Last year when Göran and I took our first vacation abroad together, we spent a week in Sweden. We didn't realize until after we'd scheduled our trip that it just so happened we would be in the Swedish capital the week of the royal wedding between Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel. (No wonder it was such a challenge finding a hostel with a room for the entire week!) Quite without meaning to, we managed to end up in Stockholm during one of the biggest national celebrations in recent memory.
This year, by a similar stroke of luck, we ended up in Stockholm the same week as Stockholm's annual Gay Pride celebration. We didn't plan it that way. But in the airport, Göran was browsing through the tourist brochures on the wall near the information booth, and he found a couple of brochures for "Stockholm Pride": August 1-7. Here we are.
Last year, I remember seeing a poster for Gay Pride in Tampere, Finland, and I remember feeling a bit disappointed that it seemed so Americanized. (The poster was in English, and I somehow wanted Finns to come up with a more native name for the festival than "Pride.") Of course, what did I know? We weren't actually able to attend.
But now this year, we landed in a major European capital the week of Gay Pride, so in between some of our other sightseeing and shopping and eating, we've periodically dropped in on the festival down at Kungsträdgården and Sergels Torg and taken in an event or two.
But here's the thing...! First of all, in Minneapolis, Gay Pride still feels like this celebration put on by The Gays. In Stockholm, it feels completely different. It's more like a celebration the City puts on, with the gay community. The first thing we noticed when we arrived in Stockholm was that there were literally rainbow flags everywhere. Adorning all the major streets, including the main thoroughfares leading up the Royal Palace. Hanging down in all the major shopping malls and all throughout the shopping district in the Gamla Stan ("Old City"). Adorning all the public buses.
When you enter the Pride Festival area, there's a sign that reads (in Swedish): "Welcome to Stockholm Pride! You are now leaving heteronorms behind!" But ironically, when we entered the park, it seemed to us that there were more heteros than homos. We felt safe being as gay as we wanted (which amounted to holding hands and showing other gentle forms of affection in public). Apparently, the heteros were OK with dumping their heteronormativity.
Earlier today, Göran was getting a bit peaked from lack of food, so we stopped at "Max," the Swedish equivalent of McDonald's. While chowing down, we overheard a conversation between a Brazilian tourist and two young Swedish women. The Swedes were telling the Brazilian about the Pride Festival, and encouraging him to go check it out. "Are you two girlfriends?" the tourist asked. "No, no! We're just friends," they replied. Earlier in the week, as Göran and I were walking down the street with a rainbow fan in hand, another woman with a young child approached us and wanted to know where we got the fan, and where she could get a Pride program. In Stockholm, Pride is a celebration for everyone, gay or straight.
The Church of Sweden has an exhibit at Pride, which in Stockholm would be somewhat analogous to the LDS Church having a booth at Salt Lake City Pride. (Chew on that for a while!) The booth was adorned with various affirming slogans like "You're the best!" More importantly, they had posted a few theological sound bites as well: "The greatest of all is love" (quoting I Cor. 13: 13) and "A new commandment I give unto you: Love one another" (John 13: 34).
I will tell you, it is actually kind of an incredible feeling. In the U.S., Gay Pride still feels polemical. We're reminded of this by the routine protesters who show up with signs that read "Homosexuals will burn in hell!" and "God will never allow science to find a cure for AIDS." None of that here. Here, Gay Pride is a communal statement on behalf of the entire polity. Here, Swedes are essentially reminding themselves and the gay community that gay Swedes will never have to go it alone. Everyone -- from the Royal Family down to every guy on the street, including the state (which recognizes our marriages) and the Church (which eagerly reminds us that God loves us) -- stands with us.
That truly feels amazing.
Tak så mycket, Sverige!