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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Record turnout for Oslo Pride

An estimated 90,000 people took part in Saturday’s huge Oslo Pride Parade, nearly double the number of the last official parade in 2019. In addition came the tens of thousands who filled Oslo’s streets to show their support for tolerance, freedom and gender equality.

“Never before have so many people marched for diversity and love here in Norway,” said a proud and relieved Oslo Pride leader Dan Bjørke after the colourful parade began in the city’s ethnically diverse Grønland district and ended more than three hours later in front of the Oslo City Hall. “This is a manifestation of the values we want in our society. Diversity is a treasure we must cherish.”

The weather was perfect, after weeks of unusual heat, drought and then a few heavy rainstorms. The humidity was gone, the sun shone and a refreshing breeze off the Oslo Fjord contributed to all the smiles, cheers, laughter and song. “We haven’t had any unwanted incidents,” Lars Kostveit of the Oslo Police District told at around 4pm. “The mood is good and everything is going very well so far.”

Security was high around the entire event, though, after last year’s mass shooting outside a few gay bars in downtown Oslo and various threats against this year’s Pride celebrations. Two men were killed, several were wounded and scores traumatized after an Islamic extremist opened fire at around midnight on June 25, 2022. The attack forced cancellation of the official Pride Parade that would have been the first since the pandemic had cancelled parades in 2020 and 2021. Thousands defied the cancellaton and marched anyway, while this year’s record turnout was a major achievement. “Now we feel like we’ve taken the city back, and we look forward to party late into the night,” Inge Alexander Gjestvang, leader of the FRI (FREE) organization that promotes gender and sexual diversity, told state broadcaster NRK. He was so happy over the huge turnout that he started crying with joy as the parade began.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was also among those touched by the huge turnout and the festive mood on the streets of Oslo Saturday afternoon. Støre, who’s had to deal with a long string of problems within his government lately, was all smiles himself as he even impulsively grabbed the undersigned’s hand as he marched by in the group leading the parade. “This has been a fantastic experience,” he told NRK later. “To get so many people out on the streets in Oslo is quite moving. It shows that the entire city is standing up for a vulnerable minority.”

Støre wasn’t the only top politician taking part in the Pride Parade, as all the political parties represented in Parliament showed up, most with their leaders out in front. It seemed to also signal a launch of this year’s municipal election campaign, as the Conservatives’ former prime minister, Erna Solberg, rode in a car with her party’s candidate to lead Oslo’s city government sitting next to her, Eirik Lae Solberg (no relation to Erna). He’ll be up against Labour’s incumbent Raymond Johansen, who thanked parade participants and spectators for turning out in force.

The parade itself featured all the usual flags, confetti and bubbles, along with plenty of provocatively dressed marchers shouting “Happy Pride” (in English, no less) along with “Hipp hipp homo,” signs reading that “No one is free until everyone is free” (in Norwegian) and proclaiming that “we are rainbow warriors fighting for love.” The parade started with a rowdy group yelling “We’re here, we’re queer, we won’t disappear,” also in English.

There also were more subdued groups of marchers and other participants, not least employees of several major Norwegian companies and banks including DNB, Nordea, Yara International, a few law firms and several colleges and universities. Off-duty police marched without wearing uniforms this year, while colleagues on duty could be spotted all along the parade route in small groups of two to four officers, discreetly on patrol.

There were no ugly incidents, only some exuberant ones, and Justice Minister Emilie Enger Mehl, who had to deal with serious criticism about a lack of security prior to last year’s parade, was visibly relieved. “I’m so fantastically glad that we are here again,” she told NRK. “The gay community has deserved this.”

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TEXT: Berglund



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