Pride postponed – but issues linger in Finland around flags, advocacy and ‘pinkwashing’

A decision by the Rovaniemi City Board not to fly a rainbow flag during Pride events sparked a conversation within the LGBTQI community about the issues of flags and tokenism.

File picture of rainbow flags at Pride parade / Credit: iStock

Pride events in Finland, and around the world, are postponed.

Usually a month filled with colour, music and diversity, June this year is more subdued as plans to celebrate LGBTQI culture are on hold until the autumn.

In Lapland, Arctic Pride was put on ice months before the coronavirus pandemic due to a lack of volunteers, but even still the city council board decided that no rainbow flags would be flown from Rovaniemi City Hall.

It’s a decision that frustrated other members of the full city council who weren’t able to vote on the issue, but also prompted a conversation about whether it’s even right to fly a rainbow flag on public buildings in Rovaniemi, or whether it smacks of tokenism.

“I think Rovaniemi is an okay city, there are no major problems, and it’s rather safe to be out of the closet and still have a public life. On the other hand I haven’t dated or had a boyfriend here so I don’t know what it’s like to walk in the city and hold someone’s hand” says Miikka Keränen (Green) a member of the city council.

File picture of Rovaniemi City Councilor Miikka Keränen (Green) / Credit: Johanna Keränen

“People say it’s okay, they’re not afraid, but I don’t think it’s an exemplary city. People are not hostile but they would prefer if everyone who is not straight would keep their preferences in the bedroom” he tells News Now Finland.

Earlier this year the board voted 5-6 against a motion to fly the rainbow flag during any Arctic Pride event, and again during the traditional Pride week in June. Politicians from the Centre Party, National Coalition Party and Finns Party were against. A compromise idea that avoided an actual flag, but would light up the nearby theatre in raindbow colours, was seemingly never discussed.

“I was not surprised to see some who voted against it for example the guy from the Finns Party has been very vocal about being not exactly against gay people, but he really dismisses any type of talk about equality, he says we don’t have time or resources for that, they are not important” Keränen explains.

“But then I was thinking if we put up the flag are we just saying yay, gay people, or are we doing more, doing enough to justify putting up the rainbow flags as a city?” he asks.

In any case the discussion around Pride celebrations has changed globally. Organisers are considering more carefully about which groups can join events, and whether it’s appropriate to metaphorically cloak them in a rainbow flag if their work is considered discriminatory.

In Finland the Immigration Service Migri canceled its participation in Helsinki Pride because there were questions raised about the problems that LGBTQI asylum seekers face when dealing with Migri processes.

File picture from Helsinki Pride, June 2015 / Credit: iStock

Flag advocacy and ‘pinkwashing’

The issue of flags runs deeper of course than just hoisting a rainbow pennant outside a public building. It speaks to issues of advocacy and inclusion and whether a company or brand – or indeed a city – is involved in ‘pinkwashing’ by suddenly being openly pro-Pride during the month of June.

“There are more rainbow flags now than 20 years ago and it does make the city or town different. It gives a sign that you are welcome here. It’s something we couldn’t imagine before” says Kerttu Tarjamo Secretary General of SETA, Finland’s national LGBT rights advocacy organisation.

Pinkwashing happens when businesses pay scant attention to LGBTQ issues during the rest of the year, but jump on the Pride bandwagon in June in an attempt to seem progressive or promote their products.

File picture of Kerttu Tarjamo, Secretary General of SETA / Credit: @tarjamo

It’s a recognised phenomenon in the advocacy community but Kerttu Tarjamo says flying the rainbow flag even just once per year might be the culmination of a more nuanced discussion.

“The rainbow flag does create safer public spaces, it gives a signal this is the society we strive for. But it comes with responsibility if you put up the flag, you have to be able to answer how are you promoting LGBTIQ equality in your organisation and your business, are you working in cooperation with LGBTIQ organisations, are you aware of and supporting their struggles” she tells News Now Finland.

Tarjamo explains that it’s okay for companies or brands to be honest and put up the flag as a first step in promoting LGBTQI equality, admit that they haven’t done enough yet and commit to take concrete actions.

She also says that an organisation or a company might be flying the rainbow flag after long internal discussions in the board room and it could be a positive development for LGBTQI employees inside the business.

“I know there are very strong emotions about this and there are some people who think it’s not appropriate just to fly the flag” says Tarjamo.

“But I think it comes with a responsibility.”

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