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Sweden's First Pride Festival for Asylum Seekers

This weekend, Uppsala sees a new pride festival dedicated to asylum seekers and LGBTQ individuals from around the world. It's the first of its kind in Sweden.

av Aretha Bergdahl
2016 09 16, 2:29pm

Ask any Swede what comes to mind when they think about Pride, and you'll probably get an answer about rainbows, happiness, and scantily clad people celebrating the freedom to love. But depending on where you live in the world, the reality can look a lot different.

This weekend, RFSL Uppsala is hosting the Welcome Out festival, which is a Pride festival specifically dedicated to asylum seekers and LGBTQ individuals from around the world. Culminating in a parade that will take place this Sunday, the festival aims to create a space for everyone to celebrate Pride freely. I called up one of the festival's organisers, Warren Kunce, to find out more.

VICE: Where did this idea come from?
Warren Kunce: The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights are behind the Welcome Out festival. We're a local branch of the organisation.

We meet many LGBTQ newcomers who want to get involved, and we don't really have any gay bars in Uppsala. Bars are usually a meeting point for people trying to connect with other individuals in the LGBTQ community. So people tend to find their way to us. We have a drop-in centre every Thursday. With the recent refugee crisis we have many new asylum seekers, so the idea evolved from that.

What's important with this festival?
When you seek asylum in Sweden, you usually live at a housing facility, and they're often in the middle of nowhere. It was important for us to create a safe space, as that can be difficult to find in remote areas. So we started this newcomers group to welcome people to who are new in the country. The goal was actually to materialise something from these meetings, because we found that it's not very successful to only meet and chat.

We decided to create our own Welcome Out festival so that we'd be organised jointly between newcomers and a few Swedes. The main focus is that the parade will be organised by newcomers mainly, and the Swedes involved would help out if needed.

Why in Uppsala?
Well, our facilities are here in Uppsala so we wanted to do something here. Also, the city hasn't hosted a Pride parade for the last four years, sadly. So we wanted to fill those shoes.

Uppsala has two universities and plenty of international companies, so we have a lot of immigrants and foreigners coming into the city. Many people are here only for a couple of years. They may not stay long enough to learn Swedish. So the city is really growing in its diversity as well as in English, it's kind of becoming bilingual. That created a good foreground for the event.

Have you encountered any negativity, or had any difficulties?
As we're a new thing, it's been a bit difficult because people don't really understand what we are and what the festival is about. We couldn't use the words "Uppsala Pride" as they belonged to the previous Pride parade.

But overall it's been amazing. Everyone involved is doing this voluntarily. We're all doing this for the first time, so we've had to learn how to build from the ground. It's been quite exciting. Also, as an asylum seeker you don't always have the right to work. So this has become a great way for individuals who are involved to get a better idea of how the city works, get integrated, and enhance their Swedish skills. The parade is part of a two-day festival, with lectures, workshops, and support groups.

What are you looking forward to most?
We've managed to provide transport and accommodation scholarships for 61 asylum seekers to come to Uppsala. They're from refugee camps around Sweden. And they're coming in today! So to meet an greet them is a wonderful feeling. Many of them have been looking forward to this for a really long time. I feel that even if they wouldn't end up attending any of the workshops or lectures – and choose to only hang out in their hostel and meet each other – that alone would be a great accomplishment.

Welcome Out starts today, September 16, in Uppsala, Sweden. Don't miss their Pride parade this Sunday, September 18 at 1PM. For more information, check out their website.

@therealaretha

Photo by Johan Larsson

More from VICE:

Seeking Asylum and Finding Love

The Way We Talk About the 'Refugee Crisis' Robs People of Their Humanity

How Syrian Refugees Are Helping One Another Adjust to Life in a Strange Land

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