I’m no homophobe: my aunt lived with a horse

Since Jens Orback was appointed as Sweden’s equality minister, he’s been accused of all sorts of heinous crimes against political correctness. Feminists have accused him of not taking women’s rights seriously, and in a comment piece in Aftonbladet, gay groups said that he was a ‘family fundamentalist, colonialist and neoconservative’.

So it was in an attempt to set the record straight that the minister took to the airwaves on Sunday. Denying that he was intolerant of sexual minorities, he told Swedish Radio’s Ekot programme “I had a wonderful aunt who lived in Canada with a horse. I thought it was wonderful. Let people live as they wish.”

Orback’s comments have done nothing to endear him to gay rights campaigners.

“By linking gay love with sex between animals and humans, he is knowingly playing with the oldest and darkest prejudices about homosexuality,” Martin Andreasson, the Liberal chairman of the Riksdag’s gay issues committee, told Dagens Nyheter.

With much of Sweden under the impression that Orback’s aunt had enjoyed intimate relations with a member of the animal kingdom, the lady in question would no doubt have been relieved to hear that the minister tried to save her honour. He denied the relationship had any Jerry Springer overtones, and stressed that it was purely platonic.

Speaking afterwards to Aftonbladet, Orback said that he regretted making the comments, and strongly refuted accusations of homophobia.

“It is absurd to call me a homophobe,” he said. “Many of my best friends and relatives are gay.”

Perhaps having heard that line a little too often in the past, Orback’s critics were not satisfied. Writer America Vera-Zavala, one of those accusing Orback of homophobia before his controversial comments, told Aftonbladet:

“Orback has clearly not understood our criticisms at all. One of his duties should be to support different types of families – that does not include living with a horse.”

The furore surrounding Orback’s comments caused many commentators to question Göran Persson’s choice of the former television presenter for such a sensitive position.

Svenska Dagbladet columnist Anders Jonsson wrote that bringing the media-friendly and photogenic Orback into the government was supposed to be a popular success. Now Orback’s lack of judgment was demonstrating that a government minister needs very different skills to a journalist.

Perhaps more ominous for Orback was criticism from the Green Party, on which the Social Democrats rely for parliamentary support. Green MP Gustav Fridolin told Aftonbladet that he was becoming “ increasingly perplexed about which skills Jens Orback possesses that qualify him to be in the government.”

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet


Sweden’s right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The four parties backing Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson as prime minister on Sunday announced that they had agreed to keep the current Speaker, Andreas Norlén in place, when the role is put to a vote as parliament opens on Monday.

Sweden's right-wing parties agree to bring back Norlén as Speaker 

The parties won a three-seat majority over the bloc led by the incumbent Social Democrats in Sweden’s general election on September 11th, and are currently in the middle of negotiating how they will form Sweden’s next government. 

Sweden’s parliament meets at 11am for the official installation of the 349 MPs for this mandate period. The votes for the Speaker and three Deputy Speakers are the first item on the agenda, after which the parties each select their parliamentary leaders and then vote on who should chair each of the parliamentary committees. 

READ ALSO: What happens next as parliament reopens? 

In a joint press release announcing the decision, the parties also agreed that the Sweden Democrats would be given eight of the 16 chairmanships the bloc will have of parliamentary committees in the next parliament, and that MPs for all four parties would back Julia Kronlid, the Sweden Democrats’ Second Deputy Leader, as the second deputy Speaker, serving under Norlén. 

In the press release, the parties said that Norlén had over the last four years shown that he has “the necessary personal qualities and qualifications which the role requires”. 

The decision to retain Norlén, who presided over the 134 days of talks and parliamentary votes that led to the January Agreement in 2019, was praised by Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson. 

Norlén, she said in a statement, had “managed his responsibilities well over the past four years and been a good representative of Sweden’s Riksdag.” 

The decision to appoint Kronlid was opposed by both the Left Party and the Green Party, who said that she supported tightening abortion legislation, and did not believe in evolution.

The Green Party’s joint leader Märta Stenevi said that her party “did not have confidence in Julia Kronlid”, pointing to an interview she gave in 2014 when she said she did not believe that humans were descended from apes.

The party has proposed its finance spokesperson Janine Alm Ericson as a rival candidate. 

The Left Party said it was planning to vote for the Centre Party’s candidate for the post second deputy Speaker in the hope of blocking Kronlid as a candidate.