We're in the midst of Pride season: a summer of marches and parades and festivals around the globe in celebration of LGBT pride and the pursuit of equality. From the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center in New York to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, municipal buildings around the world are illuminated in the colors of the rainbow flag--and yet few cities fly the rainbow flag with as much conviction as Stockholm.
Throughout Sweden's largest city, rainbow flags wave proudly in front of the Royal Palace and the Royal Opera House, as well as the Royal Dramatic Theatre and Stockholm Concert Hall, home to the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic.
On Strandvägen, one of Sweden's most posh waterfront promenades, Hotel Diplomat hangs a full-size rainbow flag alongside the national flags of both Sweden and Britain. Consider, for a moment, the symbolism: gay people every bit as equal as citizens of Britain and Sweden.
In 2014, the Swedish government announced its ambition to make Sweden the world's leading nation in the pursuit of LGBT equality. As stated by Erik Ullenhag, then Minister of Integration, "For Sweden to be able to speak with credibility and influence the situation for LGBT people around the world, we must put right our own house. We must prove that in this country, we are serious that LGBT rights are human rights."
Historically, Sweden has been at the vanguard of LGBT equality. Same-sex relations were legalized in 1944, which was followed in 1976 by the integration of the Swedish military, which enabled all LGBT people to serve without being closeted. In 1979, Sweden became the first country in the world to declassify homosexuality as a medical disorder. Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2009.
During Stockholm Pride 2015, the Swedish government appointed a special task force to strengthen the work of LGBT rights in the world, with a focus on the skills levels of the State Department and embassies. As stated by Alice Bah Kuhnke, Minister for Culture and Democracy, and Isabella Lövin, Minister for Development Cooperation, "We want to ensure that Sweden is a model that takes a leading global role for LGBT rights."
Unofficially known as Sweden's LGBT minister, Kuhnke, alongside four other Swedish government ministers, is spearheading legislation to strengthen the rights of LGBT people to be themselves in all areas of life. In their words, "The Government is therefore planning to implement changes that aim to offer the same conditions for everyone, regardless of the choice of partner and type of family that each of us chooses to live with."
"Two hours of happiness and love," was Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven's assessment of this year's Stockholm Pride parade, the largest in Scandinavia. Lofven marched with more than 60,000 participants and nearly a million cheering spectators along a 2.6-mile route that ended in Pride Park where entertainers such as Ruby Rose, star of Orange Is the New Black, kept the crowds dancing long after sunset.
Putting their money behind their principles, the Swedish government has budgeted over SEK 6 million (nearly $1 million) for education initiatives aimed at increasing knowledge of LGBT issues in the public sector. A six-prong strategy for equal rights aims to improve the lives of LGBT people with a focus on health and social services; violence and other violations; LGBT youth; family life; culture; and a civil society.
The municipality of Stockholm has allocated SEK 8 million (nearly $1 million) to initiate an LGBT education program in the city schools, commencing with elementary school. The goal will be to create a safer environment for LGBT students, particularly those exposed to violence, with a focus on staff training and school activities.
As the Swedish government asserted in 2014, "Every effort we have made to strengthen LGBT rights has been preceded by long and lively discussions. Sometimes it sounded like the world was going to fall apart. But that has not happened; the world has not broken up because we said yes to love and equality of all people."
In other words, those rainbow flags flying all over Stockholm and Sweden are a testament to the love of LGBT people in a country notable for its pursuit of equality.
(All images courtesy of MRNY)