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KIM FRIELE

 - Tessa Bouwman -



Oslo, June 2005. The Norwegian capital hosts the Europride festival, welcoming thousands of international guests for a grand parade and other festivities. Lots of queer joy, but also a focus on the ongoing struggle of the LGBTQIA+ movement for emancipation and recognition. On the central square, a small, bronze bust is revealed in honor of the presumed most important queer activist in Norway: Karen Christine "Kim" Friele.

 

Kim Friele was born Karen Christine Wilhelmsen on 27 May 1935 in Fana, in the municipality of Bergen. After her studies she settled in Oslo, where she started working as a secretary for an information agency. In 1959, she married childhood friend Ole Friele Jr. The marriage was not long-lived, as Kim discovered she was attracted to women. She did, however, continue to use her ex-husband's surname until the end of her life. She was one of the first openly gay people in Norwegian public life, and her coming-out marked the beginning of decades of tireless commitment to the community. Partly due to her efforts, homosexual acts were decriminalized (1972), homosexuality was no longer considered a psychiatric condition (1978) and same-sex couples could enter into registered partnerships (1993). Kim Friele and her partner Wenche Lowzow were the first Norwegian lesbian couple to exercise this right.

 

Her activism also manifested itself in writing numerous pamphlets, speeches and books. In her first book, published in 1975, she described the process of self-acceptance and being happy as a gay person. In 1995, her latest book was published. In it, she researches the persecution of homosexuals in the Third Reich and makes connections with homophobia, racism and sexism and their contemporary manifestations. This characterized Friele's work and thinking: her activism was intersectional and emphasized the interconnectedness of different forms of oppression and human rights violations.

 

Kim Friele cared little for authority and had no qualms about speaking out vehemently against all forms of injustice. This earned her the title "whining bitch of sexual politics", among other things. But Friele - despite or perhaps because of her critical stance - was embraced within Norwegian society. She received a knighthood and numerous important national and international awards and was a much sought-after advisor to schools and government institutions. She was also a regular guest on

radio and TV broadcasts. In the election "Norwegian of the Century" in 2008, she was the highest-ranking woman on the list.

 

Until old age and despite her health slowly deteriorating, Friele remained active within the movement and attended the annual Pride parade in Oslo. In doing so, she stressed the importance of continuing to respect and fight for acquired rights and to remember the struggles of the past. Her personal archive, an extraordinary documentation of more than 50 years of LGBTQIA+ activism, she handed over to the University of Bergen in 2013. It formed the basis for the queer archive anchored in the structure of the university since 2015. And how about the statue unveiled in summer 2005? It was eventually given a spot in Oslo's public library, where it was also briefly featured in a video of the Norwegian candidate for the Eurovision Song Contest in 2023. Such a wonderful tribute!


 

Photo: Jarle Vines, Kim Friele (2009)

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