Close-up: Lars Henriksen

Meet Lars Henriksen, the chairperson of Copenhagen Pride. We caught up with the highly energetic festival manager and LGBT+ front figure for an intimate talk about pride, rainbow power and the more personal stuff.

Close-up: Lars Henriksen

If you happen to spot a man with quite the impressive moustache wearing a very colourful suit jacket and a neatly tied equally colourful bow tie biking through the streets of the capital, chances are it just might be Lars Henriksen, the nonpareil chairperson of Copenhagen Pride. Since 2013 he has focused on developing the organisation and expanding the activities of Copenhagen Pride which now also include an annual Winter Pride Week in the Danish capital coming up on 5 – 11 February.

“The idea of Winter Pride is to create a space for the committed conversation. When we developed the brand initially it was important to us to create a festival with a clearly distinguished identity that stood out from the summer pride festival”, Lars explains.

Human rights and inclusion on top of the agenda
Lars was elected chairperson of the board of Copenhagen Pride in November 2013 and the last four years have brought lots of good news and positive development for the organisation.

“I think we have achieved three important goals that we set 4 years ago: To engage all of the LGBTQIA community in Copenhagen Pride and make the festival safe and welcoming to all groups. We have seen a growth in participation every year, and I consider this a clear indication that we are moving in the right direction. It is important, however, to not rest on the laurels but instead work to maintain this commitment to true inclusion and diversity. Secondly, we have increased the focus on Copenhagen Pride as a political organisation and Copenhagen Pride Week in August as a human rights festival. I believe that to be the greatest achievement because it has made it evident why pride is still important and relevant. Thirdly, winning the bid for WorldPride in Copenhagen in 2021 is a dream come true and I cannot wait to celebrate love, hope and diversity with all of Copenhagen and the rest of the world”, says Lars Henriksen.

The legacy of WorldPride
WorldPride in Copenhagen is less than four years out, and Lars hopes and believes that a global mega event such as this will leave behind a lasting legacy and create positive results.

“For me personally, World Outgames in Copenhagen in 2009 remains a memory of – for the first time ever – being part of the majority. Everywhere you looked there were rainbows and same-sex couples holding hands. We really made our mark on the city. And for me it was a truly transformative experience, that showed me the power of visibility and sheer numbers. That feeling is part of what I want to pass on to a new generation of young LGBTQIAs who deserve to know, that they are part of a global, supportive community that is both strong, vibrant, innovative, caring and resilient”, Lars says and continues:

“Every year after Copenhagen Pride Week we receive letters and emails from people who have felt included for the first time in their lives. Those personal experiences make it all worth it because people are given the strength to deal with their everyday challenges. Obviously, I also hope that WorldPride in Copenhagen in 2021 will push the agenda forward significantly on LGBTQIA issues not only in Denmark but in other countries too. That the event will raise general awareness of our lives and challenges, and that politicians will see this as an opportunity to right all historical wrongs once and for all, and finally ensure that we have full equality and protection for LGBTQIA individuals in Denmark”.

Driving the change
When you meet Lars Henriksen in person it is impossible not to notice the energy, drive and dedication, and his motivation for working with Copenhagen Pride and joining the organisation in the first place is all about driving a change.

“I have always been involved in all sorts of things wherever I lived or whatever my circumstances. It is an integral part of me that if I want something done, then I should get a move on and go do something. I was a volunteer during Copenhagen Pride Week for 8 years in a row before I decided to run for chairperson in 2013, and I did that because I saw a lot of potential in the organisation and because there was a void waiting to be filled”.

“When I work for other LGBTQIA people’s lives – whether in Denmark or abroad – I work for my own life at the same time. My hope is that the efforts I put into Copenhagen Pride and the work my board has done with me over the years, will hopefully make it a little bit easier for young people to come out and be true to their nature than it was for young people in my generation”, Lars says.

With privilege comes responsibility
Being this much involved in the LGBT+ community and working with pride and diversity have also taught the chairperson some valuable lessons and provided a broader perspective.

“I have become a lot more aware of my own privilege as a cisgender, white male. And of the responsibility that comes with privilege. I am not ashamed of my privilege because much of it is down to circumstances beyond my control, but I am responsible for how I administer my privilege. It may seem that many of us share the same prerequisities when we meet in any given situation – at work, in education or during Copenhagen Pride Week – but it is important to understand and be aware of the fact that we have not all taken the same route to get here. For some the road is a lot longer and with more obstacles than for others. Often the start signal is given before everyone has even reached the starting line, and for those who start out far behind it is less likely that they will end up in the front. Therefore we must give ourselves the task to try to get everyone on board, and work to eradicate these structural disadvantages that some people face”, Lars explains, while underlining the importance of recognising that each group and each individual face its own specific challenges.

“Just take a look at the LGBTQIA community. Even under the acronym there are some groups that are discriminated against more than others – both legally and socially – and these must be our most immediate concern and responsibility. And apart from regarding people as groups, each individual person is unique and has their own set of talents and challenges too”.

Many fascinating stories
Lars also feels lucky to have gotten to know so many different people through his work at Copenhagen Pride, and having an open mind is key to enlightening encounters.

“When you take the time and actually sit down and listen to people it is amazing how many fascinating stories and experiences there are in our community, and how many incredibly strong people there are. I wish we could be better at not prejudging others and instead allow ourselves to actually get to know one another. I feel very blessed for being allowed into so many people’s confidence”.

As for Lars himself, he is a living proof that fascinating stories are abound in our community. He has been a school teacher, a farmer and an opera singer in the past and even wrote a book about a special Danish dog breed at some point. So what is it that triggers him to throw all his energy into a project?

“I wish to do something good and something just, and I want to do it well. I was brought up with a sense of obligation, I think. Obligation to talent and privilege. To put to good use whatever you were given. And from my grandmother I got a strong sense of community. That sharing is caring, as the word goes. She was never a wealthy woman, but she always had something to give out and anything could and should be shared. She was not philosophical about it. She lived the example, that I am trying to follow. Solidarity was an important word in her vocabulary and her nature. Additionally, I am just easily agitated and turned on by many things. And often, I am more content with the way things turn out, if I sense, that I have had an influence on how they were planned and executed”.

LGBT+ rights under pressure
So for the time being, Lars Henriksen is putting his strong sense of community and his wish to create change into excellent use as the chairperson of Copenhagen Pride, and while Denmark in 2018 at first glance might seem to be a happy and content rainbow country, there are still numerous battles to fight and plenty of reasons for why pride is still necessary.

“Even in Denmark who is number 5 on the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index of LGBT inclusion, we still only score 68% out of a possible 100. We, who are in the absolute elite when it comes to not discriminating against LGBTQIA individuals, still have a third of the way to go towards full equality and protection. That tells you a lot about how dire the situation is around the world. And history has shown us in recent years, that hard won rights and privileges are not universal and unalienable, as we had been taught, but can be denied us again a lot easier than they were granted us, if the political climate changes. We have seen this in Russia and a number of Eastern European countries very directly, but even in a country such as the United States, LGBTQIA rights are currently under pressure. This is distressing, it is worrying and it should be a battle cry for our movement. The minute we become complacent, or stop insisting on our rights to respect and equality, we are tread under foot. It is pivotal, that we keep insisting, that we remain visible and vocal, and that we stand united – across groups and across national borders. It is human rights we are fighting for, and they are not a relative concept. We have got to insist, that regardless of where you live or who you are, you are born human and are therefore entitled to respect, protection under the law and equal opportunities. The minute we divert from that, we have lost some of our own humanity. Copenhagen Pride is part of a global community of prides and each and every one of us are a brick in the foundation, we are building for our common home as members of a global family of LGBTQIA people”.

What comes after pride?
It goes without mentioning that Lars Henriksen plans to remain the front person of Copenhagen Pride at least until after WorldPride in 2021, but what are his plans further out in the future? What could possibly follow a pride career?

“Honestly, I have not thought that far ahead. I am thoroughly happy about what I do right now. I am a political person and an activist at heart, so I cannot imagine to not work to improve lives for myself and others. I hope that opportunities will present themselves over the next years, that will guide me to where I am to go. But if you look back at my life, I have never followed what you could call a planned career or looked to gain neither financial nor other kind of prestige. I am adaptable, open and energetic, and generally I am always the happiest when doing exactly what I do at that moment. I don’t regret any of what I have done, and I am very open to new challenges. But a clear driving force for me, is that it must be fun and meaningful. Money does not provide an incentive in my world. It is a means, not an and”.

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