Being LGBTQ in Scandinavia

Often regarded as a safe-haven for the LGBTQ community, Scandinavia is one of the safest travel destinations in Europe for trans and queer people. As a non-binary queer person, I have had a first-hand look into LGBTQ life in Scandinavia.

“There’s magic in being seen by people who understand—it gives you permission to keep going.”

Alok Vaid-Menon, Breaking the Gender Binary

Stockholm and Copenhagen host some of the biggest LGBTQ pride events in northern Europe. In 2021, Malmo and Copenhagen hosted EuroPride, an international pride festival that has one of the largest pride parades in the world. In addition to these, both Gothenburg, Sweden and Oslo, Norway have been host to international pride festivities.

LGBTQ pride month is June in the US, marked by the Stonewall riots led by trans and queer activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. In Scandinavia however, pride is celebrated over the summer as a whole, as each country’s pride is different. Stockholm Pride unfortunately occurs after the DIS summer sessions, but if you stick around into early August you can experience the biggest pride festival in Scandinavia. For those in Copenhagen, you can hop across the shore to Malmo for their pride festival, which is typically the first week of June.

Stockholm and Copenhagen not only have pride festivals, but often host a multitude of queer artists and events. In Stockholm I was able to see musical artist and gay icon Elton John on his Farewell Europe Tour, as well attend s a lesbian and queer women event during session one. If you’re an ABBA fan, you must stop by the ABBA museum to grab some pride gear and see the queer icons’ perfectly preserved costumes and instruments.

Although pride and queer-based festivals are important, the day-to-day environment is what determines the safety, culture, and acceptance for the LGBTQ community. One of the best things about both Copenhagen and Stockholm is that support is not limited to pride months, with rainbow flags visible year-round.

Although there is no designated queer neighborhood, the vast majority of spaces are queer-friendly, and people are allowed to love and express themselves openly. My favorite two specifically queer spots were the Bastard Cafe in Copenhagen and The Secret Garden in Stockholm. Both offer relaxed bistro vibes, as well as special events and game nights all summer long.

Although I also identify as queer, being non-binary greatly affects my experiences traveling and studying abroad. I can say that I have felt safer and more accepted here in Scandinavia than I have elsewhere in both Europe and the United States. I have spent more time in Sweden than Denmark, so my accounts are mainly from the Stockholm perspective. Nonetheless, I have had great experiences in both locations.

One of the vital parts of creating a safe and accepting environment is inclusive pronouns. Luckily, Swedish and Danish have a gender neutral pronoun, hen, that accompanies the binary male and female pronouns; Han and Hon (Swedish), and Han and Hun (Danish). The people in both countries (from my experiences) are very open to gender-neutral pronouns, and will respect whichever ones you wish to identify with.

In my session one course, Transgender in Scandinavia, I was able to learn what reality is like for trans and non-binary people in Scandinavia. Denmark and Sweden have been a safe space for LGBTQ people for decades, with the countries decriminalizing homosexuality in 1933 and 1944 respectively, over 75 years ago.

Life for trans and non-binary folks has been a bit different. Sweden was one of the first countries to recognize and support gender reassignment, but has recently begun restricting opportunities for minors to receive gender-affirming care, following similar waves of movements from other countries. Despite this, the public health care systems in Scandinavia are generally more supportive of trans and non-binary people who wish to receive care.  

It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.

Laverne Cox

My experience in Scandinavia has been overwhelmingly positive in comparison to other parts of Europe or even back home in Iowa. Before coming to DIS I was traveling in Lithuania, where I attempted to get my hair cut. I was shockingly turned away from three salons, who cited being “unable to cut men’s hairstyles”, as well as three barbers, who said they “do not cut women’s hair”. I felt so defeated and dysphoric, as I had never experienced anything that negative due to my gender identity before.

My first day in Stockholm after class, I went to a hair salon and nervously asked if they could cut my short-styled  hair. They responded “Of course, we cut everyone’s hair”. I immediately felt relieved, and I can say it was one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had. That experience was all I needed to know about Stockholm, and I immediately felt at ease in the “queer capital” of the north.

Overall, I have felt very welcomed and accepted in both Stockholm and Copenhagen. Whether it be an Elton John concert, pride event, public park, or simply getting a haircut, Scandinavia has allowed me to fully be myself, including both my non-binary and queer identities. I have felt safe, respected, and accepted here, and I know I will be back to experience Stockholm and Copenhagen Pride in the summers to come.

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