Last June’s mass shooting at the nightclub Pulse in Orlando was a horrific reminder that despite the undeniable progress that has been made, violent hate crimes aimed at the LGBTQ+ community remain a reality. While today’s Copenhagen Pride Parade is a celebration endorsed by politicians and the public at-large, in most parts of the world Pride’s are routinely attacked or banned, and earlier in the summer an illegal parade in Istanbul was met with arrests, teargas and rubber bullets.
Denmark long been among the world’s most progressive nations when it comes to the rights of sexual minorities, yet only 35 years ago homosexuality was classified as a disease. In 1989, Denmark became the first country in the world to legalise same sex partnerships and, in 2012, a law was passed that permitted same sex couples to be married in the Danish National Church (Folkekirken).
With such progress, many might believe the struggle is over, and perhaps even forget there was a struggle in the first place. They might see Pride as a fantastic street party, driven forward by a new LGBTQ+ generation and a more accepting public approach, rather than the defiant and in-your-face stance against bigotry it still is in most parts of the world.
Hundreds of volunteers are responsible for putting on Pride, and keeping on message. In charge of that parade is Copenhagen Pride chairman Lars Hendriksen who, as part of the “old guard”, sees it as his role to remind the younger members of the community of the grim history of prejudice and hate sexual minorities have had to face.
“I don’t know if the younger generations have forgotten – maybe we the older ones have just forgotten to tell them,” he explains. “It is not the responsibility of the young to remember. They have grown up in a world that is safer, and so I have to show them just how important it is to remember. We also don’t want Pride to turn into a retirement home for old homosexuals.”
In the week leading up to the parade, Copenhagen Pride has held a long list of events, lectures and talks about issues relating to the LGBTQ+ community. Activists from all over the world – from Tanzania to Malta, and the US to Pakistan – have come to Copenhagen to share their stories and foster international solidarity.
“Pride is a lot of fun, and we have a lot of parties. And alongside that we try to tackle serious issues, such as rape, violence and murder. But we also need to celebrate the victories. There are positive things and you could say we have been on a winning streak.”
During the past month people have been taking to Twitter under the hashtag #DerforPride, to express why they believe that the even is as relevant as ever.
The celebrations also serve another purpose – to allow people to come out and show society who they are.
“In regards to the LGBTQ+ community, we are a visibility festival. We want to celebrate the diversity that exists within the community and breakdown stereotypes. To show that we are just as boring as everyone else.”
Despite the victories that have been won, Hendriksen argues that many battles still remain, particularly with regards to the rights of trans people. Daily harassment and discrimination also continues to be a problem, and in a sense he feels that people feel less safe than they once did.
“All research shows that violence in all of society has decreased over the past twenty years, yet people feel more unsafe. This is also reflected in the LGBTQ+ community. I also think that people’s ways of interacting with each other has changed. It used to be that people would be more likely to stare, shake their heads, but not yell at you. Today, I think people show more outright aggression and feel they have a right to interfere with your life. We probably had a more polite society once.”
But Henderiksen can’t but feel that Pride has become a celebrated part of Danish culture – the 200,000 people who are expected to participate seem to be proof.
“We invite everybody into our world and allow them to have fun with us. I think that openness represents Copenhagen values.”
Henderiksen is still concerned by developments around the world, such as laws against gay “propaganda” in Russia and the death penalty for gay sex in Uganda. He believes that states target the LGBTQ+ community to divert attention away from actual problems.
“I am certain that the way Russia is acting is all about distracting from the terrible economic situation. There has also been a tendency among certain Danish politicians to use us to justify their attacks on other minorities. These same politicians then very openly vote against legislation that would help us. So you can see their support for us is about something completely different.” M
The Pride Parade starts at 13:00 on Saturday, August 20. For information about the route, click here.