RAINBOW CONNECTION: A priest, a governor, a mayor, teachers and kids show their colors in Svalbard’s first Pride parade – and everybody (plus nature and/or God) is totally cool with it

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Lene Jeanette Dyngeland’s story is like plenty of others: she first visited Svalbard three years ago and cancelled her return ticket to her hometown of Bergen because she loved Longyearbyen enough to live here. But in an “open borders” community with residents from more than 50 countries her imported persona includes falling in love with any person regardless of their gender – and like everyone else’s distinctions it hasn’t really raised any eyebrows.

“I haven’t noticed anything here in Longyearbyen that discriminates by sexuality,” she told about 250 people gathering Saturday afternoon at the end of Longyearbyen’s first Pride parade, which she organized. “But we have to remember the world is a big place.”

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A rare Longyearbyen rainbow hovers on the horizon as seen from the Radisson Blue Polar Hotel, where about 250 people participating in Longyearbyen’s first Pride parade gathered for speeches and a subsequent party. Photo by Richard Hann.

While Pride events elsewhere in the world might inspire everything from ridicule to violence (see below), Longyearbyen’s parade and subsequent party events lasting well past midnight into Sunday saw Svalbard’s top-ranking politicians, the new priest at Svalbard Church, police leaders, public school teachers, young children and many other locals showing their rainbow colors.

Also, for outsiders inclined to insult the event as a crime against God and/or Mother Nature, a rare Longyearbyen rainbow happened to be hovering on the horizon where the parade ended.

For participants interviewed, however, the primary motivation was hoping the attitudes in Longyearbyen might find an audience among those less-accepting elsewhere and among LGBT individuals suffering the harshness of discrimination.

“I’m here first and foremost because I’m a teacher, and I think it’s important people learn acceptance,” said Hilde Henningsen, a resident of Longyearbyen for the past 31 years who also manages a local tourism company. While she has observed only minor instances of local people reacting negatively to LGBT people encountered, “it’s about time there’s a Pride parade.”

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Hilde Henningsen (orange vest) and other Longyearbyen School employees watch speeches at the end of Longyearbyen’s first Pride parade. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

Anja Nordvålen, a Visit Svalbard employee who moved the Longyearbyen earlier this year, was among the many with LGBT family/friends who’d be subject to various forms of discrimination. While adding one more Pride event to the proliferation of them globally getting publicity might seem unlike to cause a ripple in what are often firm-set attitudes, she said the town’s open-mindedness to people of all types can be a lesson to those with less-colorful attitudes and comfort to those afraid to show their true colors.

“It shows that people are open,” she said. “I think it makes a difference; either way it makes a difference.”

Among the public figures whose attendance might trigger colorful controversy elsewhere was Siv Limstrand, the new priest at Svalbard Church who presided over her first local Mass on Sunday along with summer Priest Ivar Smedsrød. Limstrand (who’s introductory headline in Svalbardposten unwitting proclaims she “loves to be out”), said she’s been active in a Pride movement for the past 25 years in her hometown of Trondheim and in seeking the evolution that has occurred in the Norwegian church’s LGBT position.

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Josef Zarsky, 6, his brother Vrata, 4, and their mother Zdenka Sokolickova are the center of local and national media attention after the youths win the prize for best outfit in Longyearbyen’s Pride parade. Photo by Mark Sabbatini / Icepeople.

“It’s a most natural place to be,” she said of her participation in Longyearbyen’s parade.

As for the local “family values” crowd, it could be said they were literally the most prized of all. A surprise gift presented by Dyngeland at the end of the parade to the participant(s) with the most colorful outfit went to Josef Zarsky, 6 and his brother Vrata, 4, for their Rainbow Swordsmen Superheroes (our term) gear. While they certainly attracted the biggest throng among attendees of the camera-carrying local and national press as a result, for them it was just about what they thought would be fun rather than a message about any so-called battles.

And exactly what kind of lesson is a parent teaching their kids bringing them to such an event?

“I think it’s nice to show them this is a safe place,” said Zdenka Sokolickova, who moved here with them, her youngest son and their father from the Czech Republic in February. “They don’t have to be scared, they can just be who they are.”

Dyngeland, who said she was hoping for 100 participants when she announced the event on Facebook this summer, told the crowd at the rally she’s already committed to a bigger event next year that will include events specifically intended for families.

“Next year will be three days,” she said, with the crowd cheering loudly in response.

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Meanwhile, in case anybody needs a refresher course, these are among the headlines and reactions to Pride events happening elsewhere in the world this weekend:

• “Pride parade: To be proud of?” (headline at iDag.no regarding first-time event on the mainland: “At a time when environmental pollution is about to fall, these processions represent public and intrusive moral pollution, and act as a primitive degradation of respect for human dignity,” the columnist opines.

• “A city’s first pride march was meant to be a day of joy. The far right turned it into chaos” (CNN headline about event in Prague): Among the reader comments about the 30,000-person parade: “We are so lost as a people. Isn’t this about the time Gommorah and Soddom were turned into salt?”

• “At Charlotte Pride, it’s ‘free mom hugs’ versus ‘Bible-believing Christians’” (Charlotte Observer headline): “Christ is very clear that if you follow things that the World says is ok, you are not one of His,” a reader comments. “Male and female He Created them. Evolution or Christ. Both agree on that.”

• “Mayor Watson says he’s ‘overwhelmed’ by the warm response to his coming out” (Ottawa Citizen headline regarding his declaration after a local Pride parade): “Keep your preferences to yourself because we non-gays are really getting fed up with all the queer revelry and the amount of tax dollars this is costing the rest of the Canadian people,” a reader responded.

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