Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne has announced plans to march in Helsinki Pride on Saturday, as the Nordic nation observes Pride Week, a celebration of sexual minorities featuring nearly 100 events in the capital city alone.
Last year, the march drew nearly 100,000 people to the city centre. Rinne expressed hope that this year's edition will top these numbers.
“I will also be there, as the first Finnish Prime Minister to participate. The world is not ready, but we are heading towards an increasingly equal society, together,” Rinne said in a statement, as quoted by national broadcaster Yle.
By Rinne's own admission, he is “old enough to have lived at a time when the Criminal Code still discriminated against sexual and gender minorities”.
“Now in 2019, it seems unbelievable that in 1971 homosexuality was still a crime, in 1981 it was considered a disease, and it was as late as in 1995 when discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was prohibited”, the Prime Minister continued.
According to Rinne, sexual and gender minorities have “a proud history”, but there is “no honour” in how they have been treated, not in Finland, not in the world. He stressed that today's situation shows that the world is changing for the better.
Rinne's statement was met with opposing reactions. While some Finns welcomed his decision as “brave” and a step “long overdue”, others were highly critical and accused Rinne of virtue signalling.
“It's 2019, and all the wrong he mentioned has been corrected since 1995. He joins the parade merely to collect political points,” one of Yle's readers commented.
“It goes downhill, but this is what's been expected with today's government. Pride has become a PR stunt of great dimensions marketed as love and tolerance. In fact, most of the Pride participants are rather intolerant of those who do not share their thoughts of the rainbow people. Pride is nothing that politicians should engage in,” another joined in.
Yet another suggested that this decision will “gnaw at the edges” of Rinne's authority, both nationally and internationally.
Some were more sarcastic about Rinne's decision.
“Will he don a yellow speedo and rubber boots?” a Finn named Juha K tweeted.
Others suggested that Rinne was merely taking cue from his Swedish colleague and fellow Social Democrat Stefan Löfven, who has made a habit of his Pride appearances.
In Finland's neighbour states, taking part in Pride has become almost a given for government institutions and the military. The Norwegian Armed Forces recently celebrated sending military bosses to Oslo Pride for the first time in history.
Finland currently has a centre-left coalition in power centred around the Social Democrats. With 117 seats (58.5%) in the 200-seat parliament, the Rinne government is the first left-wing coalition to lead Finland since 2003.