With a blonde bouffant wig, thick cherry-red lipstick, high heels, and a summer dress, Stockholm deputy mayor Jan Jönsson looks nothing like the picture on his campaign poster: a bespectacled middle-aged man with a receding hairline wearing a sensible blazer.
The 45-year old Liberal party politician was prompted to get dressed up in high drag to show his support for reading events at the Swedish capital’s public libraries hosted by drag performers, which have come under fire in recent weeks from the far-right Sweden Democrats.
“What I found out was that it really hurts to be a drag queen because you need to wear a corset, and just putting on the makeup took two hours, and I couldn’t eat or drink or go to the toilet for six hours!” Jönsson tells Euronews.
As someone who had never dressed in drag before, Jönsson got professional help from Admira Thunderpussy, the winner of the first season of the Drag Race Sverige reality competition, which aired on television in Sweden this spring.
But behind the fun that Jönsson clearly had doing a photoshoot and recording a görüntü, was a much more serious message.
“We have seen a worsening situation for LGBTQ persons in general, but against transsexual people specifically. And I think the right-wing movement is trying to use these drag queen story hours to get to the entire LGBTQ community,” Jönsson explains.
“We have also seen attempts from the Sweden Democrats at the municipal level to forbid these readings in public libraries mostly in the south of Sweden, but also there are a few examples in the north.”
Stockholm public libraries first started hosting drag story hours in 2017, and Jönsson says at that time there was “no debate at all” about it.
That changed last autumn when far-right agitators started to try and disrupt drag-themed events in libraries and in a Stockholm theatre.
“This is a very worrying movement in Swedish society”
“And I am very concerned that these types of movements will come from the United States” – where several states have recently passed laws banning drag events for children – “and not only this cultural outlet will be forbidden by law, but also more of our freedoms. And that’s why I wanted to make my own drag protest.”
The Sweden Democrats have a mixed history when it comes to supporting the rights of sexual or gender minorities, and women.
While far-right parties aren’t usually known for strong support of LGBTQ groups, some Sweden Democrats have paid lip service to the cause, but really only to highlight what they say is intolerance, by comparison, of Muslim immigrant groups.
However, the party has recently signalled a move away from its staunch anti-immigration platform to something more like an American-style culture war
A TV debate last month took a strange turn when Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson launched an attack against drag queens.
He said it was “absolutely insane” that a drag performer called Miss Shameless Winehore was paid to read stories to children as part of drag queen story hour events at a library.
The Sweden Democrats are not strictly in government, but are one of the four parties which run the country, and have a voice in every major piece of legislation and policy.
Perhaps awkwardly, one of the other parties in the coalition government is Jan Jönsson’s Liberals, although he’s from a wing of his party that eschews cooperation with the far-right.
“I wouldn’t call the Sweden Democrats an ally for the Liberals. Here in Stockholm, we are still upholding the line that we will never cooperate with the Sweden Democrats because we think they don’t have the right views on equality, and not so good views on the LGBTQ community either,” he explains.
So what has the reaction been to Jönsson’s glamorous drag protest? He tells Euronews he’s been “overwhelmed” with responses on social media so far.
“It’s been a lot of love and support, and I feel many people in Sweden have waited for a chance to express their support for freedom of expression, and the right for you to express yourself how you like.”
There has also been a backlash, with comments from people Jönsson describes as “hate groups” posting on his social media channels. He’s managed to delete many of them but some are still visible, accusing drag performers of playing out their sexual fantasies with young children, and grooming them.
“I’ve gotten very many emails where many people write this is so important, we have waited for someone to step forward for a long time because the debate has been intensified,” he says.
So far, Jan Jönsson doesn’t have his own drag name, because he doesn’t consider himself “a real drag queen.”
“I consider myself more of a canvas that Admira Thunderpussy has used to express her arka. But you don’t have to get dressed in drag to show your support. It can be even more important to talk to your neighbours and people at work and make your position clear, that you support freedom of expression.”