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social sciences

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In 1932, Vilhelm Lundstedt (1882-1955) put forward a private member's motion to the Riksdag (the Swedish parliament) to decriminalize homosexual acts. In response, committees were appointed, research conducted, and debate engaged.

In the 1930s, reformers emphasized the need to protect homosexuals from bands of young men who blackmailed them. During the 1940s, however, the emphasis was on the need to protect young men from being seduced into homosexuality.

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In 1944, same-sex sexual acts were decriminalized, but they were not given moral sanction. The age of consent was set at 18 for men, with a specified set of rules for those between 15 and 21, while the age of consent for women was set at 15. The popular press discussed male prostitution, overestimating its frequency and contributing to a moral panic.

The homosexual, created as the "other" and the opposite of the heterosexual, was depicted as a moral threat to society in the 1950s. As elsewhere in the western world, when the cold war was at its frostiest, the homosexual became a public enemy and a threat to the security of the nation.

These attitudes may be seen in two scandals that haunted Sweden in the 1950s, the Haijby and Kejne "affairs." Kurt Haijby was a young man who had become acquainted with King Gustav V and thereafter received large amounts of money from the court to keep quiet about his liaison.

In May 1950, the Kejne affair broke in the press. A clergyman, Karl-Erik Kejne (1913-1960), accused members of the government and state officials of being part of a homosexual Freemasonry that protected its members from legal prosecution. King Gustaf V was supposedly involved.

These allegations led to a violent debate concerning corrupt legal practices. The government appointed a citizen's committee, but the result of the inquiry was meager. One minister, Nils Quensel (1894-1971), left the government. More significantly, however, the scandals were devastating to the homosexual cause in the mind of the average citizen.


A new organization was founded in 1950. RFSL (The Swedish Federation for Lesbian and Gay Rights), was initially a section of Denmark's "The League of 1948" (Forbundet av 1948). The organization provided a place where homosexual men and women could come together and discuss their interests.

One of the founders of RFSL was an engineer from Lysekil, a small town in western Sweden, Allan Hellman (1904-1982). He was characterized as "the bravest man in Sweden" for his willingness to be open and straightforward. Another important figure in RFSL was Eric Thorsell (1899-1980), who gave speeches about homosexuality as early as the 1930s and 1940s. An iron mill worker from Surahammar, he had studied one semester (1931-1932) at Magnus Hirschfeld's institute in Berlin. His experience was useful to RFSL.

To become a member of RFSL, one had to be recommended by other members. Like the groups in the United States at the time, emphasis was on discretion, anonymity, and the need for the homosexual to adjust to society.

The New Activism

This kind of approach changed when the activist generation of 1968 came to dominate the scene. During the 1970s openness became the theme. The first liberation march was held in Örebro in 1971. It was followed by many similar marches in other cities.

In 1977 the first large march was held in Stockholm, but not until the EuroPride march of 1998 did the commemoration of Stonewall 1969 become a popular event. Nowadays this annual celebration draws a steadily increasing crowd.

Few persons dared to step out of the shadows of anonymity during the 1960s. One was the author Bengt Martin (b. 1933). When he and his cohabiter talked about life as a male couple in a televised debate in 1968, they got many letters from lonely gay men and lesbians. In 1971 information from RFSL on the subject of homosexuality was disseminated at a school of education, beginning a practice of educating students about the lives of gay men and lesbians.

In 1972 Sweden adopted the first sex-change law in the world. In 1978 the legal age of consent was equalized for both men and women and for both homosexual and heterosexual activities. It was set at 15 years.

In 1979, after a successful sit-in at the Socialstyrelsen (The National Board of Health and Welfare), homosexuality and bisexuality were removed from the list of mental diseases.

The Progress Toward Equality

During the 1970s, activists were busy in the fight to eliminate laws that had been adopted to protect the population from homosexuals; during the 1980s, the struggle was to create laws that would protect gay men and lesbians. In 1987 the first law was adopted that protected gay men and lesbians from being discriminated against in businesses, at the workplace, and other accommodations. Other laws soon followed.

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