Unless you have been hiding under a big ol’ rock somewhere since July 22, you probably know who Anders Behring Breivik is. He is the Norwegian right-wing extremist who bombed a Norwegian government building in Oslo, killing eight people, and then that same day headed over to Utoya where he massacred 69 people — mostly teens — attending the Norwegian Labor Party’s Workers Youth League camp there.
Breivik has since described the attacks as a necessary tactic in a war against a Muslim invasion of Europe.
You’ve probably heard of him. But have you heard of Toril Hansen and Hege Dalen? They are the married lesbian couple who were camping across the lake from Utoyan, eating their dinner, when Breivik opened fire on the young people there. When the women heard the gunshots and saw the screaming teenagers running into the lake to escape, they jumped into their boat and motored straight into the line of fire to try and rescue the young people. It was a small boat, so the couple made four trips into the danger zone, to pull the fleeing teenagers from the water or pick them up from the shore.
Other people camping in that same area, also rushed to their boats to help rescue the teens. European news site The Independent — which by the way reported on Hansen and Dalen, referring to them simply as a couple, including the information that they are a lesbian couple but not making any big deal about it — pointed out that the campers rescued a total of about 150 teenagers fleeing the shooter that day.
Hansen and Dalen rescued 40 teenagers during the shooting, even though Breivik was shooting at them and their boat, too, actually hitting the boat several times.
Hansen and Dalen are heroes, but you may not have heard anything about them, because most of the press hasn’t been reporting on their story. And some media outlets in Europe are wondering if that’s because they are, first of all, women, and secondly, lesbians.
(The Huffington Post and several U.S. LGBT blogs and news sites have been reporting on the couple, by the way.)
Pink News, an LGBT news site in the United Kingdom ran this story that briefly outlines the couple’s actions and then talks about the lack of media coverage. Mail Online, another U.K. news site, ran this similar report. The articles on both sites garnered plenty of comments along the lines, “These women are heroes, but why do you have to focus on their sexual orientation?”
The International Business Times also ran a report about Hansen and Dalen that questioned the lack of media coverage of their heroism. The first — and at the time I write this, only — commenter there pointed out that the women are responsible for rescuing about 10 percent of the 423 survivors, asking how such an “amazing” story has been overlooked by the media.
But this report in The Guardian, yet another U.K.-based news site, asks the questions most pointedly. Why have we hardly heard of Hansen and Dalen, the Guardian asks, then offers three possible — probable? — reasons: