8 April 2021
In downtown Copenhagen Huset 2021: Main House and Huset 2021 -Front Yard , will be welcoming young LGBTI+ people during WorldPride and EuroGames. In Sweden, Youth Pride will take place at Amiralen at Folkets park in Malmö. To these safe places young people are invited to explore, develop and celebrate what it means to be a young LGBTI+ person.
Thaïs Viejo and Lukas Hvitnov from Denmark and Leo Hildebrand from Sweden are three of the includers (Our name for the Volunteers) who will work hard for making Copenhagen 2021 an inclusive and memorable event for young LGBTI+ people. I met up with them (online) and had a chat about their first Pride experience and their expectations for Copenhagen 2021.
How did you get involved in Copenhagen 2021?
“I was told by a friend who works for Copenhagen Pride that there was a position open as Volunteer Youth Venues Coordinator and he thought it might be something for me. I went on the Internet and read about it – and I thought so too. I have an interest in events and thought it was a good opportunity to be a part of such a big event” Lukas says.
Thaïs: “I have been a volunteer in an LGBTI + organisation since last summer and we got an email where they were looking for volunteers for WorldPride.”
Leo Hildebrand comes from a very small village in Sweden where he was the only one who was queer. When he started at the university in Lund, he got access to more spaces. One of those is Transammans, a national association for trans people and their relatives and friends.
“We often meet just for coffee and socialising and talking about everything; trans things, about issues we have, our lives and just create a safe place where we don’t have to think about how we look, talk or how we are perceived.” Leo says.
When he joined Transammans he discovered a whole world of possibilities, a network of organisations with a drive to create context and improve the lives of LGBTI+ people. So when he was asked if he wanted to volunteer at WorldPride in Malmö, he immediately said yes.
How was your first time going to Pride?
Thaïs: “The first time I was at Pride was in 2016. It was the first time since I had come out. I think at that time I came out as bisexual. It was in high school and there were other friends who talked a lot about LGBTI+ and we became a group and decided that we would go to Pride together. It was very nice.”
Thaïs thinks it is hard to put into words how it felt like to go to Pride for the first time.
“Especially the first time was very overwhelming. To realise that you weren’t alone was very nice. Going in the Pride Parade was also overwhelming. Lots of people in all sorts of colors and a presentation of all different kinds of identities. But I also remember that I was a little scared before we went there.” Thaïs says.
What was it you were afraid of?
“It’s a bit fun because I actually live in Frederiksberg, really close to where the Pride parade starts, so I have seen the parade many times before. But I always thought it was nothing for me. I have always tried to deny it to myself. And the fact that you finally admit to yourself – that it’s actually me. It can also be big.” Thaïs says.
Lukas first time was also in 2016. He had just moved home from Malaysia where there is no Pride at all. Once home, he came out as gay.
“I did not really know anyone else who was gay at the time. So I gathered a group of friends and took them to a drag show. It was a really nice experience. I quickly joined a party environment at Studiestræde and was out partying. It was really nice. But I remember that the environment felt difficult to navigate at first. And figure out where I fit in. If I too should dance without a sweater, or if it was ok to just sit on a bench with my girlfriends and have a beer. It took me a few years to figure out how to represent myself in Pride as part of something bigger.” he says.
You will not only be a participant now, but be active in another way. What do you think about that?
“Yes, clearly in a different way – with more focus on what role I can have for others who participate in Pride. It feels important for me in relation to Youth Venues, to be able to participate and create a safe space for everyone who wants to be part of Pride and celebrate differences. I think it’s important to take care of everyone. So it’s a completely different role I’m in now, then when I first started going to Pride.” Lukas says.
Thaïs feels the same way: “I have come out many times. Both with sexuality but also with gender identity. So it has been a little harder, I think to find myself in all this with the LGBTI +. It has really been a long journey and I’m not quite sure if I’m done figuring out who I am. I’m also only 20 years old, but I also think it’s harder than it should be to figure out who you are. Maybe that’s why I had a need to get involved with the LGBTI+ activism more during this Corona year. Because I really want to make a difference for other people who, like me, are struggling with this.”
Leos first Pride experience took place in Prague and by chance.
“Interestingly, my first official Pride was in Prague in August 2019 – six months before the Corona arrived. As I said – I come from a small town and I have never had a group of friends. I was terrified. How to behave? Do I dare to go there alone and how to get to know people? Is there any special etiquette to follow? So I was always afraid of Pride, but always had a fascination for and a lot of dreams about Pride during my teens. But when I went to Prague for a week it turned out it was Pride there at the same time. Since I was by myself, I thought I had nothing to lose. And it was a great experience! Their pride park was very beautiful. I danced with a lot of people and got to know them. And then I went to the parade with them and walked along the streets of Prague. It was really a great first experience and it has led to me just wanting to go to more Pride festivals. But unfortunately I haven’t been able to due to Corona. So I am really looking forward to experiencing Pride again.” Leo says.
What are your expectations for WorldPride & EuroGames in August?
Lukas: “Create something cool that can really be representative of Copenhagen and of Malmö and of LGBTI+ people. I hope that we will set a milestone for 2021 that can show how far we have come, but which also shows what needs to be developed. And that the event 2021 not should be remembered as something that is outdated, but something that feels relevant even in 2025.”
Thais: “I agree. It should be something that you remember and that you should be able to look back on in a few years how fantastic WorldPride in Copenhagen and Malmö was. That it became an event that was as big and important as the Roskilde Festival, for example.”
Leo: “I actually have huge expectations. In the working group, we all think that it is such an great opportunity to celebrate our journey and our history. But also to recognise all the work that needs to be done in the future. I hope that it will be a complex event where we get to have all sorts of different feelings and feel that, no matter who we are, we are in this together.”
Many people from all over the world will come to Copenhagen and Malmö in August. For some it is not possible to live openly as LGBTI+ people. What are your thoughts about that?
“I think that it is a big responsibility that rests on our shoulders and that we must understand how privileged we are. It is important that we are open to the fact that people from other countries may not perceive themselves or behave LGBTI+ in the same way as we do.” Lukas says.”
We are very proud here in Scandinavia of how far we have come when it comes to LGBTI+. Are we good at including each other?
Thaïs: “There is a difference between Sweden and Denmark. In many ways, I think that Sweden has come further than Denmark. For example with the third pronoun; – hen and hens. (Them/They, editors note) About gender neutrality in general, I perceive that trans and gender identity are more accepted in Sweden. Not because people cannot understand the need to be neutral, but there are also those who do not understand here in Denmark. And that makes it difficult for them to be open and sensitive to my needs or the needs of other trans people.”
Leo, as a trans person – do you feel included in the Swedish queer community?
“Yes most of the time. But it’s probably about me choosing the events I go to. Unfortunately, I feel more comfortable hanging out with other trans people or non-binaries or women. It’s still scary for me to hang out with men, even if they are gay men. For this image of masculinity still feels so unstable to me. And as a feminine trans man, even though I know that there are many who accept me, it is this feeling that just for trans men to be feminine, becomes strange for many. It’s mostly a feeling that prevents me from going to events that may only be for men. Unfortunately, I would probably not dare.”
What can we all do to be more inclusive?
Thais: “For me, it’s a challenge – because I still have a hard time saying I’m non-binary. I do not have much experience of how people would react but so far it has been positive. It’s also nervous every time you have to introduce yourself and remember – I’m not really like everyone else – I have to remember – that I’m not what people expect me to be based on my appearance. And it’s hard sometimes. It feels a bit like being hit in the head every time you are not part of a norm. But of course – to listen to people and to be yourself. I know what it’s like myself. I also try to talk to people who may have questions about this. I try to be as open as possible and talk to people who may not understand this.”
Lukas: “What I try to do, in my everyday life, even if I do wrong sometimes, is to try to be open and have conversations about everything possible about identity, about sexuality. Trying to be listening and not be colored by who I am. But to be listening and to understand that if someone tells me that this is not how I want to be addressed. Then embrace it and reflect on it instead of defending myself.”
Leo: “I think we must be open and acknowledge that we are not as inclusive as we think and want to be. We must realise that there is still a long way to go and that there are no shortcuts. There are still so many problems that we need to address before we can even get close to what the goal is. But the most important thing is that we strive for it and do our best. That you try to be critical in a constructive way towards yourself and towards others around you. We sometimes have to take a step back and listen to other people and their needs.”
Finally, I asked you to send a picture with a sign telling us what the theme of Copenhagen 2021 #YouAreIncluded means to you. So what does it mean to you?
Lukas: “For me, it means more that others should feel included more than that I should. On the other hand, I have the privilege of being able to include others.”
Leo: “To feel that the body can exist – to be loved by oneself regardless of whether you have had surgery or have invisible scars. Your body is here – it has made it through everything, and it is beautiful for it. At Pride, you are allowed to really show it or not if you don’t want to. For me it also means to be allowed to have your body without feeling that you have to walk a certain way or hide it a certain way or dress a certain way. To just be allowed to break all norms. In the queer community, we have body norms that are harmful – We must look a certain way. We must be trained and slim. But it is an image that I do not think is at all representative of our community that consists of so many different varieties. I hope it’s something we can all work on.”
Thais: “It’s a chance to start over. Everyone should be allowed to participate. No one should be excluded from LGBTI +. It also means that I have the right to be myself and I should not have to think about what others think. And that Copenhagen 2021 is no place for discrimination, but a place for you to be able to be yourself no matter who you are.”
Text by: Anders Kungsman
Featured image: Wilfred Gachau
Learn more on how it is to be young and LGBTI+ in Copenhagen in last weeks episode of the #YouAreIncluded podcast.