Russia needs a total gay rights U-turn: minister

With Stockholm Pride week in full swing, Sweden's EU Minister Birgitta Ohlsson talks to The Local about Russia's "repulsive" gay laws, getting pelted with eggs by gay haters in Lithuania, and how Sweden must lead the way in supporting the LGBT community.

Russia needs a total gay rights U-turn: minister

Birgitta Ohlsson, one of Sweden’s staunchest advocates of equal rights and The Local’s Swede of the Week, has had a busy week. The vibrant colours of Stockholm’s Pride Week have been sullied by news of Russia’s anti-gay laws, which among other things ban “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relations.”

Ohlsson has been working to ensure Sweden leads the international fight against the laws – something that resulted in her being pelted with eggs during a speech at a Pride event in Lithuania on Saturday.

SEE ALSO: Topless activists demonstrate outside Russian Embassy

“When it comes to countries like Russia I think it’s so important to have a united front towards the negative messages that are coming from them, and Sweden is one of the key players in this dialogue,” she told The Local.

She added that she was pushing the European Union’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Catherine Ashton into sharing a “very solid and firm position” on condemning the politics in Russia.

SEE ALSO: A list of The Local’s past Swedes of the Week

“Of course, we have the horrifying anti-gay law – that is repulsive and disgusting, going in the total wrong direction. But then we have other laws that are also very severe for the Russian open civil society and that has to do with laws concerning freedom of expression, freedom of assembly,” she said.

“Other countries are not holding to the position as they should when it comes to human rights and the rule of law.”

Russia, she claimed, needs to perform a complete U-turn:

“[Russia is] not respecting LGBT human rights. What is key now is to have a dedicated support to LGBT supporters and other human rights activists in the area – and Sweden is definitely one of the key players in the EU [in this regard],” Ohlsson said.

But the minister’s dedication and presence at pride events is not always welcome, however, with protesters in Vilnius hurling eggs at Ohlsson on Saturday when she spoke at the second ever pride event to be held in Lithuania, a largely Catholic country.

“That was an interesting experience… but we have to keep up the pressure. When it comes to the Lithuania, they are in the EU, so we can have an even more solid approach with them,” she told The Local.

“When you’re a member of the EU, you have to follow the ideals that we share.”

Oliver Gee

Follow Oliver on Twitter here

Editor’s Note: The Local’s Swede of the Week is someone in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as Swede of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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Stockholm Pride is a little different this year: here’s what you need to know 

This week marks the beginning of Pride festivities in the Swedish capital. The tickets sold out immediately, for the partly in-person, partly digital events. 

Pride parade 2019
There won't be a Pride parade like the one in 2019 on the streets of Stockholm this year. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

You might have noticed rainbow flags popping up on major buildings in Stockholm, and on buses and trams. Sweden has more Pride festivals per capita than any other country and is the largest Pride celebration in the Nordic region, but the Stockholm event is by far the biggest.  

The Pride Parade, which usually attracts around 50,000 participants in a normal year, will be broadcast digitally from Södra Teatern on August 7th on Stockholm Pride’s website and social media. The two-hour broadcast will be led by tenor and debater Rickard Söderberg.

The two major venues of the festival are Pride House, located this year at the Clarion Hotel Stockholm at Skanstull in Södermalm, and Pride Stage, which is at Södra Teatern near Slussen.

“We are super happy with the layout and think it feels good for us as an organisation to slowly return to normal. There are so many who have longed for it,” chairperson of Stockholm Pride, Vix Herjeryd, told the Dagens Nyheter newspaper.

Tickets are required for all indoor events at Södra Teatern to limit the number of people indoors according to pandemic restrictions. But the entire stage programme will also be streamed on a big screen open air on Mosebacketerassen, which doesn’t require a ticket.  

You can read more about this year’s Pride programme on the Stockholm Pride website (in Swedish).