I head to Gothenburg to explore West Pride and discover a thriving female scene. And, as news of the Orlando attack strike, I find a city full of love.
The flight from London to Sweden’s second biggest city, Gothenburg, is just shy of two hours and nothing short of breath taking. Arriving on the Swedish West coast a stunning summer’s day I am treated to a view of deep blue water dotted with islands decorated with little red houses and I feel nostalgia pull at my heartstrings. I am Swedish but live in the UK, and having grown up in Stockholm I have learnt to associate the sights of a Nordic archipelago with my hometown; I never realised Gothenburg was just as well equipped.
I am here for Gothenburg’s Pride celebration West Pride and, having checked into the beatifully decorated and very comfortable Hotel Bellora on city centre promenade Avenyn, I soon find myself sipping a cold beer in Pride Park.
Scanning my surroundings I note the park is a hub of rainbow activity for all ages and I am pleased to see the Grand Theatre flying the trans* flag from their roof top. The city centre location chosen for Pride Park is deliberate; the organisers want to bring the discussion around LGBTQ rights to the mainstream.
The Grand Theatre
What is evident at all Swedish Pride celebrations, but possibly more so here than what I have seen elsewhere, is that politics and feminism is at the forefront of the agenda. “Queer” is the word on everybody’s lips and it is clear organisers have paid great attention to accessibility, outreach, diversity and inclusion. Not only is everyone welcome; they are actively encouraged to take part.
Sweden as a whole is well known for its welcoming attitude towards the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and in 2014 Gothenburg was named the best place to live as an LGBTQ person in Sweden. I can see why.
Avenyn at night.
I meet with two of the organisers, the lovely Emma and Hannah, and it becomes evident that intersectional feminism is a clear driver of force here. In fact, I have rarely been to an LGBTQ event with so many women and gender queer people visibly in charge and taking part. Hannah and Emma explain that the organisers recognise that we, the LGBTQ community, still face hate crime and discrimination and that we therefore cannot be complacent. The rights of the transgender, non-binary and gender queer community are still lagging behind and they are often the focus of discussions at West Pride — both those taking place at daytime workshops and those had over a few drinks later on at night.
The queer female presence continues to be a theme as my friend and I go out that night. We start with a beer at BeeBar, Gothenburg’s hetero friendly city centre LGBT hotspot, before hopping on the tram (get a Gothenburg city card for access to attractions and public transportation) out to Henriksberg where DJ Chris of 80s dance night Safety Dance spins the decks and the panorama view from the outside patio is to die for. Obligatory sunset selfie taken and beer downed we head to a party we’ve been told takes place in an apartment block — but which still surprises us on arrival.
We’re sure we’ve come to the wrong place until we find the entrance a couple of flights of stairs up: then there is no mistaking this establishment, called Jazzhuset (the jazz house), for anything other than a party. Inside it’s as if someone has turned a huge apartment into an underground club and filled it with lesbians. I am loving every dreamy second and even my gay male friend forgets about the lack of boys when tune after massive tune (all by female artists) fills the dance floor. Few can resist back to back Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson and Amy Winehouse after all. When I reluctantly leave, the place is heaving and a queue is snaking its way of the staircase. “Why are you leaving, is it no good?”, a girl asks me as we head down. “No, no, it’s amazing,” I say, “we just have to go now,” and I glare at my male friend. Next time I’ll bring my girl gang.
The following day starts with Lesbian Breakfast. I. Kid. You. Not. Lesbisk Frukost, run by Lesbisk Makt (Lesbian Power), is an event regularly organised across the country and when I arrive at the Gothenburg venue, an old industrial building by the harbour, women are spilling onto the decking area outside.
The Lesbisk Makt crew
A conversation about queer youth is taking place on the stage inside and guests of all ages sit around long tables listening in on the debate whilst enjoying the vegan breakfast buffet. I join the “social table”, the one you can sit at if you feel like chatting and making new friends; volunteers are there to ensure everyone feels welcome and to keep conversation flowing. I’m amazed by the measures taken to make all queer women feel welcome and I leave wondering when and where I can get my next lesbian breakkie.
Me and the Padda
Full up on food and female emancipation I head into town for a must-do in Gothenburg; the Paddan boat tour. Gothenburgers are well-known for their love of cringe-worthy puns and this city tour, which comes both in English and Swedish and which is well known for its bullfrog mascot, showcases not only the city’s gorgeous waterways but also this characteristic. Once out at sea it turns out the jokes might not always fly but the view sure does. As we float through town we get 18th century stone houses as well as the famous Lipstick building, once voted the ugliest building in Sweden. So there’s that.
Here we find vegetarian and vegan friendly lunch restaurant En Deli Haga, serving up big plates of homecooked Mediterranean inspired food. And the yumminess doesn’t end there; walking up the cobbled streets I am tempted, very tempted, by the world’s giant cinnamon roll from Café Husaren. I decide I am too full to manage but make a silent vow to return one day.
A Queer Night Out
That evening we grab food at modern Scandi eatery Familjen, a restaurant so focused on local and in-season ingredients its menu changes regularly — but if they have it then try the cucumber soup; I dream of it daily.
It’s the night before the Pride Parade and in Pride Park we find tipsy Swedes singing along to Eurovision tunes (us Swedes love the camp pop song competition). After a couple of drinks there stroll down to canal boat RioRio for queer night Wish You Were Queer but we give up on the very long queue when we hear there is a one-in-one-out policy in place.
We opt instead for Gothenburg’s only permanent gay bar Gretas, where we find a more traditional gay club with pop hits, a British drag queen and a diverse crowd. Naturally we dance the night away, grabbing a traditional Swedish tunnbrödsrulle snack (flat bread filled with soy sausage, mash and gurkin) on the walk back to the hotel.
The Pride Parade
On the day of the parade I wake up to the news of the Orlando shooting and my heart sinks. Like many LGBTQ people around the world, I feel it has been an attack on my very core and it feels as though the shooting could just as well have happened at the club I spent my night at. My head spins with a mix of news updates, sadness and anger as I walk down to the Museum of World Culture.
State of Mind — queer lives in Russia is exhibited in the basement and there is an eerie yet very matter of fact atmosphere surrounding the imagery. Taking in the pictures of women organising a safe space for themselves and their rainbow families in a forest in Russia, as well as the videos of queer people defiantly looking into the camera on the streets of Russia I can’t hold the tears back. This is what Pride is about; standing up for our rights as human beings around the world; the beauty in the diversity of our community; the pride in ourselves.
Filled with a renewed sense of purpose I take to the streets of Gothenburg. 15 000 people join me as we march down Avenyn, waving rainbow flags and holding hands. Kids and parents, ice hockey teams, roller derby players, religious groups, political parties and people of all walks of life come together for this beautiful display of solidarity and I feel my heart swell. I am sad, so sad, about the Orlando attack but I am glad to be here in a city that so openly supports and embraces my community. I am safe here — now let’s make it so across the world.