Early 2000 I first meet Anna-Maria Sörberg in Stockholm, she was the founder and editor of a new progressive Swedish queer magazine. Anna-Maria is one of several women that inspired me throughout the years, she was making foot-prints paving the way for young LGBT-activist as myself. This summer I read Sörberg’s recent book ‘Homonationalism’ – about a complex and eye-opening topic. Recent years terrorist attacks in Nice, Paris, Brussels and Barcelona, has led to a political “fight against terrorism”, which is fuelling European populism and nationalism. Both populism and nationalism defends an image of a secular and progressive western culture that is constantly being threatened by Islam and growing migration, writes Sörberg. As a way to reinforce Anti-muslim sentiments, LGBT-people and women in general are being used as part of neoliberal rhetoric to argue that these groups have to be defended by modern nationalism against Muslims and migrants.
Sörberg illustrates with the example of Sweden, a country often praised for welcoming diversity, where the conservative political parties that once opposed LGBT-rights, today embrace them. Ten years ago, Fredrik Reinfeldt was the first – groundbreaking – Swedish Conservative Prime Minister to be the opening speaker at the Pride Festival in Stockholm. Today, the conservative political group, together with other parties, are actively supporting and being present at the festival. In fact, the governing political conservative alliance even has a strategy document to further advance LGBT rights. Images of gay culture is being used to increase Swedish tourism by attracting white middle-class gay men and women with money to spend. This is a part of a marketing strategy to show what a modern and progressive country Sweden is. In Stockholm, as in many other western big cities, the gay culture has become the essence of a ”relaxed European urban lifestyle”.
Already after the 11 September attack in 2001 on the World Trade Centre in the United States a new ‘we and them’ arose, between LGBT-people and other minorities. Pride Parades gained visibility and instead of being criticized by the Christian extreme-right for insisting on marriage, gay people were rather being protected at the expense of excluding and banning non-western citizens and non-white people, regardless of sexual orientation. Sörberg provides many recent examples: How a representative of the Swedish Christian Democratic Party spoke up about the mass-shootings at the nightclub Pulse in Orlando in 2016, against terrorism and in support of the tolerant society that is at the core of our Swedish values. Or, how the right-extreme counter-jihad movement English Defence League (EDL) publicly explained they were positive to LGBT-rights and formed an LGBT-section that handed out flyers in London’s suburbs accusing jihad for being a threat against the nation due to its widespread homophobia. Former politicians Pim Fortuyn, and today’s Geert Wilders in Holland portraits migrants, in particular Moroccan men, as a threat against Holland’s secular freedom, as men that defend their masculinity against the country’s gay culture. Sébastien Chenu is an active member of Front National in France, one out of many new members that are gay. In fact, almost 40 percent of homosexual men that entered same-sex marriage said they would vote for Front National, showed a poll by Cevipof 2016.
After finishing reading Sörberg’s book I gave her a call to get some answers to the many questions her book gave rise to. Just like some of the LGBT-activists Sörberg interviewed asked, I too wondered: when did it become socially acceptable within the gay community to be openly anti-Muslim and a supporter of closed migration border?
“Homonationalism has developed differently in different country, as each one has its own specific political context. What is important to remember though is that it started long before the current migration situation, when the private market realised there was a profit to make by targeting gay men’s so called ‘pink money’”, explained Sörberg.
You mainly interview and write about gay men in your book, what about the lesbian women?, I asked.
“Alice Weidel, the co-leader of ‘Alternative für Deutschland’, the German right-wing populist and Eurosceptic political party, is evidence that they do exist… although, yet without data, I would say they are less represented. Perhaps because lesbian women more often stay connected to their oppressive history through the feminist movement”, reflects Sörberg.
When we talk I thought about how the populists and nationalists feed on the massive media reactions after the incident of ‘mass sexual assaults’ in Cologne at New Year’s Eve of 2015, portraying migrant men as inherently more sexist and violent. Sörberg agreed, it is a similar phenomena of attracting female voters with promises to fight against sexism as it is to promise defending gay people against homophobia. At the same time, explained Sörberg, when it comes to women rights it also has its own unique roots and her-story, and even its own terminology ‘Femonationalism‘. Marine Le Pen, leader of the populist and nationalist political party ‘Front National’, is an example of a ‘Femonationlist’ that targeted women in her election campaign arguing to defended them against a so called oppressive and sexist Islam.
Sörberg writes in her book, it is hard to challenge the presumption concluding that violence and Islam equals that all Muslim per se is being homophobes. We need not only one dialogue, we need many dialogues between different groups that challenge the generalisation of a whole religious denomination as homophobic. We also need to speak about the factors that divides societies and creates extremism, in particular social exclusion and poverty.
How do we really do it?, I asked her. I could hear her smile when she responded “I am a journalist, I don’t give the answers, I ask the questions.” In the end, after talking some more, Sörberg concluded that two things are important for change: Real dialogues between people in the offline world. Secondly, the LGBT-movement has to work on strengthening its own credibility, by facing its own racism and lack of diversity. Today, the public image and representation of the Swedish movement is dominantly middle-class white LGBT-people. The community has to reach out to people that are almost never represented, LGBT-migrants and LGBT-people in deprived areas for example need to be heard with their own voices too.
While Sörberg believes in the intimiate face-to-face conversations, I still would like to believe that messages that go viral also can play a role in getting to people’s hearts, such as the YouTube videos ‘All That We Share’ by the Danish TV2 broadcasting channel, or the ad ‘Worlds Apart’ by Heineken.
What do you think on this subject?