My Pride2020 - Lars Oskan-Henriksen Chair of Copenhagen Pride

Lars is Chair of Copenhagen Pride and an InterPride Regional Director for the Nordic region.

Lars, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing the LGBTI community in Europe right now?

The surge of right wing politics across the globe that elects leaders with autocratic tendencies and anti-LGBTI agendas. In country after country, the systems and insurances that were set up after the second world war to prevent a similar ostracisation of certain groups within the population and subsequent genocide to ever happen again are debated, questioned and in some cases discarded.

The LGBTI+ community is one of the main targets of this and I believe that we need to address this as we would have hoped the dehumanisation of the Jewish populations in Europe had been addressed in the 1930s. We simply don’t have the excuse that we are caught unawares. We know what this can lead to and we must act.

The development might be most tangible in central European countries, but the tendencies we see in every European country and it has to be dealt with for what it is. If we think it is a phase, something that will pass, that ‘we know our compatriots, they are not like that’, we will end up in a fight for our lives. Because some of them are! And there are people out there, who are out to exterminate us. So now is the time to speak up. Now is the time to be aware, now is the time to be or become political.

Another challenge is the disconnect between the two extremes in Europe, when it comes to the situation in Europe: the super liberal northwestern countries with a high degree of LGBTI+ equality and the very reactionary, religiously influenced countries in central and southern Europe. We must combat the complacency of the northern Europeans and rally them to our common cause. If we in the north west lean back and do not stand firm and use our voice, power and platforms to stand in solidarity with the rest of the world, we will all end up loosing.

How can the Pride movement help to combat these challenges?

To constantly reaffirm the commitment to LGBTI+ rights as human rights and to raise the awareness that human rights are neither natural, unalienable nor universal, but random, volatile and situational. And they are not rights that are inherent, but some that we may be stripped off at any moment if we allow our opponents to gain ground. When politicians and decision makers march with us, they should do it under an obligation to join our cause, to raise our challenges at home and abroad whenever they can. To always let human beings and the safety and integrity of each person weigh heavier than trade deals and good diplomatic terms. We must obligate them to call out bigotry and discrimination and to literally walk the talk. If you march with us – you also need to act.

I also believe that the Pride movement in a very important way supports the coherence and solidarity of our movement. When we march, we show our city the strength, courage and solidarity of our movement and these are all things that we as activists need if we are to continue our work. It is the fuel for our engines.

What’s your biggest hope for Pride in 2020?

My hope for Pride 2020 is that many of the Prides around Europe that in recent years have experienced violence and hateful opposition are allowed to march peacefully. I often say that we are not a movement that is against anything: we are a positive movement working for the safety, protection and respect of every individual and a movement that celebrates diversity, because it makes us richer and wiser. I solemnly hope that this is understood by those who are afraid of us and who oppose us. I truly believe that Pride in every city will help break down stereotypes and divisions. I also hope, that we show solidarity towards one another within the movement and make sure to include and support those, who face the most vitriolic opposition.

Lars speaking at the Danish Ambassador’s residence in Warsaw following the Polish Prides Conference, January 2020

Looking further ahead, how would you like to see Pride develop in the rest of the decade?

I see Pride as a powerful instrument for positive change not only for LGBTI+ people, but for all people. in a time, where the individual is very much front and centre of everything, I believe that we are capable of uniting in solidarity around the idea, that respect for the individual is not an individualistic ideology, but an effort that requires unity, solidarity and community. The Pride movement has the potential to be this vehicle for positive change that bridges the divide between minority and majority sexual orientations and gender identities and be the framework for a movement that replaces individualistic, nationalistic, phobic attitudes with respect, compassion, responsibility, sustainability and globalism.

Which Prides are you really looking forward to visiting in 2020 or beyond?

I am always looking forward to Sofia Pride, which is one of my favourite Prides. EuroPride in Thessaloniki will be very exciting, and a way to see many friends at once. I also look forward to march in Istanbul Pride, because it is so challenged and needs international attention.

My own Pride is always a highlight and looking to the future, I CANNOT WAIT to welcome the entire global community to Copenhagen when we host WorldPride in 2021. There is so much potential for change, empowerment and community building in what we plan, but we need all the fierce activists and allies to join us to realise the potential. My dream is that people return from WorldPride with a sense of renewed energy, stronger focus and better relations, along us all to continue our fight.

Finally, what’s your most cherished memory of a Pride?

There are so many. One is from Copenhagen Pride 2019, when we asked trans children and their parents to lead the march. I walked in the group behind them and followed 11 year-old Alex who was shining from excitement as he – through the entire route – literally high-fived every spectator as he marched past. He told me that this was his first time experiencing ‘so many, who are just like me’, That is exactly what Pride is for me. Giving people the sensation of not being alone, but to be cheered, cherished and recognised. I still tear up when I think of that experience and the impact it had on Alex. As a result, Copenhagen Pride has decided to use our revenue from last year’s Pride to organise a summer camp for trans children/youth and their parents, to allow more kids and young people to understand, that they are not alone. That they have a community that has their back and that they are brilliant, fabulous kids, who deserve all the love and respect and carefreeness that all children deserve.

Images: Wilfred Gachau, Steve Taylor

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