Speech/statement | Date: 22/04/2022 | Office of the Prime Minister
Good afternoon, everyone. It is both an honour and a pleasure to welcome you all to my home today. We are here for a very special reason, and what I have to say is of great importance.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre apologises for past treatment of gay people by the Norwegian authorities (photo: Kaja Schill Godager, Office of the Prime Minister).
Tomorrow, it will be 50 years since the Storting repealed section 213 of the Penal Code, which had criminalised sexual relations between men. That was a historic day for Norway, and the 50th anniversary is another historic day.
Between 1902 and 1950, 119 men were convicted of having sexual relations with another man. That is 119 people who were criminalised and punished for who they loved.
These men endured court cases, convictions and imprisonment. They were publicly stigmatised and condemned. And on top of this came shame, stigmatisation and suffering on a personal level.
The fact that the Norwegian authorities prosecuted and convicted these men for their sexuality and for who they loved is deeply regrettable.
The same goes for the sense of guilt and shame that section 213 of the Penal Code caused for gay people in all segments of Norwegian society.
In section 213 of the Penal Code, the Norwegian authorities established that homosexuality was a criminal and punishable offence. This provision of the Penal Code had great symbolic value, and gay people were subjected to broad condemnation and widespread discrimination as a result. Here we can also add: slander, blackmail and other forms of suffering inflicted by others.
Section 213 of the Penal Code helped to reinforce the view that homosexuality was an aberration, a disease. Or to put it another way: a sin, with all that that entailed.
That is why I am giving this formal apology today, on behalf of the Norwegian Government, for the fact that gay people were criminalised and prosecuted by the Norwegian authorities.
I apologise on behalf of Norwegian society.
I apologise for the fact that the Norwegian authorities conveyed, through legislation, and also a range of other discriminatory practices, that gay love was not acceptable. Basic human love.
It is not often that we here in Norway issue formal apologies for past actions. Today, 50 years after the event, this apology is important.
We can now look back on the decision taken 50 years ago as a political, administrative decision that paved the way for a new era. But it must also be acknowledged that the repeal of this legal provision was the result of a tough battle that demanded a great deal of courage. That is easy to forget as we mark what was the end of one era and the start of another.
Fortunately for us, there have been some very courageous individuals in our country.
I had the great pleasure of meeting and getting to know Kim Friele in a personal capacity. And I had the honour of speaking at her funeral and pointing out how well she had articulated the injustice: that people living in a free country were not able to choose who they loved. And she fought this battle until it was won.
And as I said at the funeral, it took exceptional courage and strength to stand up and fight against this injustice at that time. To cope with the loneliness that was undoubtedly part and parcel of the struggle.
We are together here today in Kim Friele’s spirit. We are empowered by her memory.
Vigdis Bunkholdt, you were also on the frontlines, alongside Kim Friele. As early as the 1950s and 1960s, you were involved in the struggle for gay rights as a board member of the gay rights organisation DNF-48.
Together with Gerd Brantenberg, Trond Indahl, Kim Friele and many others, you worked to promote gay and lesbian rights and fought against section 213. There are many people who deserve recognition today.
This task was truly challenging at a time when gender roles were rigidly defined and when condemnatory and moralistic views of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular were the norm.
When Kim Friele became head of DNF-48 in the mid-1960s, she took the fight for gay rights into the public domain. The stories that she told from that time made a deep impression. She told these dramatic stories willingly, with a humour and a warmth that made it all the more intense to hear what she had to say.
She wanted gay people to be seen and heard. She was seen and heard.
First in the streets and squares, and then in newspapers, on the radio and on TV. And in the political sphere as well.
Together with Kim Friele, more and more brave people came forward, and this gradually became a powerful movement that changed Norway forever. I would like to recognise all those who found their way and played a role in driving this fight forward in all parties and organisations.
Tomorrow, it will be 50 years since we repealed section 213 of the Penal Code. It may be a bit much to say ‘we’ here; the repeal of this legal provision all those years ago was the work of tenacious individuals. A first important victory for a movement that would keep on fighting.
Because it is important to remember: this fight did not end with the decision to repeal section 213. In many ways, it was the start of a new stage of the fight. For the right not to be diagnosed. For the right to protection from discrimination. For the right to live with and marry the person you love. These were struggles that some of our generation have been involved in, and we were standing on the shoulders of those who had gone before us and fought the fight leading up to 1972.
We know that there have been many difficult battles. Against prejudice. Against fear. And against opposing political parties and ideologies. There are many who can attest to this.
Over the course of these years, we have become a warmer, more generous and more diverse society – and those of you who are here today, of all ages and from all kinds of backgrounds, can take much of the credit for that.
Today, we apologise for a chapter in our history.
Criminalising and prosecuting people for who they love.
Diagnosing and subjecting healthy people to unnecessary interventions.
Depriving people of career and work opportunities.
These are serious violations of our most important values – equality, justice and freedom.
It is, quite simply, wrong. And when a mistake has been made, it is important to apologise.
119 people were convicted because of who they loved, and many more were met with condemnation for decade upon decade.
This should never have happened, and I wish to apologise for the fact that it did.
Marking the anniversary of the repeal of section 213 this year is important not only to acknowledge the injustice of the past, but also to help us deal with the struggles that remain.
We know that members of the LGBTIQ-community still have a poorer quality of life than the rest of the population, and the Minister of Culture and Equality will say more about that. She works actively in and with the Government to ensure that inequalities are addressed.
Today is a day to mark the historic decision of 50 years ago, to apologise and to express our gratitude.
To apologise for the injustice of the past.
And finally, I would like to thank everyone who stood up for their rights.
And kept on telling us how totally wrong it was for a modern, liberal democracy that prided itself on being just that to have a provision in its Penal Code that criminalised people’s love lives and turned their sexuality into a disease.
You were completely right. Society made a huge mistake. And we apologise for that.
And now I will give the floor to Minister of Culture and Equality Anette Trettebergstuen.