Opening remarks at Norad policy forum

Minister of international Development Dag-Inge Ulstein's opening remarks at Norad policy forum on lessons learned to ensure that no LGBTIQ person is left behind.

Dear participants,

Today marks the start of Oslo Pride. More than a weeklong celebration of diversity, equality and human rights.

Let me start by quoting from the social media app Jodel. The quote is from the Jodel channel of one of Oslo’s secondary schools. A 16-year-old in the process of deciding which upper secondary school to apply for posted the following question: ‘What’s it like being gay at your school?’ Typical answers were: ‘Zero stress’, ‘Nobody cares’ and ‘Great’. Even though Jodel is anonymous, no one took the opportunity to post derogatory comments.

Mind you, this is not the reality for all young people in Norway. But it is for many of those growing up in urban areas. We don’t have to go back many years to find that things were radically different. It’s easy to forget how much progress has been made in a relatively short period of time. We are still not in a situation where everybody can say that being gay is ‘zero stress’, but we have come far. The main driver behind this change has been an active and persistent civil society, led by those who are directly affected. 


The promotion of human rights is at the heart of Norwegian foreign policy, and this includes a strong focus on sexual and gender minorities as well as other marginalised groups.

As stated in the Government’s political platform (Granavolden), we are committed to combating violence and repression of marginalised groups.

In addition to supporting these groups directly, we beleive that they should be taken into consideration in the implementation of relevant policies and programmes.

Our engagement includes financial support, as well as political dialogue, and a consistent and long-term effort to call for the recognition of equal rights in various international forums.


All our efforts are implemented in close cooperation with civil society actors – and LGBTIQ organisations in particular.

We have realised that this is critical not only to ensure that what we do is meaningful and effective, but also to avoid doing harm.


As a member of the international community, Norway is committed to engaging with other states on the implementation of international commitments to sustainable development and human rights.

However, we know that real and lasting change depends on the ownership of the broader population. The agenda must reflect specific local challenges. And it must be led by individuals and organisations that have first-hand experience of discrimination and abuse.

We have therefore given high priority to supporting the development of a strong and independent LGBTIQ movement both here at home, and as a part of our international development and foreign policy.


The implementation of Agenda 2030, and the commitment to leaving no one behind, provides both an opportunity and an impetus to support this movement.

It is clear that the Sustainable Development Goals, including the goals on poverty, education, employment, equality, health, peaceful societies and justice, cannot be reached if millions are excluded based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.


With decades of experience of supporting LGBTIQ organisations, we have developed considerable knowledge about how to promote the inclusion of sexual and gender minorities.

As I’ve already mentioned, the starting point has to be support for self-organisation and movement building.

This is critical, not least because sexual and gender minorities may not enjoy protection within their families.

For many, the safe spaces provided by LGBTIQ organisations are the only places where they experience respect and love, just as they are.

Organisations also provide an opportunity to share experience and develop an agenda for change.

Through the work of these organisations, we have seen many positive developments in recent years, such as constitutional recognition in Nepal, decriminalisation in India, and the ongoing efforts for decriminalisation in Kenya.

Through the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH), Norway has supported the inclusion of LGBTIQ people in higher education in Zimbabwe.

A partnership with the Association of Gender and Sexuality Diversity (FRI), has led to collaboration with Save the Children on increased participation and inclusion of LGBTIQ children and young people in education, employment, health, housing and political work. FRI is also working with religious leaders in southern Africa to combat hate speech and violence.

The UN has an important role to play, both in its normative capacity and through its many programmes. We therefore strongly support an increased engagement by various UN organisations, as well as the World Bank, to promote inclusive policies in critical areas, such as employment, health and education.


Despite progress, we know that homophobic attitudes still exist in all societies, and that discrimination and even violence against sexual and gender minorities is widespread. For millions, life is anything but ‘zero stress’.

But history teaches us that there is reason to hope, that continued change is possible. And our global commitments to sustainable development and human rights demand it.

I therefore welcome this initiative to take a closer look at lessons learned, and the opportunities we have – by working together – to ensure that no LGBTIQ person is left behind.

Thank you.