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For the right to be who you are

Sweden is one of the top 10 most gay-friendly countries in the EU, and people continue to fight for further improvements.

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Photo: Maskot/Folio/imagebank.sweden.se

For the right to be who you are

Sweden is one of the top 10 most gay-friendly countries in the EU, and people continue to fight for further improvements.

No room for discrimination

We all know that laws and regulations have a big impact on everyday life. Over the last decades Sweden has taken important steps to ensure that the LGBTQI community enjoys the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

Most recently, gender-neutral wedding laws (2009), adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples (2003), insemination rights for lesbians (2005), and a prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation added to the Swedish constitution (2011) are some of the laws that have been passed.


The Stockholm Pride parade usually attracts around 45,000 participants and 400,000 spectators, one of several signs that the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community is a welcomed part of Swedish society. In 2020, Stockholm Pride had to go digital. In 2021, the plan is for Malmö to co-host WorldPride together with the Danish capital of Copenhagen, an event that will be merged with the multi-sport event EuroGames.

The European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA-Europe) looks at legislation to rank countries in an annual review called Rainbow Europe (see chart).

Transgender rights on the agenda

But it would be smug to say that there is no room for improvement, regardless of rankings. Transgender rights is one such area, according to the RFSL, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights. The legal benchmarks are steps, not the final goal, in Sweden’s strive towards equality.

In 1972 Sweden became the first country in the world to allow for the legal change of gender identity. This daring move unfortunately also contained some drawbacks, including mandatory sterilisation, which was only removed from the law in 2013.

Changes still await

Swedes generally have a high level of confidence in government authorities. This trust grows out of a long history of public transparency, egalitarian politics and laws and institutions that protect the rights of individuals. The ombudsman system – public agencies that represent the interest of individuals – has been in effect since 1809.

If a person feels they have been discriminated against, they can turn to the Equality Ombudsman (Diskrimineringsombudsmannen, DO), a government agency that works against all kinds of discrimination.

One type of cases that the Equality Ombudsman deals with is how people are treated at health care centres. The law is clear in that discrimination is not acceptable, but ignorance and prejudices sometimes come into play. Health care professionals can, for example, make illogical connections between a disease, even a common cold, and the patient’s sex identity or expression. There is no requirement for health care professionals to have knowledge about LGBTQI-related issues.

The first Stockholm Pride was held in in 1998. Pictured here is the pride parade from 2016.

Photo: Magnus Liam Karlson/

Reaching out

What makes Sweden one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world is that people continue to fight for further improvements.

In addition to RFSL, there are a number of other LGBTQI organisations that work with events, campaigns, information, education and support – often with international outreach. Stockholm Pride has a Stockholm Pride international solidarity fund (link in Swedish), founded in 2006, which supports pride events in other countries.

Many organisations in Sweden fight for the right for people who are persecuted in their home countries to get asylum in Sweden, with homosexual acts still outlawed in approximately 80 countries and territories around the world (Sweden legalised it in 1944). Swedish law also states that the Migration Agency will give asylum to people who are persecuted in their homeland due to sexual orientation and gender.

Pride love in Gothenburg.

Photo: Sofia Sabel/imagebank.sweden.se

Same-sex weddings in church

Religion is often cited as a reason why people object to homosexuality and transgender people. The national Church of Sweden, however, has taken a clear stance for love in all its forms.

Shortly after gender-neutral marriage laws came in effect in 2009, the Church of Sweden permitted same-sex ceremonies. Individual priests have the right to withstand but it is then up to the parish to find someone who will perform the ceremony.

The Church of Sweden also arranges Rainbow masses. They aim to mirror every person’s equal worth, also from an LGBTQI perspective. Malin Strindberg, priest at the Rainbow Mass, says:

‘Most priests are wise enough to understand that homosexual love is worth every bit as much as any other kind of love.’

Last updated: 29 March 2021

Rikard Lagerberg

Rikard Lagerberg is a writer living in the middle of Sweden.