As if you needed another reason to travel across Europe, Copenhagen was just named the most gay-friendly city in the world by Lonely Planet.
The capitol city of Denmark recently celebrated it’s 25th anniversary as the first city in the world to allow same-sex civil unions. Same-sex marriage has been legal there since 2012. In July, one of the city’s main squares was renamed “Rainbow Square” to commemorate the Gay Pride movement.
I’ve never been to Copenhagen. Until now, whenever I thought of the city, I thought of Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, a devastating novella that many kids read in high school about a Jewish family that escapes Copenhagen during the Nazi Occupation of Denmark during WWII.
What is still overlooked by much of Holocaust literature is the fact that gay men and women, Jewish or not, were also sent to camps like Auschwitz and received some of the worst treatments there. (Paragraph 175 is a documentary that details the extra torture that gays and lesbians experienced in concentration camps.)
By 2014, most of the Western world has changed. But despite great progress in Europe and the United States — despite places like Copenhagen, Denmark — there are still ten countries, by the Washington Posts’s count, that still punish homosexuality with death: Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Sudan, Nigeria, Mauritania, Qatar, Somalia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Aside from Somalia, Mauritania, and Nigeria, all but eight countries in Africa condemn homosexuality as illegal — deserving life imprisonment. The remaining eight don’t outlaw homosexuality only by a technicality, as there are no laws, for or against, regarding homosexuality in these countries. Out of the entire African continent, only one country, South Africa, allows same-sex marriage.
Homosexuality is illegal, but not deserving of the death penalty, in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Homosexuality is even illegal in Guyana, South America.
On paper, Russia does not outlaw homosexuality, just every visual representation or expression of it.
And in these United States, same-sex marriage is still only allowed in certain states because some Republicans want to keep fighting a tired battle long after their country has shifted significantly in its opinion on this issue.
[Update: In the year after this post was written, we won it!]
With all this data, cities like Copenhagen shine like small beacons of sanctuary in a still bleak landscape. Here in the U.S., we see homos and trans folk popping up everywhere in television and pop music, but let’s not trick ourselves into thinking the fight is over, or allow ourselves to celebrate victory when there are still countries out there that kill us.
The world can easily be divided into welcoming zones and places of fierce antigay opposition. This is true from country to country, and within countries like the United States — city to city, region to region. Atlanta, for example, is a gay mecca, but if you drive ten miles outside the city limits, you’re in rural, country Georgia. You’re in farmland where kids still get beaten for being queer.
What would it take for Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, to become Copenhagen?
I think the bad ingredients of hate have been in these places for centuries. Today we have regions of the world so mired in archaic beliefs that better questions to ask might be: How can we get these LGBT people out of these unfriendly places? How can we give them the hope and resources they need?
Homophobia doesn’t baffle me, because I used to be very religious and I know how religious minds work. It’s easy to blind yourself, to delude yourself and to exist in a fantasy about how the world works and who is good and who is evil. Religious and nonreligious people alike do this all the time. Some people hate fans of opposing sports teams. Some cosplayers get really into a game and walk around all day telling themselves they’re a warrior prince elf or a Jedi or whatever. It’s easy to believe in fairy tales.
In fairy tales, there is always an opponent, always a villain and his baddies, always people you have to battle. We homos are those people, those baddies, to those who really and sincerely believe that God made all this and gives people missions (to blow up buildings or whatever) and sets down simple rules: Don’t murder. Don’t steal. And don’t be a fag.
Battling these ideas is going to be very hard, because religion is oftentimes the only thing keeping people going. It’s their everything. It’s hope and guidance for thousands of poor, uneducated people across the world. It’s a tool of coercion and power for lots of rich people who own and manipulate them. We we have a long way to go.
When we win national marriage equality in the United States — and we will — we can’t trick ourselves into thinking that such a victory marks an end to LGBT rights. Transgender rights, same-sex adoption rights, anti-discrimination policies in the housing market and workplace, hate crime legislation, and those horrifying anti-sodomy laws that unbelievably still exist in many states — are our next battleground. These are fights we cannot become complacent about.
Since we live in such a rapidly-progressing Western world, we need to turn our attention to the places overlooked by LGBT rights: Africa, the Middle East, Japan, China. A victor’s sense of complacency, of having “won,” means others — our brothers and sisters abroad — will suffer. Don’t let them.