How Copenhagen Became The “Gay Village Of Northern Europe”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of same-sex unions in Denmark, and Copenhagen Pride plans to celebrate in style.

As Pride Month comes to a close, we must be aware that there is still a lot to be done before LGBTQ people worldwide enjoy equal rights. At the same time however, we can take comfort in the fact that so much ground has been made over the past ten years. If you asked fifteen year-old me whether he thought same-sex marriage would be legal across the United States within a decade he’d be very skeptical. And yet marriage equality is now the law of the land. There are many countries where progress was made far sooner, especially those in Europe. Denmark in particular stands out from most of the pack— the country was the first to ever recognize same-sex unions, doing so on October 1st, 1989. Marriage followed in 2012, and today Denmark enjoys equal rights for all. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of same-sex unions in Denmark, and Copenhagen Pride plans to celebrate in style.

Steed Lord Performs at Copenhagen Pride 2015.

Lars Henriksen, the chairman of Copenhagen Pride, notes that Denmark has a history of being a pioneer for LGBTQ rights. While same-sex unions were legalized in 1989, homosexual acts between men were decriminalized as far back as 1933, and acts between women were never formally illegal. The first incarnation of LGBT Denmark—an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people—was founded 15 years later, in 1948. During the latter half of the 20th century LGBT people became increasingly visible in Denmark. In 1981 Denmark’s National Board of Health removed homosexuality from a list of mental disorders; in 2017 they did the same for transgenderism. The World Health Organization (WHO) only did the same for homosexuality and transgenderism in 1990 and 2019, respectively.

Marchers at last year’s Copenhagen Pride. Photo: Copenhagen Pride

Today, LGBTQ people are widely accepted across all of Denmark. Copenhagen in particular is famed for being a mecca for LGBTQ culture. “Copenhagen doesn’t have a gay village,” Henriksen says. “We are the gay village of Northern Europe. There is a general acceptance and a very welcoming atmosphere for LGBTI people because we (Copenhagen) believe inclusiveness and diversity are core values in creating a livable city for all its citizens.” As previously stated Henriksen is the chairman of Copenhagen Pride, an organization which stages the country’s largest Pride march every year. Over four hundred and fifty thousand people are expected to take part in this year’s festivities, which are set to occur during Copenhagen Pride Week, from the 13th to the 18th of August. Among those present will be the two surviving couples who were married on October the 1st of 1989. If anyone plans to visit Copenhagen in August, Copenhagen Pride is one event you absolutely cannot miss!

If you can’t make it to Denmark that time of year but still want to show your support, there are many other LGBTQ events that occur over the course of the year. These include the MIX Copenhagen LGBTQ film festival, which occurs the last week of every October. And in 2021 Copenhagen will host both WorldPride and the EuroGames at the same time. Named Copenhagen 21, this massive event will be a celebration of LGBTQ culture and human rights. Copenhagen Pride will be among those helping to put the event together.

Centralhjørnet Bar.

For nomads of all genders and orientations who wish to experience Copenhagen’s LGBTQ scene, there are many places to see. For instance there is Centralhjørnet, one of the world’s oldest existing gay bars. It first opened in 1917, but only advertised itself as a gay bar starting in the 50s. The bar is a piece of history, and has seen much over its one hundred-and-two year long history. But it is only one of many places throughout the city. Studiestræde in particular is home to some of Copenhagen’s most vibrant gay and lesbian nightspots. These include Jailhouse CPH, Masken Bar, and Cosy Bar. The street is located in the Latin District, not far from City Hall.

Even City Hall can be a site of interest for travelers. It was here in 1989 that the first same-sex marriages in the world were held. Each year at Copenhagen Pride many same-sex couples follow in their footsteps, tying the knot in the midst of the festivities. Copenhagen is such a vast and cultured city there’s quite literally something for everyone. Many have fallen in love the place including Henriksen himself, who was not born in Copenhagen but lives there today. “It’s a very beautiful place,” he says. “It’s almost like something out of a fairy tale—quite fitting for the home of Hans Christian Andersen.”

Rainbow Houses in Copenhagen.

In many respects Copenhagen really is like a land from a fairy tale. It’s a city steeped in history, one that also looks toward the future. The LGBTQ movement in Denmark is much the same, having shared in many of the country’s greatest triumphs over the course of the past century. Its story mirrors that of our own country’s movement, as well as those in many others. Perhaps then, despite all the chaos and division that currently plagues our world, we can look to Denmark as a sign of what is to come: a world free of division and strife, where all can be who they are no matter their race, gender, orientation or creed. It is a dream that I hope I’ll see realized in all our lifetimes.

Jeremy Mancino


Jeremy is a native of New Jersey who’s been all across the country and loved every minute of it. He is passionate about the world we live in and wants to see as much of it as he possibly can. When not writing he is at the mercy of his very demanding Dalmatian.

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