Pride week starts today in cities across Finland, with the biggest celebrations taking place in the nation’s capital.
“It means that we try to give a voice to marginalised groups in society, those voices that are not usually heard. It gives us the chance to talk about trans issues or other human rights issues; or refugees who are LGBTQI+. Minorities within minorities” she says.
LGBTQI+ stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, and Intersex. The + sign is inclusive of others in the community.
Highlights in Helsinki this week include Monday’s launch party at Pride House on Keskuskatu; Saturday afternoon’s main Pride March through the streets of the capital; and the after-party in Kaivopuisto park. All the events are free.
There’s also a whole slate of events around the parties, including panel discussions about LGBT rights in Russia, working life, and fashion and identity (among others); documentary screenings; a poetry slam; music and dance performances; and, intriguingly, a photo exhibit about Lapland Pride.
Early Start To Festivities
Helsinki’s Pride festivities got an early, unofficial start, a week in advance when some of the cast of hit TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race came to town, and their ‘Werq The World‘ tour sold out two nights at Finlandia Hall at the end of a European tour.
“The audience was ecstatic. It was a solid two hours of screaming, people just losing their minds” says star performer Latrice Royale, speaking to News Now Finland after the first night’s show.
Royale was set to perform her new single ‘Excuse The Beauty’, with trans singer-songwriter Epiphany Mattel, but Finnair lost her luggage in Oslo and didn’t manage to deliver the extravagant sequined costumes and elaborate wigs that are the hallmarks of Royale’s larger-than-life performances.
“You will not lose a drag queen’s luggage!” she told a cheering crowd, urging them to send tweets to Finnair asking where the bags were. Finnair duly received dozens of tweets from audience members.
For Royale, Pride Week has become an important part of her year and her identity.
“I tell everyone that Pride for me is a way of life. I live my life every day celebrating who I am and what I stand for. but this is the season in which we all come together and celebrate in our communities and bring a sense of unity. I love that. Pride has a special place in my heart because of what it stands for” she says.
“It’s important that our youth have a place to celebrate it, and it’s okay to be you, and where you can show you’re a human, you’re a fabulous human. It’s for our allies, it’s for anyone who feels they need a sense of community. It’s more than just about sexual orientation now” she adds.
Royale and Mattel’s latest single evokes the New York ball scene of the 1980s, an underground movement where sexual and gender minorities – in particular ethnic minorities – could meet and express themselves safely.
It was an era when gay people were still facing open persecution from authorities, and when the HIV crisis was at a peak. In the world of mainstream music, the ball scene inspired Madonna’s hit single ‘Vogue’.
“The song is based in the ballroom, it’s more of a chant. Where the commentator chants through it, and they follow instructions. It’s more of a call and response. There’s a domineering tone, because we’re commanding” explains Epiphany Mattel.
“You want it stuck in your head. Excuse the beauty. Excuse the beauty. We’re celebrating the ballroom scene in this song and that whole aggression, with me as the ballroom caller” says Royale.
Prejudice In Finland
Despite greater strides towards equality for sexual minorities in recent years – Finland currently ranks 5th on Rainbow Europe’s report of human rights and equality – LGBTQI+ people, especially youth, still face prejudice on a daily basis.
A study from the National Institute for Health and Welfare THL found 82% of trans youth and 72% of sexual minorities youth have faced inappropriate behaviour or harassment; while some 60% of both have faced bullying.
And 7.5% of trans youth, and 4.9% of sexual minorities youth have faced bullying every day or weekly. Worryingly for teachers, up to 40% of trans youth have said because of these negative attitudes, discrimination or bullying they have stopped going to school all together.
The national curriculum does teach that not all kids are boys or girls, or straight. But activists say that doesn’t go far enough.
“It’s not the teacher’s fault, but they don’t have any extra education. Stuff is put into the national curriculum, but the teachers don’t have the tools to teach it” says Helsinki Pride’s Senni Moilanen.
The most serious statistic is that 65% of trans youth have thought about suicide, trans boys in particular.
“When people say we don’t need to talk about it, that gender neutral language is not important, that gender neutral toilets are not important, I say look at the fucking statistics. Kids are killing themselves. People just don’t understand” says Moilanen.
Finland’s Discriminatory Trans Law
One area where Finland has come in for international criticism, is over the status of transgender rights.
Finland is the only Nordic country that forces trans people to be sterilised in order to have their new gender legally recognised. A bill in parliament to rectify this has been stuck in the committee stage without enough support from MPs to proceed.
At the end of February, the Finnish Human Rights Council told the Council of Europe that trans people in Finland “continue to face discrimination characterized by transphobic attitudes, gender stereotypes and discriminatory legislation”.
And in May last year, the United Nations Human Rights Council urged the Finnish government to update the country’s laws to take out the requirement for sterilisation before someone’s new gender can be changed on official documents like driving license, KELA card, passport or ID card. A few months later the government decided not to heed the UN’s recommendation.
“I think they don’t really listen to human rights groups and the UN criticising this. They come to the point where they don’t have any arguments left. That’s probably one of the reasons they didn’t give a reason for dismissing the UN criticism from last year” campaigner Sakris Kupila told News Now Finland earlier this year.
Kupila has been fighting to have his gender identity recorded as male on official documents.
Finland’s Nordic neighbours have sorted that problem by separating the medical and legal processes of gender identity recognition. Norway, Malta and Ireland are cited as benchmarks of good practice. Sweden has even started to pay compensation to trans people who were forced to get sterilised.
Advocates say it is long overdue for Finland to live up to its human rights obligations and do the same.