In the second of our Lesbian Visibility Week interviews with Pride organisers from across Europe, we talk to Inger Kristin Haugsevje (she/her) – known to her friends as IK – Chair of Oslo Pride in Norway.
What does ‘lesbian visibility’ mean to you, and why is it important?
To me, ‘lesbian visibility’ is a paradox as, sadly, lesbians are not at all visible in society. This especially concerns those of us who do not present as femme. We are an important part of the community, but we are seldom given credit or visibility for the work we put in by the general public. Similarly, our voices, opinions and needs tend to get lost or toned down in the public debate. That’s why I think of Lesbian Visibility Week not as much as a celebration, but as an important reminder of our existence and our value in both the LGBTIQ+ community and in society in general.
Have you, personally, experienced exclusion as a lesbian? What happened?
All the time. Not necessarily because I’m a lesbian, but because of my gender expression. I present very ‘lesbian’. For both men and straight women, the expectation for the ‘female gender’ is to be sexy in a very straight way. The male gaze is highly institutionalized in our society. I have experienced that people expect less of my intellectual capacity than other women who present themselves more gender conformative. These attitudes, combined with general gender equality issues, have derived so many women the chance to be trusted with high positions, their representation in power, and non-sexual acclaim and visibility.
Lesbians often feel that they are excluded at Pride events. Have you experienced this? Why do you think this happens?
If lesbians feel excluded, I believe it is for the same reasons as for other groups who feel excluded. The problem lies with the decision makers, and to what capacity they are able to make good decisions for groups or cultures they do not belong to themselves. If you want your Pride to be inclusive for lesbians, you need to have lesbians represented in the spaces where the decisions and directions are made. It is the same with trans, non-binary, people of colour, and so on. The decision makers must reflect the diversity of the whole community if you want to include everyone – otherwise your Pride will end up as an exclusive event for a privileged few, most likely stereotypical white, gay cis-men.
What does your Pride do to ensure lesbians are visible and an integral part of your events?
Oslo Pride has a long tradition of dedicating the Friday program to the lesbian community. Later years, we’ve broadened the target group and include women, trans, non-binary and their friends. The idea behind the Friday programme is to make spaces where cis-gay culture is not dominant. Oslo Pride also continuously works with a broad representation in our board and in other prominent roles in our all-year volunteer based organisation. I also hope having a leader lesbians can identify with will give visibility and a “lesbian touch” to Oslo Pride.
What would you like to see Pride and LGBTI+ organisations around the world do to increase lesbian visibility?
I would like to see more gay men giving space to lesbian women and trust them with important tasks, but also give them credit for the work they do. Credit should not be given in private, but in front of other people. Otherwise it doesn’t really have any true effect.
What’s your most cherished ‘lesbian moment’ at a Pride?
I know I will cherish an upcoming ‘lesbian event’ on Tuesday 21st June during Oslo Pride. Apart from this, there was a club night a few years ago that comes to mind. It was a ‘back to the 80’s event’ where the idea was to recreate an iconic lesbian bar in Oslo called ‘Potta’. Most people at the club were lesbians, non-binary or trans. By the end of the night we were all topless dancing in a mosh pit to 80’s new wave music. For this kind of magic to happen we must have all felt safe, included and accepted. It was a lovely throwback party, although I don’t think it was anything like the 80’s, haha!
And finally, many lesbians are at the forefront of efforts to support the LGBTI+ community in Ukraine. What is your message to them?
I am very grateful for the job LGBTQ+ activists do in Ukraine. Historically, lesbians have always been relied upon in times of crisis. During the fight for women’s rights, in the frontline during the HIV-epidemic, and now in the war in Ukraine. Lesbians are strong, capable and caring. I am very proud to see how they push on through, demand action and display incredible bravery. Of course, this applies for everyone who stands up to support the victims of this war, and it makes me believe that a brighter future will come for both Ukraine and the rest of Europe. My message for them is that the European Pride community is standing in alliance with the Pride activists in Ukraine, and we do not tolerate any attacks on the fundamental right to live as free individuals. We will use our platforms, networks, our reach and our position to promote human rights. I also encourage everyone to contribute with a donation to the fund set up by EPOA that supports our activist family in Ukraine.
Our thanks to IK for speaking to us for Lesbian Visibility Week! Oslo Pride 2022 takes place from 18-27 June. Read more here.
Look out for our next Lesbian Visibility Week interview tomorrow!