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social sciences

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The world's first transsexual was the Danish painter Andreas Wegener (1886-1931), who in 1930 underwent sex change operations in Berlin and Dresden. As a tribute to the latter city, Andreas changed his name to Lili Elbe, named after the river running through Dresden. Elbe's memoir, Man into Woman, was translated into English in 1933. It became a transsexual bible. In 2000, the Elbe story was retold in David Ebershoff's novel, The Danish Girl.

Another series of sex change operations took place in Copenhagen in the years 1951 to 1953. George Jorgensen, an American of Danish descent, became Christine Jorgenson (1925-1989). Jorgensen became an international celebrity, and used her fame to educate people about transexuality.

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Gay and Lesbian Liberation

With the rise of radical feminism, lesbians and gay men in the 1970s challenged the apologetic politics of the homophile movement and protested openly against patriarchy, capitalism, and sexual oppression. Gayness was flaunted as a progressive and revolutionary life style, especially by the Gay Liberation Front.

Many lesbians, tired of the male dominance of the homophile movement, chose feminism as their arena. Radical lesbians founded the Lesbian Movement. Debates in the lesbian community focused on the ethics of "woman-identified women," who considered lesbianism primarily a way to fight patriarchy, and "the bad girls," who experimented with older forms of role playing (butch/femme), penetration, and S&M. Pop star Anne Linnet (born 1953) left mainstream music and caused a stir by dealing with S&M and lesbianism in her band "Marquis de Sade."


The League of 1948, now renamed "The National Association of Gays and Lesbians," integrated elements of both the Lesbian Movement and the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s. Yet its politics were assimilationist rather than subversive, an approach especially suited to Denmark's tradition of accommodation.

Like other Nordic countries, Denmark has a political tradition of consensus and discussion. That, together with the country's remarkable cultural and ethnic homogeneity, explains why homosexuals never became a "minority," but rather an "interest group" in Danish politics. This explains also the surprisingly small subcultural manifestations of glbtq life, even in the major city of Copenhagen. Danish typically see themselves as Danes before anything else. They do not feel alienated from the larger society, but see themselves as a part of it.

Homosexual Marriage

Denmark's liberal attitude towards sexuality resulted in the decriminalization of pornography in 1969, an event that made the country a leader in the international sexual revolution. Since then, Danish laws and policies in the area of sexual expression have been notably progressive.

Perhaps because of the Danish tradition of liberalism in sexual matters, the AIDS crisis of the 1980s did not lead to an increased level of homophobia. National information campaigns about the disease were closely coordinated with homosexual community leaders. Tourists were surprised to see huge condom ads on the sides of city buses.

In 1987, the Danish Parliament adopted a statute forbidding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 1989 Denmark became the first country to introduce the "registered partnership"--also known as "gay marriage"--that granted same-sex couples most of the financial benefits and civil rights of heterosexual couples. Skeptics argue that the bill merely demonstrates that the institution of marriage is now a hollow category. Still, the symbolic impact of the bill is hard to ignore; it clearly signals the country's commitment to equality for its glbtq citizens.

In 1997, the dominant Lutheran state church began blessing homosexual partnerships. Many politicians and other public persons are now openly queer.

In March 2009, Danish lawmakers, over the objection of the government, approved a law granting gay couples equal rights in adoption.

Current debates concern artificial insemination and the predicament of queer second generation immigrants from Muslim families.

Dag Heede

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social sciences >> Overview:  Aversion Therapy

A form of behavior modification that employs unpleasant and sometimes painful stimuli, aversion therapy was one of the more popular treatments for homosexuality and cross-dressing in the 1950s and 1960s.

social sciences >> Overview:  Copenhagen

Copenhagen is the most open and relaxed city in Scandinavia, and has become a popular tourist destination for glbtq people from around the world.

literature >> Overview:  Danish Literature

In the last two centuries, Danish writers have explored gay male and lesbian issues both indirectly and directly.

social sciences >> Overview:  Finland

Like other Nordic countries, Finland is liberal in regards to gay rights, though it has been slower than its neighbors to assure glbtq equality.

social sciences >> Overview:  Iceland

In recent decades, gay men and lesbians in Iceland have made significant legal advances, but life continues to be difficult for glbtq people outside the capital.

social sciences >> Overview:  Lutheranism

Lutheranism is riven into numerous denominations, which vary widely in their attitudes toward homosexuality and in their acceptance of gay men and lesbians as full participants in church life.

social sciences >> Overview:  Military Culture: European

Attitudes toward gay and lesbian personnel in European militaries vary widely, from the acceptance of the Dutch to the laissez-faire policy of the French to the rejection of the Greek and Turkish forces.

social sciences >> Overview:   Norway

Like most Scandinavian countries, Norway respects glbtq rights, and Norwegians are broadly tolerant of homosexuals.

social sciences >> Overview:  Prague

The capital and largest city of the Czech Republic, Prague is the hub of the country's gay and lesbian life and the center of its glbtq political movement.

social sciences >> Overview:  Same-Sex Marriage

Lesbian and gay couples have been fighting for the freedom to marry since the dawn of the modern glbtq struggle for equality; despite some success abroad, progress toward same-sex marriage in the United States has been slow.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sodomy

First used to refer only to anal intercourse, sodomy was progressively defined by the Church Fathers, and many later lawmakers, to include all sexual acts that could not result in procreation.

social sciences >> Overview:  Switzerland

Switzerland is a very cosmopolitan nation with a vibrant glbtq community, but it has lagged behind much of Europe, particularly the Nordic countries, when it comes to assuring equal rights.

literature >> Andersen, Hans Christian

Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen was probably bisexual in orientation, though he may well have remained a virgin.

arts >> Elbe, Lili

Einar Wegener, a male Danish painter of some renown, became Lili Elbe, one of the world's first male-to-female transsexuals to undergo sexual reassignment surgery.

social sciences >> Gay Liberation Front

Formed soon after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the short-lived but influential Gay Liberation Front brought a new militancy to the movement that became known as gay liberation.

arts >> Jorgensen, Christine

Actress, singer, and writer Christine Jorgenson was not the first male-to-female transsexual to undergo sex reassignment surgery, but the publicity surrounding her case enabled her to educate the public about the differences between homosexuality, transvestism, and transsexualtiy.

literature >> Sade, Marquis de

Whether or not the Marquis de Sade was himself bisexual, homosexual activity is an important item in his program of revolutionary sexual libertinism.


Bech, Henning. "Report from a Rotten State: 'Marriage' and 'Homosexuality' in 'Denmark.'" Modern Homosexualities. Ken Plummer, ed. London: Routledge, 1992. 134-47.

________. When Men Meet. Homosexuality and Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997.

Elbe, Lili. Man into Woman: An Authentic Record of a Change of Sex. London: Dutton, 1933.

Lützen, Karin. "Gay and Lesbian Politics: Assimilation or Subversion: A Danish Perspective." Scandinavian Homosexualities: Essays on Gay and Lesbian Studies. Jan Löfström, ed. New York: Harrington Park Press, 1998. 233-43.

von Rosen, Wilhelm. "Almost Nothing: Male-Male Sex in Denmark, 1550-1800." Siting Queer Masculinities, 1550-1800. Michael O'Rourke, ed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming.

_____. Månens Kulør. Studier i dansk bøssehistorie 1628-1912. Copenhagen: Rhodos, 1993.

_____. "A Short History of Gay Denmark 1613-1989." Nordisk Sexologi 2 (1994): 125-36.

_____. "Sodomy in Early Modern Denmark: A Crime without Victims." Journal of Homosexuality 16.1-2 (1988): 177-204.


    Citation Information
    Author: Heede, Dag  
    Entry Title: Denmark  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated March 17, 2009  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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