Though anti-gay in his formative years, Olli Stålström became a fighter for equality

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Although the attitude towards homosexuality in the Finnish press is by no means negative, outside the extremist Christian media, the decision, in August 2011, by the leading Finnish newsmagazine Seamen Kuvalehti to devote four pages, including the centerfold, to the life and times of Mr Olli Stålström, was a major contribution to the current debate about equality in Finland.

Mr Stålström has been active on the Finnish gay scene since the early 70s. The SK feature begins from the year 1960 though. Then Stålström, as a Lutheran Confirmation School participant, goes to talk to the pastor about his homosexuality. The pastor refers him to treatment and young Olli appreciates the promise that he can be cured.

Treatments continued for years. During the early phase he even acted aggressively towards the gays and made a list of the meeting places of the time and asked his therapist to deliver it to the police. But after some years he had realized homosexuality was not a disease and gave up the treatments.

The SK feature then takes the reader to a panel discussion in Helsinki in 1974. By that time Olli Stålström had become the vice chairman of the newly established Finnish sexual equality organization SETA. At that panel discussion, a trade union legal counsel Ms Tarja Halonen had put forward an agenda for legislation against discrimination. ( Tarja Halonen was elected President of Finland in 2000 and will be completing her second term in February 2012)

Stålström describes the current reparative treatments as “benevolent misguidance”. – Initially, it may be a relief, if the person has been alone with his or her problem. He sees those treatments as a continuation of the conversion therapies of the 60s.

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The latest phase in the life of Olli Stålström sees him as a member of a parish council in Helsinki. He had given up his church membership decades ago, but had rejoined in the autumn of 2010. He then ran in the Evangelic Lutheran Church general election and got a seat in the council of a Helsinki congregation . (That church covers some 80 percent of the population and has a semi-official position in Finland, with the national revenue service collecting its membership taxes.)

The SK feature also mentioned that there was "some criticism against Stålström" on the Finnish gay scene. The feature singled out as the grievances Stålström´s positive approach to some of the church stands on issues as well as his understanding of the conservatives on the religious scene.

In the light of the comments that reached the writer of this RL item in the wake of the publication of the SK feature, it is obvious that Stålström, 67, has attracted both supporters and querulants. Some, though apparently very few, long time hands of the pro-equality scene, appear not to be able to come to terms with something in Stålström. Whatever bothers from earlier decades, everyone should admit that Mr Stålström is a major public relations asset for the Finnish gay scene today, at a time when pressure from the extremist religious circles is growing and anti-equality themes have had an impact on the agenda of the current Finnish government as well.

Stålström belongs to the very small group of Finnish nationals who have given their face to the fight for equality without being in the media focus for some other reason.

Professionally and adacemically, his is a graduate of the Helsinki School of Technology and later a Ph.d (Sociology) from the University of Helsinki.

Concluding with a touch of human insight, the SK feature noted that in his current role as a parish council member Stålström had found himself suddenly to be on the majority side. It was a vote about the practice of the Church to give funding to organizations that were against the ordination of women and against the equal standing of homosexuals. The numbers in the vote were 14-2 , and the Council demanded such funding be stopped.
The actual issue is still pending, in the higher levels of the Church administration.

The SK feature (in Finnish) was written by Päivi Kärnä, photos by Hannes Heikura. In the attached photo, the centerfold of issue 31/11 of Suomen Kuvalehti.

A netlog by Olli Stålström on in Finnish
Home page as mentioned in the personal info on

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