🌊 Sweden Democrats reveal their genderphobia

The Sweden Democrats have expanded their focus from immigration and crime to issues of sex and gender. Examining their discourse against drag queen readings for children, ClĂ©mentine Punti argues that this new focus reveals the party’s genderphobic nature

Drag Queen Story Hour: the Sweden Democrats' new target

The Sweden Democrats (SD) are Sweden’s third-largest party in parliament. Speaking in spring of last year, party leader Jimmie Åkesson expressed his unequivocal opinion on Sweden’s most polemical drag queen:

I think it's completely insane that the 'Shameless Winewhore' receives tax money to read fairytales to children

Jimmie Åkesson, May 2023

Drag Queen Story Hour (DQSH) is an American concept that involves drag queens reading stories to children in public libraries. Since its establishment in Sweden in 2017, hundreds of DQSH events have taken place across the country. DQSH is a place for age-appropriate, playful, and safe discussions around diversity and identity. Yet the SDs' sudden attack has triggered a nationwide debate on the protection of gender diversity.

A couple of years back, the SDs insisted they would protect LGBTQI+ rights against homophobic 'Others'. Now they are pursuing an illiberal agenda that aims to redefine Swedish culture as one with limited representations of gender diversity.

The SDs have pushed their illiberal agenda through measures including tax policy, child protection regulation, and an attempt to redefine 'Swedishness'.

Taxpayers shouldn't fund Drag Queen Story Hour

The SDs target the state budget to redefine what counts as Swedish culture. The party insists that it is inappropriate to fund DQSH from the public purse.

Reacting to criticism of these policies, SDs' Alexander Christiansson claimed politicians have every right to state their opinions on whether tax should fund such activities. Christiansson denounced the legacy of decades of left-wing governance, claiming the Left aims to control what is 'good' or 'bad' culture based on 'identity politics', 'wokeism', and 'equality goals'. The Left, he argued, are guided by 'gender ideology', which we should fear for its absurd values and attempts to silence certain voices.

The Swedish Library Association was quick to condemn Christiansson's anti-DQSH stance. But his colleague Mattias BĂ€ckström Johansson responded with the same dismissive rhetoric. BĂ€ckström Johansson claimed he was fulfilling his political obligation to represent SD voters’ anti-DQSH sentiments, rightfully criticising how taxpayers' money is used.

The Sweden Democrats' Oscar Sidera reacted angrily when he learned of a DSQH reading in his municipality. The event prompted him to question whether it is 'morally right for taxpayers to finance adult men's sexual inclinations'.

SD attacks on DQSH are just one part of the party's broader campaign condemning left-liberal cultural policies.

Drag Queen Story Hour is not suitable for children

The same logic of entitlement applies to the Sweden Democrats' 'protect the children' trope. They call for parents to assert what is best for their children, and, by association, for all children. SD rhetoric warning that DQSH might sexualise children has distressed many parents, and generated protest against the DQSH movement.

The SDs' most common argument for banning DQSH from public libraries is drag queens' supposedly inappropriate names. In an interview, SD leader Åkesson condemned the so-called 'Shameless Winewhore' up to eight times. In fact, this person's drag queen name is ‘Miss Shameless’.

The Sweden Democrats are spreading fear among parents that Drag Queen Story Hour will sexualise their children

In a separate interview, Sweden Democrats' Magnus Isgren emphasised Åkesson's point. He suggested that if drag queens had 'normal' names there would be no controversy. Isgren's party colleague Jonathan Sager argues it is 'perverted' and 'dangerous' for drag artists to work with children because their decadence could cause harm.

But the SDs are unable to separate the concepts of an adult's right to privacy (such as their sexual orientation) from their professional cultural practice among children . These are, of course, two separate matters. The Swedish Library Association has, on multiple occasions, resisted the SDs' false claims and anti-DQSH arguments. It has fiercely defended the value of children learning about diversity in a pedagogic environment through activities like DQSH.

Drag Queen Story Hour does not belong in Sweden

So, the Sweden Democrats reject the cultural significance and pedagogic relevance of DQSH. In the SDs' vision of Swedish culture, LGBTQI+ diversity is not valued or protected but rather a threat to the 'Swedish Nation'.

Indeed, Jonathan Sager recently went so far as to almost threaten Miss Shameless with deportation:

The culture war is not over until the drag queen 'Shameless Winewhore' is out of the country

Jonathan Sager, NOVEMBER 2023

Clearly, the debate on who the SDs consider acceptably Swedish has now escalated beyond the domain of culture. The homophobic threat is clear: queer people are not worthy of Swedish citizenship. This is alarming because it validates and encourages anti-LGBTQI+ hate speech and action.

The Sweden Democrats’ genderphobia

The homophobic nature of SD discourse is clear. How it connects to SDs' illiberal agenda is less so. I understand the two as connected by the genderphobic nature of SD discourse. Judit TakĂĄcs describes genderphobia as 'both an ideology about the fearfulness of gender as well as the action of fearmongering for political effect'. SD discourse against a culture of diversity is spreading fear about gender and sexuality in an attempt to win votes.

Sweden, of course, is no different from other European countries in experiencing a rise of illiberal political actors. Despite this, the Sweden Democrats have symbolically distanced themselves from other illiberal parties to maintain the illusion of exceptionalism. The SDs' anti-DQSH attack on LGBTQ+ rights should worry us. The party's path towards the political mainstream is now progressing by means of attacking gender rights. We should condemn the intolerance of these exclusionary efforts – and we should celebrate the joys of drag pedagogy.

No.32 in a thread on the 'illiberal wave' 🌊 sweeping world politics

This blog piece was written for the course 'Gendering Illiberalism', co-designed and co-taught by Andrea PetƑ (with TA Irfana Khatoon) and Alina Dragolea (with TA Oana Dervis) sponsored by CIVICA alliance universities Central European University (CEU) and the National University of Political Studies and Public Administration (SNSPA).

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Clémentine Punti
Clémentine Punti
Master's Student, Department of Gender Studies, Central European University Vienna

Clémentine completed her undergraduate degree at Maastricht University, where she researched ageist discourses in the Covid-19 crisis.

Her main interests are queer joy, drag pedagogy, and the relationship between illiberalism and gender.

Clémentine's current research focuses on the discourse and action against drag shows for children, focusing predominantly on Sweden.

She analyses how queer joy may be conceived through drag pedagogy.

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