There are a number of reasons why Sweden can be proud of its achievements. Not only for the quality of life of citizens there, but also for their great success in pro-minority minority policies, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex communities. (LGBTQI). However, for some time this country, and especially the Stockholm capital, is recording great economic benefits as a result of the policy that one of the core values has diversity. In this metropolis, the discussion is no longer whether people will use the rainbow flag or not, but who is the most original in using this flag and other symbols of the LGBTQI community.
Until 1979, Goran Stanton, a police officer in Sweden, was considered a mentally handicapped person, though he was working as a police officer. However, under the leadership of liberal politician, Barbro Westerholm, the National Board for Health and Social Care eventually removed homosexuality from the list of illnesses.
"Until that day I was ill, the next day I became alright." Stanton jokingly tells some reporters from Southeast Europe, Asia and Africa during a meeting at the headquarters of the police for the Swedish capital.
Gazeta Express was the only Western Balkans media present in Stockholm as invited by the Swedish Institute, during last week, where several topics on human rights were discussed, with particular focus on the LGBTQI community.
Stanton also revealed about the curiosity that his peers showed when they realized he was gay.
"At the beginning when I publicly stated that I was 'gay', I had more absurd and rude questions out of curiosity about who penetrates who in my relationship with my spouse," he says.
Despite the irony and grievances it may have regarding the LGBTQI community's ongoing challenges in Sweden, this country in Northern Europe has a number of reasons to feel proud of the data not only for the LGBTI community.
In front of its offices, the Swedish police, beside the state and police flags, have also set rainbow colors to honor the LGBTQI community in the first week of August. This week is packed with activities for the community involved, which will be culminated with the parade held in Stockholm, the largest in Northern Europe.
Stanton in the early 2000s was one of the founders of the 'gay' police association in Sweden and then the same association for the whole of Europe. Beginning in 2002, Swedish police officers were allowed to take part in the pride parade that occurs every year.
In 2007, he was promoted to become a member of the Swedish Police Unit as an inspector to investigate crimes caused by a lack of tolerance and hatred.
Sweden has removed sex offenses for same-sex people since the mid-40s of the last century.
In addition, the removal of homosexuality from the list of diseases in 1979 made Sweden a country that took this step 11 years before the World Health Organization (WHO) did.
WHO has removed homosexuality as a disease and as a mental disorder in 1990.
In fact, you can hardly find a place not only on the European continent, but in the world where the LGBTQI community is more accepted other than in Sweden, especially in Stockholm.
The rainbow flags are found everywhere in all state institutions, private businesses, and even in places that would be unimaginable to see in many European countries.
Some Lutheran (Protestant) churches in Sweden have raised the rainbow flag, and not only that, they have long accepted to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples.
Even one of the bishops of the Swedish Church, Eva Brunne, is also a lesbian, becoming the first bishop in the world with this sexual orientation and the first one who, while in an important ecclesiastical position, is married to a person of the same sex.
"The number one question is: what does ‘love’ mean and let that person think about the answer ... What is important in a marriage is love," says pastor Kristina Ljunggren at the Church of St. James, located in the center of Stockholm.
"This issue is more about the way it is interpreted. We do not ignore what is said, but the texts (sacred) should be read in context. How it was then and how is the world today. If you have to live exactly as it says in texts, then we still have to throw stones at some people or do many other wicked things that are now banned,” Ljunggren reveals when asked about what she says in response to people who, quoting religious texts, say homosexuality is condemned by God.
According to a Gallup International survey, Sweden is listed among the least religious countries in the world. One key characteristic of the least religious countries is superb economic development.
"In general, as the level of education and material revenues increases, religious faith fades," says Gallup's report in early August 2017. Kosovo, meanwhile, is ranked among the five most religious countries in the world.
Critics say that the Swedish Church is not so open to minority groups, including LGBTQI because of inclusive policies, but more of the fear of losing the believers that are committed to the church.
"Thank God Its PRIDAYS", is the transformed sign of the chain of restaurants "Thank God is Friday's (TGIFridays)” where they give thanks to the Lord who finally came to Friday, the first week of August, during activities in honor of the LGBTQI community. This business thanks God that the Homosexual Parade Days have finally come.
"We love Eko's products", covered with rainbow colors, is the slogan displayed on Stockholm's subway stairs by one of Sweden's largest interior producers, Eko.
Hotels, private flats rented to tourists, state offices and many other facilities, regardless of mission or work, have decided to honor the LGBTQI community.
In Stockholm, the discussion is no longer whether people will use the rainbow flag or not, but who is the most original in using this flag and other symbols of the LGBTQI community.
Some time ago, this might have been done with suggestions from authorities or organizations dealing with this issue.
However, as Sabine Dubreuil, Director of Hospitality Services at ‘Visit Stockholm’ a Stockholm City Hall organization insists, for some time now the flags and other services in support of the LGBTQI community are done voluntarily, especially by businesses.
"One day, while I was in a beauty salon, one of the employees insisted on providing rainbow nails for me, a new service that they started offering to their customers. No one in Sweden goes to tell businesses to do so. Businesses now see monetary benefits from these services, "says Dubreuil.
Last year, the Swedish capital registered 11,000 more overnight visits per day compared to 2008, before the Swedish state began applying comprehensive policies.
Dubreuil says her organization does not ask tourists about their sexual orientation when they go to Sweden, but since the launch of hospitable policies for the LGBTQI community, figures show tremendous growth in tourism and other benefits.
"Stockholm has managed a place on the list of the most visited European cities after London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Prague. LGBTQI community members from the northwestern countries are mostly people who have good jobs and salaries. The same people prefer to make numerous tourist visits. So the Stockholm slogan, 'narrow streets, open minds' has brought our city great material benefits, "says Dubreuil.
The success did not happen overnight, acquiring policies for minority communities such as LGBTQI, Sweden took a long time to achieve this,” says Barbo Westerholm.
The Swedish liberal party politician is considered a living legend of the rights of this community.
It is considered as most deserving of advancing the rights of this group to the point that Sweden is today considered the best place for LGBTQI.
"Often times, compromises had to be made. For decades we fought to decriminalize the sex of gay couples. This compromise is made by saying: okay homosexuals should not be jailed because they are ill. From the 1940s onwards, it was fought until 1979 that this burden be lifted from their shoulders, "says Westerholm.
The Scandinavian country is the second country in the world for quality of life after Canada. Sweden is ranked above average in all dimensions: from environmental quality, civic engagement, education, work-life balance, health status, jobs, personal safety, etc.
Translated by Jakob Weizman