OPINION: Destruction of Pride flags in Norway: Ignorant vandals show lack of tolerance and compassion

Photo: Nimesh / Unsplash

There has been a recent number of cases of the wilful wanton destruction, or theft, of Pride flags throughout Norway. As the broader community grows more and more tolerant and celebrates the diversity of modern Norway, how do we make sense of these attacks? Is a Pride flag just the latest flashpoint in the broader culture wars? Or is a modern, diverse Norway changing in ways that a minority does not like?

Pride flag more than just a symbol

The middle of June, as always, signifies the annual celebration of the Pride festival. It is an inclusive celebration for all who feel connected to the LGBTIQ+ communities (an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse, intersex, queer, asexual, and questioning peoples). A colorful day celebrating love, diversity, tolerance, and acceptance for those communities that were, until relatively recently, ignored, shunned, ridiculed, and often the targets of stigma, bigotry, injustice, and violence.

The pinnacle of the celebrations is often the Pride parade which takes place throughout many cities and towns, nationwide, throughout the summer months. People flocked to the streets of Bergen to celebrate Pride on June 12 whilst Oslo residents have their big party on June 26.

The main feature of the celebrations is the “Rainbow Flag” (Regnbueflagget), first flown during a 1978 San Francisco pride festival, and is used by LGBTQI+ and their friends as a symbol of their identity and support. The colors are not only eye-catching but eye color has a meaning: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for harmony, and purple for spirit. However, in recent times, the flag has become a symbol that, instead of divides communities, threatens to divide them due to the actions and beliefs of an ignorant few.

Pride symbol attacks on the rise throughout Norway

Since the start of spring, there has been an alarming trend of the theft or destruction of Pride flags flown throughout Norway. In Oslo, several schools have reported the theft or destruction of their Pride flags, of which Bjøråsen school was just the latest. Outside of Oslo, the Pride flags flying outside the Melhus town hall and the Risør municipal building have been reported as missing.

On the west coast, in Bergen, last week, a pride mural was vandalized. Talking with VG, the artist said they “…found it frightening that some allow themselves to believe that they have the right to condemn others for their orientation or identity.

The question remains who is doing this and to what end? Is it just a bunch of drunken teenagers, out for a laugh, or does the destruction of the Pride flags, such a visible symbol of the LGBTQI+ communities, reveal a dark underbelly of division and bigotry bubbling under the surface of a seemingly tolerant society? How can a flag, which is a celebration of unity and acceptance, cause such divisions in modern Norwegian society?

Oslo Pride Parade
Photo: Fredrik Hagen / NTB

Government study highlights a generally progressive society

When it comes to diversity, modern Norway has been proudly at the forefront of progressiveness in recent times. In 1981, Norway become one of the first countries in the world to enact anti-discrimination laws based on sexual orientation which now encompasses gender identity/expression, and intersex status. Since 2009, when same-sex marriage was legalized, Norway has also pushed through broad legislation that allows transgender people to change their legal gender, LGBTQI+ people to serve openly in the military and children to be adopted by same-sex couples.

However, as progressive as Norway may appear to outsiders, there is still the specter of bigotry, intolerance, and discrimination that haunts society. The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs (Barne, ungdoms og familiedirektoratet, Bufdir) has, since 2008, been responsible for collating three national surveys on the country’s attitudes towards LGBTQI+ people, communities, rights, and issues. The latest results have shown that “Norwegians’ attitudes to LGBT people have become considerably more positive over a relatively short time” (i.e the 2013 compared to the 2008 survey).

The results have also highlighted how one’s background can influence attitudes. Gender played a role as men, according to the survey, appeared to hold less tolerant attitudes towards LGBTQI+ people, and issues, than women. Age and education was also a factor as those that held the most negative attitudes were commonly less educated and elderly. With the next survey results, taken in 2020, set to be published later in the year, it will make for interesting reading to see if Norway has made further progress on the acceptance and toleration of LGBTQI+ people and issues.

Integration issues or cross-cultural misunderstandings?

Do the minority attitudes expressed in the recent Bufdir survey and the recent destruction of Pride flags arise from within Norway or from without? Is this an integration issue or the rise of a loud, less tolerant minority within Norwegian society?

Over the past few decades, Norway, mainly through targeted and humanitarian immigration, has become a markedly more diverse and less homogenous society to the benefit of all. It is a society whereby cultural pluralism is encouraged and supported not only by the government but by the general population.

Part of this success has been because immigrants are required to take not only Norwegian language classes but also lessons about broader Norwegian society and culture. As Norway has a large and generous humanitarian immigration program, often from countries where LGBTQI+ people are marginalized, harassed, violently attacked, jailed, or even murdered, these cultural lessons for those newly arrived are vital.

Figures collated for Statistics Norway show that, in 2020, countries that accounted for the top 3 immigrants to Norway were Poland, Syria, and Lithuania. These are societies that, compared to Norway, have definitely less progressive attitudes towards LGBTQI+ people and issues. A few bigots could indeed have crept through the cracks into Norway, which may account for these bigoted acts of destruction recently.

However, to point the finger at a few “bad immigrants” is lazy. The majority of people that come to this country are respectful, law-abiding human beings who want nothing more than to thrive in their new home. One only has to look at the Bufdir survey to see that intolerance is just as much a homegrown issue as it is imported. Perhaps the bigger problem, however, is no closer than in the palm of our hands.

Some popular social media apps. Photo: dole777 / Unsplash

Social media has heightened value differences

The rise, and influence, of social media, is a story that has only just begun. It has, unfortunately, helped plunged the world, and Norwegian society, into the so-called “post-truth world.” Here, politics appeals only to base emotions instead of policies, blatant lies and mistruths can be repackaged as “alternative facts” and misinformation spreads like wildfire. Social media has, unfortunately, led to the polarisation and division of societies throughout the world and Norway is not immune.

One only has to scroll through the comments on any news article or opinion column to see just how angry people cloaked in anonymity thanks to the internet are. Civility and courtesy, in today’s society, are about as outdated as powdered wigs and horseshoes. Social media’s algorithms have deliberately skewed one’s access to opposing viewpoints and broader opinions in favor of clicks and screen time. Those with bigoted attitudes or ignorant opinions can, thanks to modern technology, broadcast their vitriolic bile worldwide. In an era where facts are debatable, social media has led to a rise in the polarisation of societies worldwide.

LGBTQ Pride parade Conversion therapy
LGBTQ is the order of the day in many places this month. Photo: Pixabay.com

What can be done to promote tolerance and reinforce acceptance?

The promotion of tolerance and acceptance, for and of everyone, should be the foundation of society. Governmental legislation and policies, public and private initiatives, famous role models leading by example, and more kindness in ordinary human everyday interactions are all key.

During Norway’s recent successful bid for a non-permanent place on the United Nations Security Council, Norway promised to use its position to further promote women’s issues – from investing more heavily in girls’ education to legislating for the elimination of violence against women in developing countries. Norway should use its seat to promote and push LGBTQI+ issues and tolerance and make this a foundation of how it conducts foreign relations.

Closer to home, there is a fine balance in society between the absolute fundamental right of freedom of speech and those hiding behind this right to profligate hatred and bigotry. Police, government agencies, and legal experts need to hold people accountable for their actions online. Furthermore, the destruction of these Pride flags around Norway is not just harmless pranks but should be treated as serious attacks on those tolerant values that Norway holds dear.

More education is also vital. One only has to look at the governments of Hungary or Poland to see how they have used education about the LGBTQI+
communities or issues to sow division, ignorance, and intolerance.

Education is the best way to combat ignorance. For those wanting to live in Norway, there must be compulsory knowledge about how and why diversity and tolerance are a vital part of Norwegian society. For those already here, it is up to us to be the change: our actions and interactions every day should be based upon acceptance, understanding, and tolerance.

Be the difference everyday

For those individuals who have taken part in the recent theft or destruction of Pride flags, they are the few, not the many. They should remember that they live in a society, where the ruling monarch, the literal embodiment of conservatism, tradition, and the establishment, has given a viral heartfelt speech in favor of love, diversity, and tolerance.

It is up to all of us to be the difference, in our everyday lives, either online or in-person regardless of whether it is Pride month or not. One may destroy a flag but one simply cannot destroy the tolerant values and attitudes that are the foundation of our society.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Norway Today unless specifically stated.

About the author:

Jonathan is a lover of the written word. He believes the best way to combat this polarization of news and politics, in our time, is by having a balanced view. Both sides of the story are equally important. He also enjoys traveling and live music.

Source: #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews

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