By Siân Kavanagh, photos by Siân Kavanagh and DiverseCity
Imagine living in a country where you don’t feel safe to show who you really are. Imagine that you live in world that does not seem to understand you. You are lonely. And this loneliness easily leads to anxiety and depression.
More often than not, this is the reality of many young people who identify themselves as LGBTQA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Asexual, and many other labels are contained within the acronym).
Crown Princess Mary of Denmark addressed this issue at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018. She remarked that, “Even as we enter 2018, too many lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersex people continue to be victims of hatred, violence, discrimination, bullying and ill-treatment, and this we cannot, and must not, accept.”
DiverseCity is a student group at Aarhus University that helps to combat the challenges facing students who identify as LGBTQA+. By building a friendly community, where young people can meet regularly, the organisation wants to create a safe space, inclusive for all students, especially internationals. This is why all their events are held in English.
“We try to make sure there is a sense of belonging, especially for students who are new to Aarhus and Denmark, so they can feel comfortable in a new community,” says Chairperson of DiverseCity, Simone Fuglsang Grooss, who has been attending DC events since 2016.
Compared to other countries, Danes are lucky to live in a place where there are many rights for LGBTQA+ people, however that doesn’t mean that Denmark is free from problems. “No matter where you are there will always be homophobic and transphobic people; there are always issues. There are still places [in Denmark] where it’s not safe to walk down the street holding your partner’s hand. Everyone has different experiences,” says Simone.
Vice Chairperson of DC, Pouline Madsen Bjerregaard adds: “I’ve faced misunderstandings and transphobia [in Denmark]. Finding [DiverseCity] and fellow peers has changed my life for the better.”.
Pouline has lived in Aarhus since 2009. She started attending and organising DiverseCity events in 2011. Pouline reflects on the impact DiverseCity had on her life, “[It] means I can come to a place, let my hair down among [friends] and peers who understand me. […] We all have the common ground of being part of the LGBT community, we don’t need to talk about it, our life story, or coming out experience, and we don’t need to defend ourselves. Which is a nice break from the everyday hectic life.”
DiverseCity has managed to produce a space where anyone can come and feel accepted, without having to worry about how they’ll be received, instead of solely creating activities that focus only on the LGBTQA+ label. Though the group is organised by students, their events (such as quiz nights, dinners, visits to museums, and debates) have been attended by a diverse groups of people: students, alumni and community members as well. No one will be turned away from a DiverseCity event. “There’s no pressure to come out at DiverseCity or to explain yourself to us,” says Simone.
She continues, “We also are very respectful of people who come from countries or cultures that may be homophobic or where it isn’t safe for them to be open about themselves; we won’t out anyone. Safety comes first.”