This summer, in the city where I live, the rainbow flags are everywhere — up in the alleys, on top of buildings, and even outside the important looking official buildings. It’s not just the flags; the doors of the buildings have been painted in rainbow colours and so are the benches on the walking street. The rainbow flag is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community (together referred to as ‘LGBTI+’ community). Both Malmö in Sweden, and the Danish capital, Copenhagen, are painted all over in rainbow hues as they were hosting the WorldPride 2021.
This was supposed to be a marquee event in Greater Copenhagen (the Danish capital encompassing the southern Swedish region of Skåne as well). However, the ongoing pandemic made the arrangements difficult. By some estimates, only about 6,000 people showed up instead of more than 20,000 who were expected. Moreover, the centrepiece of the event — the Pride March — was replaced by a series of smaller campaigns. Some would call this event a failure and possibly point it out as a mistake to organise it amidst the pandemic. I think otherwise though.
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For months, I have been walking the streets where the rainbow flags waved in the summer air, and sat on the cheerful, multi-coloured benches. Initially, I wondered why a city would make such an effort for an event that was still months in the making. Then it slowly began to sink in. Being amenable to diversity doesn’t come easy. While we are becoming accommodating to people from different religions and cultures, have we — or rather I — become open to accepting this unique celebration of equality?
I didn’t want to answer my own question for I feared what may come up. While I walked the streets of Malmö and Copenhagen, the colourful reminders nudged me to consider my own biases. For instance, I looked back into my friend circle and questioned if there was any gay, lesbian or bisexual who I knew. “None” came the answer and I felt ashamed. I wondered why this was the case.
The answer lies in exposure. Over the years, people have become more accepting of people from other faiths because we are travelling more and as a result gaining far more exposure than any of our previous generations ever had. These travels to different places opened us to different cultures and in doing so gently stripped away our prejudices. Today, for instance, one of my most favourite travel memories has been tasting hummus for the first time several years back in Doha when a stranger sitting on the next table insisted I do so. He had watched me, a naive vegetarian, scratching his head over the complex menu. He came over and sat beside me and explained the intricacies of middle eastern cuisine and how it includes a sizable offering for the vegetarians as well. With that meal, and that friendly encounter, melted away one reluctance, one bias.
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By putting this effort behind WorldPride, in running various awareness campaigns (under the aptly named handle #YouAreIncluded), in letting these marches happen, the authorities and the volunteer groups were doing the same. They created an environment to nudge us to ponder on the topics that would have otherwise been far removed from my daily priorities. The WorldPride was accompanied by EuroGames, an LGBTI+ inclusive event that was happening in the same week and was touted as ‘the most inclusive sporting event ever’. EuroGames included 22 sports events and these were open to the general public with mixed representations in the teams to include male, female and LGBTI+ members.
I decided to watch up and close and support Pride activities in Copenhagen. As I watched these events unfold one weekend, a realisation struck. So far, I have travelled to catch beauty, be it in the snow-covered mountains, the dense forests, or in beguiling cities, but rarely have I travelled to challenge my beliefs and question my prejudices. It’s high time that I do so, and what better way to discover these unexpected learning opportunities than to travel.