Stockholm Pride, the largest pride festival in Scandinavia, kicked off for the 17th year in a row on Monday. The Pride Parade, the highlight each year as a rainbow of jovial gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their supporters march through town, will be held on Saturday, August 2nd.
A record number of ministers and party leaders – at least eight – will be in attendance, including Education Minister Jan Björklund, EU Minister Birgitta Ohlsson, Equality Minister Maria Anrnholm, and Integration Minister Erik Ullenhag. The majority of party leaders will also be attending, with only two clear exceptions: Christian Democrat leader Göran Hägglund and Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson.
In Hägglund's case, the party leader's absence is not a snub but a matter of priorities.
"Hägglund doesn't go to demonstrations in general, and he has a lot to do," Johan Ingerö, Hägglund's press secretary, told The Local. "I'm not even sure if he'll be in Stockholm on Saturday." Hägglund will, however, be present at the party leader debates on Friday.
But when it comes to the Sweden Democrats, there appeared to be venom on both sides.
Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats party (Sverigedemokraterna, SD) have been criticised by other parties and many in the gay rights movement as homophobic and xenophobic.
When Swedish media reported on Tuesday that Åkesson was only one of two party leader's to 'snub' the festival's parade, the party's reputation for being 'traditional', racist and conservative seemed to coincide with their lack of support for the Stockholm Pride.
But even if Åkesson had wanted to go, he wouldn't have been allowed: Stockholm Pride itself has banned not just Åkesson, but the Sweden Democrat party as a whole from participating in its events.
"The management of Stockholm Pride has decided that the Sweden Democrats do not share our values and therefore are not welcome," Maria Paulsson, press secretary at Stockholm Pride, told Dagens Opinion earlier this month. She said no other organizations were banned, as far as she knew.
"It's not primarily because of their stance on family and LGBT issues, but because we see them as a racist party, and the LGBT fight and the fight against racism go hand and hand," Sandra Ehne, chairman of Stockholm Pride, told The Local.
"It's a remarkable approach that not all parties with political influence are represented," she said.
However, Martin Kinnunen, director of press for the Sweden Democrats, sang a different tune when he spoke with The Local on Tuesday.
"We've got no interest in walking in the parade and we never have before. It's their demonstration and they can do what they like."
Åkesson's own press secretary, Linus Bylund, agreed:
"It is not interesting to Åkesson."
He added, however, that the Pride festival and the political debates at Pride on Friday are two different things – and that it was "unfortunate" that the party was not invited to the debate.
The absence of Christian Democrat and Sweden Democrat party leaders coincided with a report by RFSL on Monday which claimed that the Green Party was the most gay-friendly party. The Sweden Democrats were ranked as the least gay-friendly, and the Christian Democrats were second least friendly.