Copenhagen’s LGBT+ community advocates that there is still a need for exclusive spaces

By Ruben McCarthy and Caelan Monkman

Kijoli Sofie Funder Yurary from LGBT Asylum – A centre in Copenhagen to help refugees and asylum seekers within the LGBT community. Photo: Caelan Monkman

Copenhagen frequently ranks high among the cities that are most accepting of LGBT+ people. Yet according to the most recent survey from the European Union agency for Fundamental rights,  44% of LGBT+ Danish people avoid often or always holding hands with their partner in Denmark.

Studiestræde is the main street in central Copenhagen for LGBT+ nightlife with small venues such as Cosy Bar, Masken and Jailhouse CPH. But these are primarily catering towards gay men.

Vela is the only lesbian bar in the city and has recently re-opened last month.

“I’d say there is a lot of variety in the spaces for gay men. Not so much otherwise. There was one lesbian bar only which has been closed for most of the COVID time and it’s just opened again, and it doesn’t do that well and it’s very old school and doesn’t have a good reputation”, says Nina Matusik, Partnership Coordinator for Copenhagen Pride.

Copenhagen Pride’s headquarters on Farvergade in the city centre. Photo: Caelan Monkman

Many lesbian bars face challenges keeping the doors open as their customers may have different lifestyle habits in comparison to gay culture.

“My suspicion is that maybe lesbians are not a crowd that is big spending. Maybe they start families and maybe they don’t go out as much as gay men once they’re in a relationship”, says Matusik.

Also, with the rise of popularity in dating apps, there may be less of a need for LGBT+ people to meet up in bars to meet their community and find relationships.

Oscar is the only LGBT+ café in the city, offering a non-smoking cosy atmosphere for those who don’t always want to go out drinking until late at night.

Jesper Andersen has been the manager for the past eight years and he believes that it’s important to have a community space where alcohol isn’t at the centre – especially for those with drinking problems, who still need a place to socialise.

“It’s the only queer café and we are one of a kind in Copenhagen. The other places are more like nightclubs or bars, so we are standing out in that way”, says Andersen.

Andersen has seen that exclusively LGBT+ spaces are especially important for the older generations.

“I know that a lot of the older crowd, they like to have a gay place because they are used to something else so, they feel some kind of security in a gay place”, added Andersen.

The Importance of a Safe Community Space for LGBT+ Minorities

Kijoli Sofie Funder Yurary is the Administrative Coordinator at LGBT Asylum’s headquarters in Copenhagen – an organisation that has helped over 400 LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers with counselling and support since 2012.

“Racism is a big issue. Then there is discrimination towards each other within the community. Some don’t like trans people, and some people don’t like whatever, whatever, even if they themselves identify within the LGBT+ community. They might not be into all the plusses, if you catch my drift”, says Yurary.

Refugees and asylum seekers in Denmark are much more vulnerable. So, there is often a huge reliance on anonymity and not necessarily wanting to be known that they are out, as it may place the person in great danger if they were forced to return to their home country where being LGBT+ is not accepted.

LGBT Asylum believes that exclusivity is often a necessity to provide safe spaces, especially in their own centre.

“We don’t let everybody into our community. Everybody gets vetted before. Even if you want to be a volunteer, you have to go through several steps of check-ups and interviews to make sure that you can provide that safe space for our members that they need”, says Yurary.

“We would hope that it wouldn’t be necessary, because I would hope that other people in the world feel a responsibility to take care of each other, and therefore, everybody should be, you know, included everywhere”, added Yurary.