Now Reading
Stockholm: The anti-Russia

Stockholm: The anti-Russia

It only takes an hour to fly from Stockholm in Sweden to St Petersburg in Russia, and the two countries couldn’t be more different.

In one, sexuality is so free and open that public masturbation just became legal.

In the other, having a ‘non-traditional’ orientation can condemn you for life.

As I prepared to join the tens of thousands flocking to the Swedish capital for Pride back in August I began to realize why Stockholm could challenge for the right to call itself the LGBT capital of the world.

Not only was it just Swedish athletes who protested Russia’s anti-laws at the International Athletics Championships in Moscow, with one painting her nails rainbow as a mark of solidarity, but the Foreign Minister described the laws as ‘inhuman’.

As I flew in from London Heathrow on Friday (2 August), I wanted to find out what a LGBT traveller would get from a visit to Stockholm apart from being in a country with equal rights.

And I’m not just talking about the ABBA museum.

After I arrived, I was immediately whisked away to the Nordic Light Hotel to see the best in Scandinavian design.

Inspired by the Northern Lights often seen in the Swedish Lapland, the rooms have different light themes that can be adjusted to fit your mood. For example, red for energy and blue for rest.

But that was not my resting spot as I was heading to the Hotel Skeppsholmen.

While I knew Stockholm was on the water, I had no idea the rivers were so wide, the islands so many, and the water so clear.

A former marine barracks, the building is now contemporary, comfortable and central despite not being on the mainland. The island of the same name as the hotel felt like an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of busy Stockholm.

Saturday came, and I slowly and reluctantly headed to the one place all my gay friends were asking me about – the ABBA museum.

Am I a fan? Uh, ish? Not really? I’ll dance along to Dancing Queen when it comes on at a wedding, but I’m certainly not a super trouper fan.

But as we were ushered into the first room, and we were shown an X Factor-style montage of the Swedish pop group, an Australian woman burst into tears at the sheer joy she was feeling.

I knew I was in the minority.

What I can say for it is it’s perhaps the most technologically impressive exhibition I’ve ever seen, and even I raised a smile as fans got up onto the stage to sing karaoke alongside the group recreated by hologram.

So as a non-ABBAniac, I enjoyed it. If you love the group, this is probably your nirvana.

The Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit followed, which showed several of his most famous pieces including Madonna’s conical bra and the nautical looks.

What separated the showroom from any other fashion look-back, was that several of the mannequins had a light projector pointing at their heads so it looked like they had real faces.

Most of my group loved it, and thought it added extra depth to the clothing made art.

I, on the other hand, felt I was in a horror/science fiction film and would soon be hunted down by terrifying zombie mannequins. Albeit, stunningly dressed zombie mannequins.

Again, I knew I was in the minority.

The day that followed was Pride, and it was the first time a city had explicitly invited LGBT Russians to escape the pressure and prejudice of Putin’s anti-gay laws.

Go West project manager Jessica W Sandberg told me why she decided to launch the campaign.

She said: ‘We thought, "How can we tell Russia we stand by them?" We see them and we want to help them.

‘And how can we tell Putin he’s an ass without telling him he’s an ass?

‘So we sent out an invitation of love for Russians to come here and celebrate Stockholm Pride instead.’

Sandberg added: ‘If you compare Stockholm to Russia, you are able to show your love here, you’re about to get married here and have children. We have progressed forwards in Sweden while LGBT issues in Russia has moved backwards.’

On my way back to file my report on Stockholm Pride, by chance I ran into a 22-year-old gay Russian called Alex.

Visiting Stockholm for the first time, and seeing a Pride for the first time in his life, he described it as ‘amazing’.

‘It’s crazy here, it’s so loud and colorful,’ he said. ‘I hope Russia will have a day like this one day.’

What I got from Stockholm, Jessica and Alex especially is that Sweden does not dare to rest and feel satisfied with their fight for LGBT equality.

As Russia cracks down in the east, they continue to fight against the grains of prejudice still remaining.

The spotlight as it stands now is one of ensuring trans people get the same respect, the same ‘oh, that’s normal’ face that same-sex couples now receive.

In December last year, the Court of Appeal overturned a law forcing trans people to be sterilized before they transition.

But while the fight still goes on, Sweden is still one of, if not the, most liberal countries on the planet.

You may not get the revelry of Sydney at Mardi Gras, the irreverence of London and it’s culture, or San Francisco at it’s glittery finest, but Stockholm deserves its place as a LGBT capital.

Pride is not a forgotten fringe event, it is one of the biggest events in the entire country.

At its heart is a culture of celebrating equality, a shining beacon. Sweden is there to tell the world, this is what embracing differences looks like.