01:12 June 25th, 2022. The streets and bars of Oslo, Norway, are filled with pride celebrations, love, and happiness. The biggest pride parade in Norwegian history is expected to take place the next morning, celebrating the 50th anniversary since being gay was decriminalized in Norway. Isabelle Lågeide, a queer woman who was celebrating pride, is on her way home after a night of dancing, fun, and pride at one of these bars.
01:15. The joy in these very same streets and bars is now replaced by panic, confusion, anger, and sadness. The queers of Oslo who were just about to celebrate 50 years of being legally allowed to exist are now hiding, running, holding each other, and texting loved ones and friends to ask if they are safe. Some are even fighting back and saving lives before any help arrives.
June 26th, 2022. Isabelle wakes up to missed calls and texts. “Are you safe?”
In one of the safest and most equal countries of the world, the queer community was shot at during pride. A terrorist opened fire outside one of Oslo’s gay bars, London Pub, hurting at least 21 and killing two people. However, the queers were not surprised. “Before the attack, the public debate [about pride] was very heated, so out of any years that a terror attack could have happened, I was not surprised that it happened last year. I wish that it would have been calmer this year, but it is not” an anonymous person shares with me over the Oslo lesbian channel of Jodel. “I still get goosebumps and tears in my eyes just thinking about it. It is insane that people get their lives taken away from them just because they are who they are. I can’t comprehend it. It is hard to think about how it is difficult for other people to accept and respect other fellow humans” Isabelle tells me.
The shock and confusion followed the next day. The parade that was set to take place the morning after was cancelled. However, hundreds of people showed up and walked the streets with their own parade, or rather protest, fighting back the hate. Others were too afraid to go outside. A large number of people, including Isabelle, also gathered in one of the parks to sit and be together. “I cried a lot, and it came in waves. […] I was afraid, but I also wanted to honor, love and support our [queer] community.” The solidarity event to show this support and honor that was planned for a few days later got canceled by the police due to security concerns just a few hours before it would have started. This made the anger and disappointment spread even faster throughout the queer community, and thousands met up to protest despite the police’s advice. “It was really sad [that the event was canceled], and I felt like we were split as humans. I was really scared during the following next days and weeks” Isabelle shares. The result has been decreasing trust in the police by queer people.
This is soon to be one year ago, and Oslo Pride 2023 will take place during the last week of June. It might be the largest pride parade in Norwegian history, but the nervousness and anxiety are evident as the hate and homophobia have not seemed to calm down. In their new security assessment, the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) concluded that it is possible, meaning about a 50/50 chance, that another attack is under planning by extreme Islamist and/or the extreme right. Indeed, only one day into the pride month, a pride festival for children in Bergen organized by Save the Children had to be cancelled due to serious threats of violence against the event. Several pride flags had been stolen or burned. Parents are applying for an exemption for their children to attend pride celebrations at schools. An elementary school had to close for the day after receiving threats following a lecture about pride. A new report also found that hate speech directed at queer people, especially transgender people, online increased with up to 1480% between 2018 and 2022 on twitter alone. Maybe not surprisingly considering these instances, PST publicly stated that there are indeed a larger amount of threats geared towards Oslo Pride this year than previously. One person is already arrested and charged for threats towards Oslo Pride, just a few days before the events start.
While Isabelle was walking alone in Oslo this June, wearing her rainbow bracelet, a man walking next to her started making gagging and vomiting gestures towards her. “I’m nervous about pride this year, and I observe my surroundings more, especially when I wear my rainbow bracelet.”, she tells me. Another anonymous Jodel user also shares the same anxiety. “I continue to be surprised by the prejudices that ‘normal’ people hold. While it is not directly hate, it is homophobia. I’m not able to react with my head tall anymore, I fall back into shame by old habits. I think it is because I’m afraid”.
The queers of Oslo are not happy about the way the situation and the security around this year’s pride have been handled by the government. Therefore, 18 queer organizations got together to demand a better assessment of the attack. Only then, almost a year after the attack, the Norwegian Minister of Justice, Emilie Enger Mehl, met with the them. However, the organizations nevertheless experienced that Mehl did not take them seriously. Indeed, Mehl refused to call the attack a terror attack, despite the shooter being arrested and accused of terror. Furthermore, the new evaluation by the June 25th group concluded that the police knew enough beforehand about the attack to have been able to stop it. The same report also concluded that the cancellation of the solidarity event was at odds with the Norwegian constitution and breached human rights concerning freedom of speech and assembly. Still, neither Mehl nor the prime minister Jonas Gahr Støre apologized on behalf of the government but rather referred to the apology by PST. This is despite Mehl holding the highest responsibility for the police and PST. Additionally, the Parliament will not be rising the pride flag neither during Oslo Pride nor on June 25th due to its so-called political implications. This justification is similar to that which Thon Hotels gave for their initial intent to not rise the flag in an attempt to be ‘neutral’. However, as a country which respects the UN Human Rights Declaration, are human rights ‘political’? And can one really claim to be neutral if one chooses to not stand up against hate? The fight for basic human rights for LGBTQ+ persons, such as security, does feel like a lonely fight.
“Cis and straight people have too many opinions about things that don’t concern them. I, as many others, have had to live as ‘normal’ since it happened. Life has had to move on. The rest of the society doesn’t really care enough.” Isabelle tells me. It might feel polarized and lonely, but the queer community will stand together, and celebrate, hold, and protect each other as Oslo Pride goes ahead. Although scared, Isabelle will not hold back, either for herself or for those who can’t. “I want to celebrate as we will and should, wearing my rainbow bracelet with pride, and be present for both me and for other queers who do not dare to be visible yet”.