Homophobia and Ex-gays in Sweden

Like many people raised in the USA, particularly with an Evangelical church background, I always thought of Sweden as a place where gays and lesbians were freely accepted by a society that had done its work to embrace all of its citizens. And really it is an amazing place with progressive laws for many of its citizens. But anti-gay sentiments can still run deep regardless of laws. Anti-gay messages still get into the public’s minds through preachers, neo-Nazis and just plain ignorance.

In September when I visited Sweden for the first time, I felt shocked to hear about homophobic attacks in major cities like Stockholm and that most offices of the RFSL (the national LGBT organization) could not put signs up in front of their offices and meeting places because of anti-gay vandalism. At that time I also learned about people who felt compelled to live double-lives in order to find acceptance within their families, communities and churches.

In regards to the ex-gay movement, many Swedes told me that nothing like this happens in their country. That pleased me to hear, but I had my doubts. Sometimes ex-gay ministry happens under the radar through independent churches where youth ministers and pastors, influenced by US doctrines, engage in practices that most of the public never hear about.

During my most recent trip I heard from a teen who attends a charismatic church in the Stockholm area. At a gathering this month of teens they had a special speaker, a woman who says God delivered her from homosexuality. She used to be a lesbian, but not anymore, well not so much. She did go onto to say that she doesn’t really enjoy kissing men so much and still has some struggles. (Alex heard the same account, so perhaps he can add more details if I got them wrong or if there is more to add)

Who knows why the church chose this speaker? Perhaps one of the young women among them showed signs of lesbianism (what exactly are the signs anyway?) The organizer’s message came through loud and clear though that the “lesbian lifestyle” was not within God’s perfect plan and therefore the faithful must resist, repent, reform. I sense from the teen telling me the story though that most (but perhaps not all) of them saw through the ruse.

But what other messages do they transmit to these young people in Stockholm? If being lesbian is out of God’s perfect plan, then what does that make lesbians and gays? Sinners? Enemies of God? Enemies of society? Evil?

Where does violence against gays and lesbians and transgender people arise? I find it curious that Neo-Nazis and certain types of heterosexual Christians spend so much time attacking lesbians and gays. They use different weapons, but to me their hatred and intolerance comes from the same spirit. A spirit that proclaims, You are wrong, sick, flawed, a threat, and therefore you must be dealt with in this life or the next.

Alex sent me a link to an article about a horrific attack on a lesbian at the offices of the RFSL in Stockholm this week. It reminds me of a similar attack that took place near Boston not too long ago.

A woman thought to be in her forties was struck in the head with an axe in central Stockholm on Monday afternoon.

The attack took place at the offices of the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (RFSL) on Sveavägen just after 3.30pm.

Police arrested a man around fifteen minutes later in connection with the incident. He was still carrying the axe when he was apprehended.

RFSL chairman Sören Andersson has confirmed that woman was an employee of the organization. He is in no doubt that the crime was motivated by hatred.

“It’s obvious that this can’t be anything other than a hate crime directed at our organization,” he said.

“This clearly shows that the work done to counteract hate crimes has not been sufficient. More needs to be done. It is dreadful, really dreadful, when staff cannot feel safe at work,” he added.

The woman has been taken to hospital where the seriousness of her injuries is not yet known.

The former lesbian speaking to a youth group and a man attacking a lesbian in the same city are unrelated. But are they really? If you inform young people that it is wrong to be gay, outside of God’s will, even a threat to society like many anti-gay ministers proclaim, isn’t it possible that the result would be that someone reacts by hurling anti-gay slurs, vandalizing LGBT centers, or by physically attacking lesbians, gay couples or trans people?

How responsible are we for the words we speak, the messages we transmit? What happens when ex-gay leader teaches that gays are outside of God’s perfect plan while at the same time the same leader insists that he takes a public stand against homophobia? Can’t they see how they contribute to homophobia and operate under the same umbrella as people who violently hate gays?

Sticks and stone may break your bones, but words, well, they often the fuel the violence.

This post has 4 Comments

  1. alex resare on May 29, 2007 at 3:01 pm Reply

    The attack was a hate crime. The police confirmed today that the perpetrator planned the attack for two weeks before he attacked RFSL yesterday.

    Fortunately the woman escaped with only minor injuries.

  2. Diana_CT on May 29, 2007 at 3:09 pm Reply

    Why can’t we learn to live together?

    Why can’t we learn to accept each other differences?

  3. Timothy Kincaid on May 29, 2007 at 6:32 pm Reply

    Thanks for this Peterson. One comment made me think about how differently tolerance operates in different countries.

    “most offices of the RFSL (the national LGBT organization) could not put signs up in front of their offices and meeting places because of anti-gay vandalism.”

    In Sweden you have laws that embrace you, yet individual fears that won’t allow you to put up signs for fear of vandalism.

    While I dare say that even in most conservative places in the US you could put up signs and probably not fear that your building would be vandalized (though probably hit with grafitti), but even the most basic protections are denied.

    I think it is harder to measure tolerance than we think. Is it better to have marriage equality but fear an ax attack? I guess we just have to take both in stride and fight on until bigotry in all its forms is defeated

  4. Anna HP on May 29, 2007 at 9:04 pm Reply

    well the pen is mightier than the sword and then again, sometimes, word aren’t enough ..

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