15 April 2013

Homosexuality has become an image of modernity in Denmark

gender studies

New research from the University of Copenhagen shows how public opinion on homosexuality has changed dramatically over the past 25 years. In his PhD thesis Somewhere, over the Rainbow Michael Nebeling Petersen analyses Danish legislation, press coverage and films and concludes that homosexuality has become a symbol of liberal Danish values.

Foto: Björn Söderqvist, flickr.com

Copenhagen Pride Parade
Photo: Björn Söderqvist, flickr.com

In 1999, Danish homosexuals were granted access to stepchild adoption, and after the 2001 general election, legislation to improve homosexuals' rights was introduced in the Danish Parliament. In the subsequent negotiations many politicians spoke of homosexuals as central to the understanding of Danish values. This was in stark contrast to similar negotiations in 1989 when Parliament passed the Same-Sex Marriage Act:

"My research shows a fundamental change in the public conception of homosexuality in Denmark; homosexuals were associated with degeneration, suicide, AIDS, and disease but are now associated with life, reproduction, national recognition, marriage, and kinship," says PhD Michael Nebeling Petersen from the Department of Scandinavian Studies and Linguistics at the University of Copenhagen.  

In the 1989 negotiations, homosexuals were accepted only insofar as that they did not interfere with the heterosexual marriage, but 10 years later they had become symbols of marriage, monogamy, and the nuclear family:

"Homosexuality is no longer 'the Other'; it is that which sustains 'normal family life', Michael Nebeling Petersen points out.

Modern Denmark

According to Michael Nebeling Petersen, homosexuality has become a symbol of liberal Danish values.

"When the Same-Sex Marriage Act was being negotiated in 1989, homosexuality was tolerated, but at the same time considered a threat to our national reputation. By the Millennium, a homosexual has become a figure who can represent national and religious communities and be an important element in the construction of a modern and liberal Denmark."

Michael Nebeling Petersen's research includes analyses of press coverage of the annual Danish Gay Pride Parade and the World Out Games in Denmark in 2009 as well as recent feature films. In these two events and in films such as Rosa Morena from 2010, homosexuality is completely incorporated into an image of liberal Denmark.  However, now other minorities, who are being accused of homophobia, are seen as threats to societal stability – just as homosexuals were 20 years ago.


PhD Michael Nebeling Petersen 
University of Copenhagen
Phone: + 45 26 27 71 47

Press officer Henrik Friis
Faculty of Humanities
Phone: + 45 20 56 91 12