Sunday marked the somber first anniversary of last year’s attack on Oslo Pride, an annual week of events recognizing and hailing gender diversity. As this year’s Pride celebrations get underway, police have reported new threats and a sharp rise in hate crimes against the Pride movement, but urged Norwegians to take part and march in next weekend’s big parade.
“There will be more police on the streets than ever,” said Beate Gangås, head of Norway’s police intelligence unit PST, at a press briefing last week. “There are very many who are doing very much to make the events safe.” PST has been criticized in connection with its response to the terror threat last year, but the government has since reacted and vowed improvements.
Two men were killed, more than a dozen wounded and scores of others traumatized last June, when a man suddenly started shooting on a street outside two gay bars in downtown Oslo. The attack forced postponement of last year’s Pride Parade, even though an impromptu one quickly formed in reaction to the attacks.
The gunman arrested at the scene remains in custody but has refused to answer any questions from police. He’s believed to have been urged on by the Norwegian-Islamist Arfan Bhatti, who’s been arrested in Pakistan but is resisting extradtition back to Norway.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, Oslo Mayor Marianne Borgen and the president of the Norwegian Parliament, Masud Gharahkhani, were among those attending a memorial on Sunday to the victims of the Pride shooting. Several other flower ceremonies, speeches and concerts were also being held on Sunday to promote solidarity in the battle against intolerance and hatred.
Gay and lesbian police who traditionally march in Norway’s annual Pride parades themselves, meanwhile, won’t be in uniform this year: The state police directorate decided last month that there should be a distinction between those on- or off-duty at upcoming Pride events. Police officials stressed, however, that police stations and offices will fly the Pride movement’s rainbow flags and urge those off duty to take part in Pride parades around the country. “We want to be open and inclusive,” said Tone Vangen of the directorate.
PST is simultaneously dealing with a double-digit rise in concrete threats against Pride events. The included even an underage boy’s recent threat against an elementary school in Vadsø, Northern Norway, over how it teaches the merits of diversity and inclusion. Pride flags have been torn down or burned, and in Oslo, a motorcyclist deliberately left skid marks on rainbow colors painted on the downtown street where last year’s mass shooting took place. In other cases, openly gay couples have been harassed or threatened.
Hate crimes tripled
Newspaper Klassekampen reported just before the weekend that hate crimes tied to sexual orientation tripled last year. “The increase in support for gender diversity has unfortunately also increased opposition,” Inge Alexander Gjestvang, leader of the association Fri, told Klassekampen. “This is visible in online comment fields and in the form of threats, violence and vandalism against the rainbow flag flying on both private and public buildings.” There have also been cases of gay couples being harassed or threatened when they show affection for one another.
“Right now there are a lot of threats,” Gangås said last week, but she stressed that the overall threat level is moderate. Pride events can nonetheless be targeted and she urges people to report any threats they encounter. “We’re working hard on all tips, reports or threats we discover ourselves,” she said. “We depend on people reporting any offenses.”