This is about whether or not to accept human rights at all. It’s about whether LGBT people should be without legal rights or not, due to certain dominant religious beliefs, writes professor Dag Øistein Endsjø. The photo is from the night of the shootings outside an LGBT-bar in Oslo.
This is about whether or not to accept human rights at all. It’s about whether LGBT people should be without legal rights or not, due to certain dominant religious beliefs, writes professor Dag Øistein Endsjø. The photo is from the night of the shootings outside an LGBT-bar in Oslo.

LGBT rights and the Oslo terror attack: This is about whether or not to accept human rights at all

OPINION: The terror attack directed at the LGBT community in Oslo is an important reminder of how vulnerable we all are to hate and violence. At the same time, it once again shows how important LGBT rights are to us all. Because they concern the most basic human rights.

This opinion was first published in Norwegian on morgenbladet.no

LGBT people are protected by the right to privacy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of belief, the right to not be discriminated against, the right to not have other people’s religion forced upon them and – ultimately – also the right to life.

As is the case in so many other acts of violence targeting LGBT communities all over the world, the terror attack outside the gay bar London in Oslo also appears to be yet another religious attempt to restrict the basic human rights of queer people.

And thus the rights of everyone.

Freedom of speech and discrimination

The fact that the pride parade was cancelled at the request of the police just after the night of terror may perhaps have pleased the perpetrator. Nevertheless, this became a restriction of both freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – which nonetheless was partly reclaimed by the thousands who refused to comply and marched anyway.

How central freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are in the context of Pride is often ignored by those who criticise the celebration.

If a group that is constantly exposed to discrimination, threats, harassment, hate and violence is unable to celebrate who they are in public demonstrations around the country, what then are we left with in terms of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly?

How central Pride is to freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in general is also reflected in how any such celebration is completely prohibited in a number of more conservative Christian and Muslim countries, where the regimes are constantly attempting to force society to conform.

If we allow the discrimination of LGBT persons because their way of life contradicts the beliefs of certain people, this similarly entails that we remove the very basis for all protection against discrimination. If people’s religious prejudices are to take precedence, we would to the same extent have to allow the discrimination of women, mixed race couples, disabled people and all religious minorities.

Religious freedom also protects LGBT people

As I describe in more detail in my book Religion og menneskerettigheter – Religion and human rights, millions of believers of all kinds and some of the largest denominations in the world support full LGBT equality.

At the same time, it’s difficult to find hate and discrimination against LGBT people that doesn’t have a religious origin. After all, the attack on London Pub proved once again how vibrant the hate against LGBT people still is, both in Norway and the rest of the world.

Many refer to their religious freedom as a basis to be able to discriminate against LGBT people in all areas of society. However, here many forget that religious freedom also protects the right of religious LGBT people to live in accordance with their faith. Religious freedom also protects everyone from being forced to live in accordance with the religious convictions of others.

Consider the religious freedom of the various parties in context. Those who harbour anti-LGBT-beliefs despair over the fact that others live in contradiction to their faith. This despair, however, does in no way compare to the plight of LGBT people being forced to live in accordance with their religious neighbour’s conviction.

If we were to permit such a complete trampling of LGBT people’s religious freedom, we would discover that no one is safe from various believers whose religion includes the right to control the lives of other people. Both freedom of religion and human rights in general would be replaced by might makes right.

The relativisation of human rights

If we permit anyone to relativise human rights such that they don’t include LGBT people, the entire principle of the universality of human rights lapses. If one group is defined away from the protection of human rights, this could of course apply to any other group, be they Muslims, Christians or Jews, black, brown or white, radical, conservative or liberal.

It is ultimately about life and death, such as in a handful of Muslim countries that still have a formal death penalty for sex between persons of the same sex, and in Uganda where conservative Christian activists have repeatedly tried to introduce the same.

In numerous other countries the authorities choose to ignore that LGBT people are killed because of who they are. When the UN General Assembly discussed a resolution on arbitrary and extrajudicial liquidations in 2014, Egypt, with the support of 52 other primarily conservative Islamic and Christian member states, argued that any reference to how such killings affect people due to sexual orientation and gender identity should be omitted. When the resolution nevertheless included this, 64 countries chose to abstain from voting for it.

This is the essence in much of this struggle. It concerns whether we accept human rights at all. It concerns whether LGBT people should be without legal rights or not, due to certain dominant religious beliefs.

Pride for everyone

The terror attack in Oslo stopped the many who complained that there was too much Pride, too many rainbow flags.

For those who are still of the opinion that it can be a bit overly camp, they are still free to engage in something completely different.

But be aware of this. Pride is for everyone. Pride is for everyone’s right to be who they want to be. For everyone’s right to live as they see fit. Just be happy that someone wants to celebrate and defend exactly this.

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The Norway terror attack:

  • Two Norwegian men were killed and 21 were injured when a man started shooting at people near and in the popular LGBTQ+ bar London Pub in central Oslo just after 1 am on Saturday June 25.
  • Following the attacks, pride parades were cancelled or delayed, first in Oslo and then all over the country, as well as a planned memorial on Monday after the shooting – on recommendation from the police. People still took to the streets in Oslo for an impromptu pride parade and memorial.
  • The level of terror alert was set to the highest level, and the police said they did not have a good overview or control over the situation.
  • The recommendation to delay pride events was revoked Wednesday June 29, and the level of terror alert decreased from 5 to 4.
  • Norwegian police were quick to call the shooting an Islamist terror attack. Zaniar Matapour, a Norwegian citizen of Iranian origin, was arrested just minutes after the attack. He has not denied the shootings but has also not yet agreed to explain his actions.
  • On June 30, Queer youth announced that they are cancelling their summer youth camp, saying they are too strained in the midst of the crisis and that it would be irresponsible in the current situation to go ahead with the camp.
  • Oslo Pride has stated that they will not attempt to organise another pride until after the summer holidays.
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