Is it racist to have a gay pride parade march through heavily Muslim areas in Sweden?

by Thomas Solvang, Stockholm

For the second year in a row, a group of LGBTQ activists in Sweden organized the Järva Gay Pride Parade, whose route took marchers through Tensta and Husby (two areas where Muslim immigrants make up more than 75% of the population). The march, which occurred last week, has been criticized as provocative and racist by those on the left, with angry comments appearing on the event's Facebook page and in other media outlets.

07 Aug, 2016

The critics claim that Jarva Pride “pits two oppressed groups against each other,” and that “they (the Muslims) come from a background where homosexuality is forbidden that such a parade could provoke them.” The Swedish LGBTQ movement organized a counter-demonstrations both times.

When Stockholm Pride week started at the end of July, organizers decorated the whole city, including its buses, cabs and streets, with rainbow flags. They even decorated the Muslim dominated suburb of Tensa. But the residents there got so upset that they stole both the flags and the flag poles to make sure rainbow flags could not be placed there again. A similar incident happened the very same day in Södertälje, another suburb of Stockholm with a high number of immigrants.

Husby was the center of the 2013 riots, where a shopping mall was vandalized and at least 100 vehicles were destroyed. Järva, Tensta and Husby are three out of Sweden’s 53 no-go zones, where the country’s law enforcement cannot maintain law and order. Immigrant gangs often lay claim to such areas by throwing stones at police, firefighters and ambulances who try to enter.

We interviewed many homosexuals and Muslims in the area. The homosexuals say they do not feel safe there and the two Muslims we approached in Husby told us that this was their area and that gays weren’t allowed there.

Jan Sjunesson (58), a former school principal at a school in the area is the lead organizer and founder of Järva Pride. Jan said he got the idea to organize Järva Pride after realizing that events that celebrated the freedoms the LGBT community had, like Stockholm Pride, were meaningless as long as there were parts of the city that are still struggling with real homophobia and where hatred and violence against LGBT people still exists.

– Why did you start the Järva Pride?

– I started Järva Pride because Pride should be celebrated everywhere, especially in places where LGBTQ people are still being harassed.

In 2009, a gay couple walking home were approached by a man of African descent. He beat both of them up and said that Grønland (the neighborhood they were in that was made up of 35% immigrants) is Muslim before he ran away. After hearing about the gay couple’s encounter from the media, Oslo Pride immediately decided to change its route. Starting in 2010, the parade now starts in Grønland instead of Central Oslo, where it has historically. According to Jan Sjunesson, this could never have happened in Sweden because Stockholm Pride would be too afraid to be considered racists, despite the increasing number of violence against LGBTQ people.

– Many Swedes, but primarily RFSL and Stockholm Pride, criticize your pride parade as being racist because it pits two marginalized groups (the LGBTQ community and immigrants) against each other. What do you have to say to that?

– That’s absolutely wrong. We’re fighting intolerance with tolerance. In these suburbs, there is still a lot of harassment towards LGBTQ people. RFSL (The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights) knows very well about all the violence LGBTQ people continue to face, but they ignore it. Instead, they accuse us of racism.

The biggest critique about Jan Sjunesson has been related to his previous role as the editor of the conservative newspaper Samtiden, one of Sweden’s few publications that writes critically about immigration and its problems. Unlike Norwegian and Danish media, the Swedish mainstream media considers it racist to criticize immigration. RFSL and Stockholm Pride has labeled Jan Sjunesson both a racist and an Islamophobe. He offered to take a step back and let Stockholm Pride, RFSL or other individuals organize Järva Pride, but they have so far declined his offer.

- Until they do, I will run the show alone for as long as it takes, says Sjunesson.

RFSL declined to answer our questions, and Stockholm Pride wasn’t available for a comment.