By Shruti Sonal:
An unofficial gay pride parade was carried out by a right wing nationalist Jan Sjunnesson on 29th July, running through a neighbourhood in the capital city of Sweden, largely inhabited by immigrants, a majority of them being Muslim.
Sweden, one of the first countries to legalise same sex relations way back in 1944 and only the seventh country in the world to legalise same sex marriage, has had a rich history of LGBT movement marked by pride parades. However, this incident has caught the world’s attention, reigniting debate around rights in a multicultural world. The initiative by Sjunnesson, associated with the magazine owned by Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration party rejecting accommodation policies in favour of nationalism, has been denounced by the official Pride organisers. While Sjunnesson justified his stand as a prevention measure against “Islamisation of Sweden”, those countering him see it as a tool to propagate racism and Islamophobia.
In his statement, Sjunnesson said that “it’s good to be provocative and have an element of surprise.” In a world where almost all nations are multi-ethnic, through the process of globalisation and immigration, it really is a matter of debate whether right to offend is a right under the freedom of speech. Some LGBT communities argue that as religious texts are the main barriers to equal sexual rights, religion and homosexuality cannot be separated. It’s important to keep this argument in mind, even if Sjunnesson’s initiative is cloaked in politics, with his previous instances of making racist remarks coming under the scanner of left wing critics. While the rights of gay people have been vehemently opposed across religions, they have had to bend in order to recognize individual rights, as seen in the case of the recently passed judgment legalizing same sex marriage across USA.
It is important to keep in mind that Sjunnesson isn’t an individual directly representing the state or its policies. Moreover, the parade, in no way seeks to impose its views on the community or force them to leave behind their practices. While legal equality already exists in the country, it only seeks to communicate its views to a group residing within the state. In true sense of the democracy, an alternate parade presenting counter-views on the topic is being planned too. As long as both parades remain peaceful, it facilitates the spread of information among the general public.
In the larger context of dealing with “Islamisation” in areas with large immigrant population, following a policy of assimilation over accommodation can only lead to the marginalisation of certain communities from the mainstream. While the first focuses on subduing religious and regional identities for the greater national identity, the latter bases itself on a deft balance between legal equality and autonomy to socio-religious communities. A dialogue with religion cannot be sidelined for too long, in the fear of offending a few. The parade, if carried out with the right intention, will be a step towards reaching out to the “Other”, projecting an image of homosexuals different from the guilty manner in which they’re depicted by the religious texts. Once informed, it’s up to them, whether to accept these beliefs or not.
Update: The march passed through relatively peacefully, although it was reported that the marchers were greatly outnumbered by anti-racists who said the march was “provocative.”