The sexual politics of the new coalition government are, at first glance, nothing new to progressive Denmark. In their platform from November they acknowledge that sexual orientation, gender identity, and the right to choose one’s partner are “fundamental” rights in Danish society. They add that the government is committed to promoting equality for all “regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity”.
This pro-LGBTQ stance should not surprise most people familiar with Denmark’s sexual-political history. One of Europe’s first post-war organisations for homosexuals was founded in Denmark in 1947 and exists today as LGBT Danmark. In 1989, Denmark became the first in the world to formalise same-sex partnerships. It is the only country in the world not to classify transgender as a psychological disorder.
The new platform is still noteworthy, however, as it is the first time a right-wing coalition government has come out in such open support of the LGBTQ community. Previous governments led by the Liberal Party (Venstre) paid little attention to gay and lesbian rights, and no attention to transgender issues. Under the four coalition governments led by Venstre between 2001 and 2011, the platforms of the first three made no mention of sexual orientation or gender identity. The last briefly acknowledged discrimination against “the elderly, people with disabilities, and homosexuals” but had no other references to LGBTQ people.
In contrast, the left-wing Social Democrats (Socialdemokrater) made concrete promises for Denmark’s LGBTQ community. When they came to power in 2011, their platform included a section that addressed the need for sexual equality for LGBTQ Danes. Many would benefit from neutral marriage laws and parental rights for lesbian couples who used artificial insemination. Those who sought to legally change gender would no longer need to undergo surgery.
Activists spent decades pushing for LGBTQ rights in Denmark, so isn’t it good that the issue is no longer partisan? The answer is not so simple, as Denmark’s gender and sexual politics are increasingly used to justify concerns about immigration.
Prior to 2000, there were few European politicians that called for citizens to respect gay, lesbian, or transgender rights. In the Netherlands, however, a growing movement has linked tolerance for sexual diversity with good citizenship, with Dutch politician Geert Wilders (of the PVV: Party For Freedom) as Europe’s most outspoken pro-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant politician.
Wilders is neither gay nor transgender, and has done little to advance new policies for Dutch LGBTQ’s. But since 2006, he has found it strategic to defend Dutch women and gays from their supposed enemy: new immigrants, as well as Dutch citizens with backgrounds in Muslim-majority countries.
Wilders even tried to export pro-gay, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant politics to Denmark. In 2008 he spoke at the Danish Parliament, though only a few members of the populist Danish People’s Party (DF) attended. Wilders alleged that Muslims in the Netherlands brought violence against Dutch women and homosexuals. But his speech proved unsuccessful at the time and DF continued to oppose LGBTQ rights, including same-sex parental adoption.
Even Donald Trump, during his presidential campaign, tested the waters with “Wildersian” politics. After the attack at a gay club in Orlando that left fifty people dead, Trump gave a speech where he stated that gay and lesbian Americans needed to be protected from the violence of Muslim immigrants. This nod to gay and lesbian rights cannot be untied from Trump’s campaign promises to establish a registry for Muslims living in the United States, to turn away Muslim tourists and immigrants – including especially Syrian asylum-seekers – and to build a wall with Mexico. But a month after the speech, Trump chose Indiana governor Mike Pence, who once said that gay couples signalled “societal collapse,” as his running mate.
Conservative sexual politics
Using LGBTQ rights to drive a wedge between “native” and “immigrant” populations has now come to Denmark. In the section of the government’s platform that deals with young people, they pledge to “tackle social control” and initiate early intervention strategies for children and adolescents who are at risk of “honour-related conflicts” – implicitly targeting Denmark’s Muslim community. They justify this need by stating that “personal freedom is a fundamental right in Denmark. This is includes equality between the genders”.
Immigrants and refugees are presented as a threat throughout the platform. In the chapter, “A Safe Legal Policy,” the platform asserts that the government has decided to maintain temporary border control with Sweden and Germany to stop an “uncontrolled flow” of refugees and migrants. They also promise to introduce an “emergency brake” to prevent another “uncontrolled flow” of migrants, while cutting welfare for refugees and “setting higher demands on refugees and immigrants’ ability and will to integrate into the Danish society.”
The government’s platform cannot be separated from other discussions outside of the government. In September 2016, for example, the neo-Nazi Danskernes Parti mimicked one of Wilders’ publicity stunts by handing out “asylum spray”— faux pepper spray, actually breath freshener — to women in Haderslev, and announced that foreigners threatened Danish women with sexual violence. Sexual politics are not always radical – they can also foment racism and xenophobia.
Bipartisan support for LGBTQ rights is something of which Danes could be proud. But one must not blindly accept that Denmark is a bastion for its LGBTQ citizens and residents. Continued critique from especially trans and non-binary people demonstrates that there remain areas for further progress. We must also listen to the critiques from ethnically diverse contingents of the LGBTQ community in Denmark, who can attest to the discrimination they face on the grounds of xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia.
One should be wary when political support for sexual diversity and transgender rights becomes entangled with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim policies. One must not accept that immigrants are an inherent threat to LGBTQ rights in Denmark. Rhetorical support for LGBTQ rights must not blind us from other human rights violations. M
Andrew DJ Shield is a research fellow at Roskilde University, and author of ‘Immigrants in the Sexual Revolution: Perceptions and Participation in Northwest Europe’ (Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming).