Karolinska at Pride Parade? Not a big deal…

Andrea Lindström for Medicor and Science Career

If it didn’t occurred to you yet, Karolinska Institute participated to Stockholm Pride Parade, on August 4th.

At the Parade, hundreds of thousand people flooded into the heart of the city not only in support to the LGBTQ community, but also because it was fun. The joy of celebrating weirdness, uncommon human behaviors and sexual liberation was worth a visit.

Queerolinska is the new LGBTQ student association of Karolinska Institutet, which together with Medicinska Föreningen (the medical student union) has asked KI rector Anders Hamsten to support the march. The attempt was successful, and the story is covered here.

The all experience was very much demanding, but incredible and rewarding at the same time, and the international media coverage of the event (mediated by Marta Paterlini), made all of us feel very proud.

I’m here to reveal something about that event that may not have occured to people who lives outside scandinavia: after all, it wasn’t a big deal.

None of the small or big national press have covered the news, despite our (small) attempts to approach journalists. People we talked to about the event were surprised, but neither enthusiast nor emotional. They were just lagom.

This has to do with the way Swedish perceive their national Gay Pride. The event is joined by essentially every single company, politician and governmental association you may think of. The public transportation agency, the national army, schools, hospitals, gyms, bar, clubs, museums and basically all Swedish parties are there. Embassies, police forces, students unions, small and big brands all wanna ensure a spot at the march. To show off.

If we think of Pride Parade as massive branding opportunity, the recent statement by the CEO of the wealthy food company Barilla released to an Italian radio program feels even more stupid and damaging for the company:

“I would never make a spot with a homosexual family”

“Not out of a lack of respect but because I do not see it like they do. (My idea of) family is a classic family where the woman has a fundamental role.”

Guido Barilla

from barilla.com

from barilla.com

It was easy, too easy to bring KI at the Pride Parade. The scene was already settle and the actors were already in position. They just needed someone to push the bottom and make KI join the show.

But Queerolinska has a secret, evil plan that goes beyond Karolinska: it hopes to inspire other academia in the world to do the same. Not much for the Parade itself, rather to give the opportunity to Universities to became active members of the long marathon for equality. What about LGBTQ awareness and respect at the National University of Colombia? and Bologna University? What about Manchester, Houston, South Africa, New Deli and Moscow?

We go beyond that: academia forms leaders, and leaders shapes countries. Universities have changed the way we look at the world today, from cigaret smoke to climate change and the origin of life. Why shouldn’t universities drive an optimistic mentality change towards equality and dignity for LGBTQs? We should use the same tools for the discover of a new cancer therapy, to also discuss homosexuality and the “science of genders” on a more pragmatic, scientific manner. Shedding light on topics like male/female development, hormone therapies or social behaviors will help casting away ignorance and fear towards something as natural as being humans.

As biologist, I never thought I would say this one day, but yes: a bit of social science and anthropology is a good way to go to slowly overcome that ‘fear’ for a queer walking into a room, the same way we feared a black guy sitting next to us on the bus.

As I was writing this post, Nature published a News Feature by Erika Check Hayden on “taboo of genetics”: where science isn’t allowed to go. Studies indicating that homosexuality is partially determined by genetic makeup are few and not reproduced. This is due to the resistance to a topic that suffered from quite heavy discrimination for decades – suggest the author – and only now seems to find a serene identity. But as time changes, gay may be more willing to engage with scientists, as they benefit from it quite directly: “The successful campaign to strike down a 2008 California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage enlisted evidence that homosexuality has some basis in genetics”.

Finally (whether you like the definition or not) NIH has acknowledge that LGBT is a minority that deserve specific research: depression and suicide risk, obesity and cancer risk, long-term hormone use effects, sexually-transmitted diseases and substance abuse are the targets of a new funding effort initiated in February this year.

Framed this way, the topic of LGBTQ issues within academia gets far beyond a march on a street. Though, it was fun.

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