pin Åland Islands, Finland

Åland’s colourful Pride parade

Katarina, a well-known religious leader on the island, was herself a target for discrimination and scrutiny. Although some local papers had some unpleasant things to say in the beginning, Katarina’s courage broke through. And so, people like her and organisations such as the Lighthouse Foundation continue to play a crucial role in breaking barriers and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.

For the past 5 years, the Lighthouse Foundation has worked exceptionally hard to bring the Pride parade to life. In the words of organiser Moa: “This year, we had to tone things down because we experienced a lot of burnout in previous years”. The work that the foundation has been doing was evident from the day we arrived in Mariehamn, the capital of Åland. In anticipation of the parade, every corner of every building we entered displayed pride flags and posters. Part of the foundation’s success in breaking down barriers involved educating young people and children. And it was quite exciting to see this work pay off when they all came out in great numbers in support of the parade.

United

Not only young people, but the elderly, government and private institutions – and even priests – also supported and participated in the parade. A single mother of 4, former journalist, author and – most importantly – one of Åland’s first priests to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, Katarina has been involved from the start. She and another priest paved the way for the 38 more priests who participated in this year’s parade.

Katarina, a member of the LGBTQ+ community herself, found that in her role as a counselling priest, having self-confidence and staying true to herself has been crucial – especially since she found herself becoming a role model to many.

Hope

She further expressed that, although we are living in challenging times, hope will always be there if there are young people willing to come together to stand not only for LGBTQ+ rights, but for other meaningful and impactful causes – because in the end “nobody can do it all by themselves”.

A lesson Team Travelbugs learnt is that refraining from standing up for a worthy cause because it doesn’t fit within the confines of social, political and religious norms is never good enough reason to back out. We all need to find the courage to break barriers, make a mark and build hope for a brighter future.