslo last month.
Friele, now age 79, was the first person in Norway to publicly come out as homosexual under her own name, and she has fought for equal rights for homosexuals for more than 50 years. Her work contributed to the repeal, in 1972, of Norway’s controversial law that made sex between men a criminal offense, and to the elimination of “homosexuality” as a psychiatric diagnosis in 1978.
She’s also a dedicated human rights activist who worked to extend Norwegian laws against racism to include discrimination based on sexual preference. She has won a long string of awards for her work over the years, including the Fritt Ord prize that champions freedom of expression, and she was knighted by King Harald V in 2000.
This week she was among those invited to a reception hosted by Solberg and other government officials in the garden adjoining the prime minister’s residence and the state’s official guest house. The reception Wednesday afternoon was meant to honour gay rights activists in Oslo for this week’s EuroPride events.
“For me it was more important to send a clear signal to the youth, than to eat strawberries with the prime minister,” Friele told newspaper Aftenposten. She said she sent a letter back to the Office of the Prime Minister, in which she politely declined the invitation but went into detail as to why. Friele was deeply disappointed that Solberg and her government refused to meet with the Dalai Lama during his visit, in order to keep from further angering Chinese authorities who view Dalai Lama as a threat to their authority.
“Tibet’s spiritual leader Dalai Lama is one of the world’s most pronounced spokesmen for humanism, with emphasis on the individual’s right to a dignified life,” Friele wrote to the prime minister’s office. “On May 7 this year, he came to Oslo, to, among other things, mark his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize 25 years ago.
“In trembling fear of annoying the powerful China, Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Foreign Minister Børge Brende and the Parliament’s president, Olemic Thommessen, refused to wish the Dalai Lama welcome. Instead, they neutralized the conscience of the government of Norway, and bowed in servile subservience to China,” Friele wrote.
She refrained from using the word “hypocritical,” reported Aftenposten, but made it clear that no one can feel secure when politicians put economic interests ahead of the defense of vulnerable groups. Friele simply couldn’t accept an invitation from a government that had showed, in her opinion, such weakness. “How much are the government’s words about human rights worth, when one won’t stand up for the Tibetan people,” Friele asked rhetorically when speaking to Aftenposten from her home in the mountains at Geilo.
Asked whether she thinks Solberg cares about the reasons Friele refused to attend the reception, she replied that “someone in the prime minister’s office does, because I have received telephone calls from them since I sent the letter.” Asked whether she thinks others have declined the invitation on the same grounds, though, Friele answered “not at all.”
She seems most concerned that politicians are consistent in their support for gay rights and human rights. Visible signs of support can be seen all over Oslo this week, with the British Embassy becoming the latest to decorate its entrance in the rainbow colours signifying gay pride. The British Embassy is located directly across the street from the Embassy of Russia, where many feel gay rights are insecure at best.
The US Embassy decorated its building in downtown Oslo with rainbow colours last week, Oslo trams will be flying rainbow flags this week and a “EuroPride Village” has been set up on the plaza in front of City Hall, as tens of thousands of people take part in EuroPride seminars, speeches, parties and concerts during the week, culminating in a parade on Saturday.