Sweden is known for being gay-friendly. Historically, it’s been an early adopter of laws and regulations to protect and enable the rights and opportunities of LGBTQI people, and it continues to work towards greater equality today.
KTH shares this mission – one of its core pillars is equality, which encompasses gender equality and diversity. Things like having an equal distribution of men and women, gender-conscious leadership, and integration of gender perspectives in education and research are integral parts of the university’s operations and goals.
Point is, being queer is normal here. But what that experience is like, on a day-to-day basis, is best described by someone who lives it.
My flatmate, Vicky, moved to Stockholm at the same time I did, in August 2020. She’s in the KTH master’s programme in Industrial and Environmental Biotechnology, but I’d describe her as a creative nerd who loves art as much as chemistry. She has rad style, is a natural chef, and has a big heart. She’s been an amazing flatmate and an even better friend throughout this chapter of life. As a queer woman, she was also willing to sit down for an interview at our kitchen table to answer questions we thought other students out there considering KTH might be wondering.
What did you know about being gay in Sweden before moving here? What were you expecting?
Coming here, I already googled what gay life is like in Stockholm. And I think it met my expectations. I knew that Sweden, in general, promotes gender equality, “love is love”… But seeing it in person, seeing how welcoming the environment is for everyone, is another experience – especially coming from a Balkan country.
Being from Greece, how does support and acceptance of LGBTQI life in Sweden compare?
Well, it’s not that bad [in Greece], young people are more accepting, and I think the internet has helped a lot, to realise there’s not just one way. But the government and Greece’s cities are much less open about it, and they don’t take a stand. Stockholm Stad will take part in Pride celebrations, but in Greece, it’s mostly volunteers, private actors, or organisations. It’s getting better, but a big aspect is that Greece is Orthodox, which keeps the country behind in some matters about sexuality and science.
In your daily life here, what things illustrate this difference? Where do you notice it?
I notice it in representation, like in Swedish ads and TV shows. For example – [in Greece] the first ad representing gay people was this year, the first kiss between men on TV was last year, and it was a big deal.. But here it’s a normal thing. In Stockholm, you’ll see a rainbow flag anywhere.
Speaking of that… What were your thoughts when we arrived at KTH Entré, August 2020, and received our keys, papers, bedding, etc. from the university in a big, rainbow flag IKEA bag?
I saw it as a warm welcome – ‘whoever you are, we want you to know that we are allies that go the extra mile and share rainbow-themed bags to everyone, regardless if they’re gay or not’. And then the aftermath, watching random people carrying those rainbow bags for laundry, groceries, etc., is always a nice addition to my day.
Your friends come from all over the world, and there’s a mix of straight and queer friends in the group. How did you find people you could be yourself with?
As a first-year student, you randomly meet a lot of people on campus, while studying, at events. And the ones you connect with are the ones you stick with. Then they introduce you to their friends, and over time, you just gain more experiences and grow together. But we also have common experiences – especially people from southern Europe – because growing up as a queer kid wasn’t easy.
What was it like coming out to people here?
I was lucky because since we were introduced, I felt comfortable coming out to you. Also with other people, it came naturally, I could just say something about past girlfriends. I realise some people will not feel that comfortable, especially if they haven’t come out to their families, or people back home – they should experience it for themselves.
But being able to not have to come out to people is a privilege. Coming here and being myself 100%, never watching out who I talk to about what – has really made me value my time here, and even more so when I go back home.
Stockholm is known for hosting big Pride celebrations. What does Pride mean to you, and are we going (since it’s not virtual) this year? 😉
H*** yeah! It’s always nice to participate in those events. Growing up, it was always such a comfort to me to see that there are gay people out there like me, and they’re not afraid to show it in public, which was a bit taboo back then. That’s why I support it mainly.
Any final reflections about living in this culture and what it has meant to you?
It’s a very safe space here; at least that’s how I’ve felt so far. It’s not just like, ‘hey don’t worry if you’re gay’. They try to remind you that they try to be inclusive, and that they see you. And it’s always good to be seen by your surroundings.
I just want to say a big thank you to Vicky for sharing her experience with me, and by extension, you.