My name is Charlie, and I’m from Sweden, one of the most tolerant and liberal countries in the world.
How lucky I am, to have been brought up in a country deemed so progressive; never have I been asked, or ordered to act in a way that is unnatural, or untrue to my authentic self. As a gay man, my closet has always been transparent; built with glass doors and walls.
When I was a spokesperson for a Pride organisation in one of Sweden’s major cities, people frequently asked me, “Do we still need Pride today?”, a question that was often followed with statements such as, “Your community has equal rights like everybody else here – you can even marry and have children.”
It came as quite a shock to me, that so much focus was put into questioning the necessity of Pride. To a point, I understand – I have had the privilege of never having to look over my shoulder before kissing my boyfriend in public – but what about transgender people? And what about queer people of colour? Disabled queers? They are just some of the many sub-groups belonging to the LGBT+ community that still face discrimination on a daily basis. So to answer, that’s why we still celebrate Pride in Sweden today.
Events like the massacre in Pulse, Orlando, are rightfully used by everyone that supports the queer community, as examples of why Pride is still an absolute necessity. Although progression has been made, we still have a long way to go. Sadly, there are also people out there who oppose equal rights and see these tragedies as a reason to axe high profile LGBT+ events. They believe that the celebration of our identities provoke these senseless murders.
A pastor in Sweden, named Stanley Sjöberg, shared his thoughts about the attack in Orlando – he wrote: “Why can’t these people refrain from exposing themselves with their nakedness and boastfully demonstrating their lifestyles?!” Also claiming that, “If the ‘Pride culture’ continues to be provocative in this way, the event in Orlando will be repeated, in other cities and in other countries.”
Pastor Stanley tried to vindicate his statement by drawing a comparison with friends of his that are of Christian belief, and live in countries where Christianity is considered ‘deviant’ and ‘wrong’. He’s advised them to never give up their faith, but also not to be “too loud about it”. This argument, when applied to the subject of Pride, would suggest that being gay is alright – just as long as one keeps it quiet. Thankfully, most people in Sweden disagreed with him, and Pastor Stanley’s Facebook account was suspended after Facebook’s administration received numerous complaints about his discriminatory posts.
What is concerning, and maybe, less expected, is that there are some members of the gay community that agree with Pastor Stanley’s sentiment. Internalised homophobia is prevalent on Apps like Grindr, where profiles are littered with statements such as “Can’t stand gay-acting men”, or “I’m straight-acting”, or “I don’t understand why some men act like women. If you act like a woman, maybe you should consider a sex change”.
Some will probably dismiss this as people asserting their ‘preferences’ and ‘types’ – these people are a part of the community – surely they don’t seek to hurt it?
I have heard good friends, and a handful of previous lovers say they don’t understand the need to celebrate Pride; they feel it is superficial and does not represent them. I always respond by saying, “Darling, please wake up and smell the coffee – I can assure you that nobody in the Pride parade is there to represent you, they are there to represent themselves. If you want Pride to represent you, then join them, don’t distance yourself from them!”
I appreciate Pride will always have its critics. There will always be those that question whether or not it is the most effective or, sufficient way to fight for equality. But, by denying the importance of Pride, you are essentially agreeing with Pastor Stanley – that it is ‘okay’ to be gay, as long as you don’t make a song and dance about it (literally). We need to stop commenting on how people choose to express themselves; whether you are “straight-acting” or “gay-acting” – one should not be more acceptable than the other.
After events like the Orlando shooting, the queer community and its supporters need to unite and stand together – even closer than before! We need to do that in order to assure our safety. Of course, in times like this we are fearful, but I implore you not to be. For fear makes us think twice before we grab the hand of the one we love. It makes us look over our shoulder before we kiss. And that, my friends, should not be the case.
I’m going to march in Stockholm Pride as well as in Brighton Pride this year, adding my tone to the Rainbow, and I hope you do that too.