‘No hate. No bigotry. Fight white supremacy!’: A case study of Nørrebro Pride and collective organising in the face of ongoing apocalypse
The apocalypse is often imagined to be an event about to happen and to be an act of revelation. Yet, while the apocalypse for some lurks in the future, for others it is lived reality already. In this article, we focus on QTIBIPoC (queer, trans, intersex, Black, indigenous, people of colour) who participated in Nørrebro Pride 2021 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Data from immersive, participatory and non–participatory, ethnographic fieldwork is analysed and situated in the historical context of LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) organising and Pride in Denmark, as well as the particularities of QTIBIPoC experiences in Denmark. We claim that Nørrebro Pride performs a dual act: it reveals the true nature of what QTIBIPoC must endure and it creates a temporary safe territory for QTIBIPoC to assemble and celebrate as an enduring, proud community. We contribute to research literature on apocalypse and organisation by demonstrating how a solidary community organises in response to a present apocalypse, in contrast to the solitary prepping for the end to come.
Introduction, or, apocalypse now
The apocalypse is often presented as an event about to happen, something to guard oneself from, and a doomsday for which to prepare (Campbell et al., 2019; Husted et al., 2023). The recent COVID-19 outbreak (Smith and Thomas, 2021), the onset of war in Europe and an escalating ecological catastrophe only exacerbates the sense of impending doom. But preparing for an imagined apocalyptic future completely and dismissively ignores that what to some are dys/utopian future scenarios, have long been experiences of continuous everyday apocalypse for many others who find themselves living in a ‘postapocalyptic’ reality where catastrophe is already here (Cassegård and Thörn, 2018). We claim that the apocalypse that some imagine as a future end of the world as we know it is contrasted by a contemporary, ongoing apocalypse that is the lived reality of others, rendering the apocalypse something to be endured and possibly escaped, not expected or delayed (Davidson and da Silva, 2022).
When someone says ‘apocalypse,’ we should reach for the world atlas and ask: ‘...whose world, exactly, is expected to end?’ (Mitchell and Chaudhury, 2020: 309). The word apocalypse has historically carried two meanings: end of the world and revelation or disclosure (Hall, 2009). ‘Apocalypse’ is both an event and an action noun. It is an event that does something. In contemporary, vernacular usage the term refers to cataclysmic events, disasters, and catastrophes of such scale to bring about the end of the world (Oxford English Dictionary). In this sense, the revelatory nature of apocalypse is tied to either the revelation of the word of God, a new world to come after the end, or the true nature of the world (Hall, 2009). Which is to say the manner in which the world ends reveals its true nature.
Importantly, however, the world that is ending and revealed is always a world to someone. Most religions and cultures have their eschatologies on the end of things. The Norse Ragnarok was the end of their world, like Chernobyl was the end of the world as the inhabitants of Pripyat knew and lived it (Alexievich, 2016). Relatedly, we are not arguing against the real risk of a mass extinction level event of the global ecological system collapsing, leaving Earth uninhabitable to most species. Nor are we sceptical towards the explanation that the culprit – in the anthropocene, capitalocene, and chthulucene epoch that we live in – is the economies, societies and cultures of exploitative, extractivist industrial capitalism (cf. Haraway, 2018). But what should not be left out of these apocalyptic stories is the plantationocene, that is, the necessary function of the institutions of colonialism and slave plantations to the system of industrial world capitalism (Haraway, 2018). For, the apocalyptic anxieties of the Global North, ushered in by global warming, have long been lived reality for countless peoples, both in the Global South and within the Global North (Davidson and da Silva, 2022). Thus, the privilege to articulate apocalypse in the future tense is also the privilege to be ignorant of the present apocalypse of so many others.
The revelation inherent in apocalypse is, however, not just about the end of the world:
Apocalypse as disclosure may unveil aspects of the human condition or present historical moment that pierce the protective screen [by a culture of an established social order] … [P]reviously taken for granted understandings of ‘how things are’ break down. (Hall, 2009: 3)
In this sense, what is ending is not the society specific configuration of power relationships that is working through norms, formal and informal hierarchies, and economic, political and juridical arrangements. It is rather the end of a culturally embedded regime of signification that naturalises or normalises an ‘established social order’. Empirically situating our work in the community of QTIBIPoC (queer, trans, intersex, Black, indigenous, people of colour) organising the local ‘Nørrebro Pride’ in Copenhagen, Denmark, we explore how Nørrebro Pride discloses and pierces the ‘protective veil’ that hides the lived reality of people who do not enjoy the taken for granted rights of so-called ‘normal people’.
What Nørrebro Pride protests is not an impending end of the world for queer folk, as an event–to–happen (Swyngedouw, 2010). It protests and discloses particular enduring conditions of life that queer folks must cope with every day, but which are hidden by a veil of normality. The apocalypse is not an event but a structure of life (Gergan et al., 2020). It is apocalypse now. Thinking in terms of ‘event’, as Shotwell (2016) reminds us about colonialism, delimits the apocalypse to either something historical that has already happened and which we are now over, or something of the future, yet to happen. Conversely, exploring Nørrebro Pride through the lens of apocalypse–as–structure tells us that immanent to the ‘end of the world’ is a spectrum of diversified suffering: from living with fearing for your life, sanity and health, being vulnerable and exposed to harm, to having no rights. These are all conditions that QTIBIPoC are facing to various degrees in Denmark and elsewhere. Their worlds often already are, it seems – and as we will render probable in the next section – unliveable, uninhabitable, unbearable, plain hostile, and ungrievable (Butler, 2009; 2022). Yet, despite facing such an apocalyptic structure of life, QTIBIPoC communities survive, live, and respond (cf. Scheman, 1997), for instance, with decades of Pride protests. This leads us to ask the following research question: If Nørrebro Pride is a response to apocalypse now, what does this response reveal?
To answer the question, the article progresses as follows. First, we situate our study in the local context of LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) organising and Pride in Denmark and, in particular, the social history of the Copenhagen neighbourhood in which Nørrebro Pride takes place. As part of this section we also present available data on QTIBIPoC lives in a Danish context. We proceed with presenting the empirical material, sharing our reflections on researcher positionalities and ethics, and explaining our research methods. We then present our analysis of how Nørrebro Pride responds by claiming territory, communicating, and constructing an unapologetic collective queer self. Finally, we conclude by discussing what we learn from conceptualising Nørrebro Pride as a form of organising in the face of apocalypse.
The context of the study
Our contextualisation of the study comes in three parts, the first of which is historical in presenting how the phenomenon that we today know as Pride began and developed in Denmark. For the second part, we flesh out the particularities of QTIBIPoC experiences in Denmark. Although not emic to the Danish context, the acronym QTIBIPoC is used by Nørrebro Pride and is as such derived empirically. To avoid uncritical transfer from one context to another, we wish to lay out the term ‘indigenous’. We can discern two possible meanings. One refers to all indigenous people around the world. It may be summarised in the chant from Nørrebro Pride ‘no borders, no nations, stop deportations’ and alludes to a critical attitude to the ‘imagined communities’ (Anderson, 2006) that make up nation states and how ‘banal nationalism’ (Billig, 1995), the everyday ideological reproduction of national identity, makes citizens of and grants rights to some people while displacing others. The other meaning, when situated in Denmark, points to the Inuit, the people of Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland) and was evident from one of the ‘blocks’ of Nørrebro Pride organised for and by Kalaallit people. The third and final part, embeds the study and our case in the local neighbourhood of Nørrebro, Copenhagen. It is beyond the scope of this article to report on all available data sources. We therefore delimit the section to data that pertain to the claims and issues raised by Nørrebro Pride while maintaining that it is relevant to present these data exactly because they are linked to claims from Nørrebro Pride.
‘How it all began’: Pride and protest
Stonewall 1969 is frequently referred to in LGBTQIA+ communities and research alike as where it all began. A riot. An uprising against police brutality and violence that community members commemorated the following years as Christopher Street Day. By throwing a protest parade amenable to institutionalisation, it diffused around the world and consolidated with time as Pride parades, despite the fact that similar instances of resistance had happened elsewhere and before Stonewall (Armstrong and Crage, 2006). Denmark, for example, together with the Netherlands was home to the first European postwar LGBT+ organisation founded in 1948. While Danish queer activism predates the Stonewall riots, the event in New York has had a lasting influence on local queer organising in two profound ways (Shield, 2020). One is the development of a transnational consciousness of solidarity among queer activists. The other pertains to the 1970 Christopher Street Liberation Day, which the following year inspired a visible demonstration in Denmark, known today as Pride. It also sparked the formation of Bøssernes Befrielsesfront (the Gay Liberation Front), a left–wing anarchist group fighting for emancipation of gay men on their own terms and reclaiming the Danish word for gay (‘bøsse’), which at the time was predominantly used in derogatory terms (Nyegaard, 2021).
Stonewall was thus a teachable moment for the feeling of belonging to a transnational movement and identity, and retrospectively used to narrate a story of where it all began. Yet, there are several developments that show the particularities of how queer communities organised differently in Denmark than in the US. For example, holding the Christopher Street Day demonstration throughout the 1970s in June was not only a reference to Stonewall, it also coincided with the Danish midsummer holidays (Sankt Hans) that LGBT+ Danmark (back then called Forbundet af 1948 (The Association of 1948)) claims and still celebrates today as its anniversary. The differences in legislation also influenced the activities of queer communities. Unlike in the US, Danish police largely tolerated meeting places for homosexuals as long as they were relegated to private spaces. This led members of the Gay Liberation Front to organise public dance–ins to deliberately provoke the police and eventually change the interpretation of public disorder to no longer include men dancing together (Shield, 2020). Another stark contrast to a US context, despite the Stonewall legacy, is how Danish public Aids awareness campaigns since the mid–1980s have been ‘oozing’ of sex positivism, handsome hunks, and humour. A recent study of the cultural history of Aids in Denmark finds that instead of demarcating through stigmatisation, communication was at eye-level, participatory and open-minded if not free from prejudice (Petersen and Nielsen, 2023).
QTIBIPoC in Denmark
Denmark is generally perceived as a pioneer country when it comes to rights and recognition of LGBTQIA+ people. The introduction of registered partnership in 1989 that granted the right for same-sex couples to form legal unions is a prominent testimony (Henriksen and Al-Arab, 2021). However, several reports of the living conditions, work lives, health, and other areas associated with general well–being among this particular group have in recent years established a knowledge base that highlights important differences not only between LGBTQIA+ and the rest of the population, but also among subgroups within the LGBTQIA+ acronym. For example, the proportion of people who have ever considered suicide is larger among men that are homosexual (45 percent) and bisexual (51 percent) compared to heterosexual men (21 percent). The picture is generally the same if comparing the group of women and similar regarding other health-related issues such as signs of anxiety, depression, and selfharm. In addition, trans- and nonbinary people are markedly worse off across all above–mentioned categories in comparison to hetero-, homo- and bisexual cis-men and -women (Frisch et al., 2019).
A recent survey on the challenges and stigma faced by LGBTI people in Denmark concludes that loneliness is five to six times more common among the surveyed group (28% excluding intersex due to small numbers) than among the general populace (5%) (Als Research, 2020). If honing in on double minority status it is possible to ascertain that LGBT people in Denmark with minority ethnic backgrounds experience a significantly higher degree of discrimination and their psychological wellbeing is markedly worse compared to the LGBT community in Denmark in general. One third has considered suicide within the last year, in contrast to 19 percent of LGBT people with a majority ethnic background (Als Research, 2015). The group’s risk of depression and long-term stress is also markedly elevated, and more than half have within the last year experienced discrimination based on their ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
When it comes to hate crimes, statistics show that people are particularly targeted based on their race/ethnicity, religion, and sexuality. In 2020, the Danish police registered 635 cases of hate crimes, which is a rise of 66 cases in comparison to 2019 (Rigspolitiet, 2020). Out of these, racially motivated hate crimes were the most widespread motive category (57%, that is 360 cases), followed by religiously motivated hate crimes (31%, or 194 cases, out of which 87 cases are hate crimes due to a Muslim religious background and 79 due to a Jewish) and hate crimes due to a person’s sexual orientation (12.5%, that is 79 cases, here 63 against homosexual people and 15 against transgender people). According to an investigation by the Danish Institute for Human Rights (2011) there is, however, a discrepancy between the extent of experienced hate crimes and the number of reported cases. Reasons for this include lack of confidence in the system, the belief that reporting is futile, fears that there will be personal consequences, and not knowing what rights one has as an individual, nor what types of hate crimes are punishable.
Half of asylum seekers in Denmark who identify as LGBT experience assault such as harassment, threats, or violence even though many try to be discrete, or remain closeted, about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity within the asylum system (LGBT Asylum, 2017). LGBT refugees who have obtained asylum in Denmark report to have experienced hate crimes or discrimination based on ethnicity, skin colour, or religion, in addition to their sexuality and/or gender identity, also in the form of exclusion from LGBT community places, such as ‘gay clubs’. At the same time, as a minority in the minority, LGBT people with minority ethnic backgrounds in Denmark remain closeted to a significantly higher degree, including to their families from whom 13% have been subjected to violence and 18% received threats of violence and/or other negative reactions, such as behavioural policing (Als Research, 2015). A follow–up report has since confirmed that minority ethnic LGBT+ people continue to make up a ‘particularly vulnerable’ group, highlighting the relevance and need to pay particular attention to the living conditions of QTIBIPoC in Denmark (Als Research, 2022).
The Copenhagen neighbourhood of Nørrebro
Queer history is intimately entangled in Copenhagen’s uneasy history (Edelberg, 2014). It is no coincidence that Nørrebro Pride happens in Nørrebro. The neighbourhood has historically been the site of multiple kinds of social struggle: from the early social-democratic and suffragette movement at the beginning of the 20th century to the anarchist fight for the ‘right to the city’ (Hansen and Karpanthschof, 2016: 176). During the epoch of urban renewal and sanitation that started in the 1970s and lasted until the late 1990s, squatters and other leftists created new autonomous community centres, venues, and spaces for people to assemble. One example is Folkets Hus and Folkets Park (People’s House and People’s Park) (Rutt and Loveless, 2018). The establishment and consolidation of the house and the park was the result of militant struggle against city hall and police and has been a site for queer cultural life and organising.
A thread running through decades of struggle is resistance to homogenising and racist gentrification policies that target minority ethnic communities led from city hall in favour of white, middle–class Danes (Jensen and Söderberg, 2022; Risager, 2023). Anti–gentrification resistance and queer organising have often found common ground in the desire for self–governed places and in the desire for retaining Nørrebro as a diverse community with respect to income levels, ethnicity, and sexual orientation in response to neoliberal and racialising urban development policies (Rutt, 2021). The militant anarchist struggles of the 1990s and 2000s made use of a wide range of conceivable tactics (Karpantschof and Mikkelsen, 2014): one means was organising Reclaim The Streets parties, echoed in Nørrebro Pride, another was street fights and violent clashes with police. In sum, Nørrebro has been the national epicentre for counter–cultural organising, including militant queers such as Queer Jihad (2013), and now, Nørrebro Pride.
Empirical material, researcher positionality, ethics, and method
Congruent with the local neighbourhood’s history of intersecting struggles, Nørrebro Pride has ‘from the beginning been against the gentrification of our neighbourhood and the privatisation of our homes, [...] against policing, border regimes, deportations, and white supremacy, whether it manifests locally or nationally’, as the organisers write on their Facebook page. In contrast to Copenhagen Pride, which took place on the same day, Nørrebro Pride organises as a QTIBIPoC-led collective and does not take any corporate sponsorship, nor do they accept any other forms of commercial involvement, discounting the fact that they use commercial social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram for organising and as means of communication. Nørrebro Pride’s organising for and by QTIBIPoC addresses the limited representation of marginalised and Global South communities as part of a Global North context. Consider the following two empirical observations:
J: Local life appears normal. Nothing out of the ordinary, besides the rhythmic background noise from a crowd that is still not visible to me. They must be just around the corner. Audibly they are already embracing me, together with the regular noise pollution from the traffic. At times, it’s impossible for me to distinguish the sounds; then I hear a roar of excitement. The police appear restless. They’ve waited longer than me in an area that is fenced due to construction work. A homemade banner names the area ‘Palestine Plaza’. Next to the banner are two signs with the slogans ‘Pride is political’ and ‘Our movement is unstoppable’.
B: Arriving at the starting point of Nørrebro Pride, T and I find a buzzling crowd of people, taking up space on the big square opposite the train station. Music is playing. People are chatting. Colourful posters are held up. The Nørrebro Pride core team – this year QTIBIPoC separatist for the first time – starts gathering people in a big circle. With megaphones they start chanting: ‘What do we want?’ ‘Queer liberation!’, a loud collective voice replies. ‘When do we want it?’ – ’Now!’ Several chants are practised and repeated before we start taking to the street. When we start moving down the main road, we are walking, dancing, chanting in protest: ‘Let’s get critical – pride is political!’ ‘No hate, no bigotry, fight white supremacy!’ ‘No borders, no nations, stop deportations!’ ‘Apples, lemons and honey – give sex workers their money!’
As the excerpts show, our study builds upon immersive, participatory and non–participatory, ethnographic fieldwork (Spradley, 2016; Denzin, 1997) by all three authors. T, J, and B, in different ways, took part in Nørrebro Pride on 21 August 2021. While J positioned himself along the route of the demonstration to observe, from the outside, the protest moving through the street of Nørrebrogade from Nørrebro Station, T and B joined the demonstration as participants, immersing themselves into the event and the crowd, from rehearsing the chants before the demonstration to walking the protest route, akin to a ‘street phenomenology’ (Kusenbach, 2003: X). T also participated in the get–together of the community after the demonstration by which time both J and B for the sake of comparison had left for the more mainstream Copenhagen Pride that took place in parallel with Nørrebro Pride, yet in a different neighbourhood of the city. Next to field notes that each of us recorded immediately after the demonstration, the empirical material includes photos and videos that J and T took. These are, however, not used directly in the analysis to protect the anonymity of participants. It is one thing to be out and open in what we in the analysis denote as a temporary queered territory, which – although public – is confined both in terms of time and space. To be recorded in academic journal publishing is something else entirely.
All three authors are part of the queer community but engage in this research from different positionalities. This led us to reflect on our position in relation to Nørrebro Pride (Kassan et al., 2020; Bourke, 2014). Are we, or rather, who of us is part of Nørrebro Pride? B is a bisexual cis-woman of colour who has joined Nørrebro Pride in previous years. Considering the aim of Nørrebro Pride to provide a space particularly for queers of colour, B might be most easily identified as ‘being part of’ the community that gathers for this protest. However, B grew up in Berlin, not Copenhagen and feels less connected to the history of organising on the streets of Nørrebro. Meanwhile, T is a white bisexual cis-man in his 40s and has firsthand experience with anarchist organising and culture in Nørrebro. J is a white gay cis-man growing up in a small town in rural Denmark. His first memories of Nørrebro stem from negative media coverage of the clearing of Ungdomshuset in 2007, yet later, when moving to Copenhagen to study, he made the neighbourhood his home. He has been involved in the concurrent Copenhagen Pride both professionally and personally for many years, while affiliation with Nørrebro Pride has never appeared as an option.
Though all of us are part of the queer community, there is no easy answer to who is ‘part of’ Nørrebro Pride. Nørrebro Pride foregrounds QTBIPoCs – this includes B, but excludes T and J. We did join the protest, arguably becoming part of it, yet with the intention to study it – this excludes, or at least separates, all three of us from ‘the other’ protesters, effectively creating an us/them distinction rather than a collective ‘we’. As the next excerpt shows, the important question might thus not be if but in which ways we are part of Nørrebro Pride and, relatedly, how we then may conduct our research given our positionalities.
B: As we start moving from the square, where we had practised the chants, I feel a certain hesitancy in our group as to when and where to join the people who start marching. It had been communicated clearly beforehand that QTIBIPoC should come to the front of the demonstration and that the first block would be separatist. After this first block, eight or nine other blocks follow, such as a block with LGBT Asylum and one by homeless queers. Some of them are separatist, while others invite ‘their friends’ to walk with them. The last blocks are for white allies. It seems that everyone is careful to not take up space that is not for them. As a queer woman of colour, I could walk in the front. But I am here primarily with white friends, and I want to walk the demo with them, so we join in the back. Even though it maybe slows us down a bit, I like the careful considerations that take place without too many words spoken between the participants. No one is told where to go. No one is policed into their place. Everyone can join where and how they want, and it is clear that everyone’s choices will be based upon taking care to respect those around you. I find it to be a beautiful example of solidarity across differences. We walk for the same cause, but we recognize our different experiences in relation to it and organise accordingly. Our particularities remain while we form a unified collective for this struggle.
This consideration of spatial positioning triggers the epistemological question of how we position ourselves as researchers. Our study is ethnographic, yet due to the entanglement of personal–political engagement (joining the protest), organisational processes (helping at the community get–together after the protest), and empirical work (observations) our research arguably and unavoidably includes autoethnographic elements (Dorion, 2021; Doloriert and Sambrook, 2012; Ellis et al., 2011). Not least due to these auto/ethnographic entanglements, it is paramount to position ourselves in relation to the research participants, in this case the participants of Nørrebro Pride, whom we walk alongside and observe as part of our study.
In addition, we needed to consider that since its onset in 2018, activists central to the organisation of Nørrebro Pride have made it clear that they are not interested in becoming ‘an object of interpretation’ by others. Consequently, they generally do not give interviews to journalists, nor agree to take part in studies. For us, this initially raised the question if we should do this research at all. After several discussions among each other, with colleagues, and with friends from different queer communities, we concluded that as the demonstration itself takes place in public, it is exposed to general view and open for participation. Relatedly, considering the anarchic practices for organising the event, no single person or group may legitimately claim to represent the interests of any other individual or group associated with Nørrebro Pride. We therefore believe it to be ethically justified to observe Nørrebro Pride, while we participate in the demonstration. Importantly, though it might require careful reflection on our positionality to study Nørrebro Pride ethically, we believe it to be ethically wrong not to study it, because we do not want social research to ignore the claims, the protesters are making, and dismiss the position, they hold within queer organising in Nørrebro and Copenhagen. It became a question of how we conducted this research, not if.
What mattered was to reflect on the ethical problems that would arise from us studying a marginalised group of people, QTIBIPoC in a Danish context. Engaging with this ethical challenge, we write this piece with the intention to take the claims voiced by Nørrebro Pride protesters seriously as sources of knowledge and insights about the participants’ lived experience (Collins, 2000; Essed, 1991; Mohanty, 2003). We recognize the protesters as ‘knowledgeable subjects capable of interpreting their [own] worlds and the worlds of others and of processing others’ interpretations of their worlds’ (Alm and Guttormsen, 2023: 16). Homing in on Black and queer feminist standpoint epistemologies, we find value in knowledge created from the margins (hooks, 2000) as ‘people living on those margins [are] holding legitimate (and less oppressive) standpoints on the social world from which they can produce knowledge’ (Dorion, 2021: 162). To that end, we included the claims voiced in chants and on posters in our empirical descriptions and took them as starting points for a relevant contextualization of our study. More specifically, we have considered the cues offered by chants and signs through researcher triangulation (Cox and Hassard, 2005): each researcher made independent observations, which we then compared for similarities, overlaps, and differences. This provided a rigid method for selection of relevant data. As this practice already shows, it is still an ethnography written by us, three early career scholars working within North European university settings. While we are part of the queer community, and arguably part of Nørrebro Pride (in different ways), we do not assume to share the same personal and collective experiences of oppression as other participants of Nørrebro Pride. Our aim is not to represent the protesters of Nørrebro Pride. Nor is it to re-present by telling back to the participants what what they say and do really means. Our aim is to write about our observation of a protest that we understand as a response to an apocalypse-as-structure that QTIBIPoC experience.
To answer our research question we examined our observation data and asked what we observe Nørrebro Pride to be doing. To understand what the response reveals about the conditions of QTIBIPoC participants’ lives, we first needed to understand the response in itself. Thus, to conceive Nørrebro Pride as a ‘response’ is our way to make sense of data, it is our analytical choice, and not an emic concept. We try, however, to be ‘rather closer to the ground’ (cf. Geertz, 1973: 24) in our analysis. We have constructed three analytical categories. Each category is a placeholder for something that we observe Nørrebro Pride to do. The analytical categories are used abductively; we analytically infer from responses the objects being responded to, which are those life conditions we describe in the context section above. In each analytical category, we pay attention to how the response is a response. As we progress through the three analytical categories, the level of complexity increases; while the first and second levels are largely concerned with describing directly observable partial properties and particular struggles of Nørrebro Pride, the third level is where we analyse Nørrebro Pride and what it responds to as a whole. A caveat: we do not believe that our analysis has exhaustively laid out what Nørrebro Pride is responding to. The analysis stands as the end of inquiry; surely, there is more to be said.
Analysis: The response
Based on our data, we claim that Nørrebro Pride responds in three ways. First, it takes up space to create a temporary queer moving territory. This capacity to assemble and act as an organisation is, as we will discuss after the analysis, not a given and, therefore, should not be taken for granted or assumed (Husted et al., 2023). Second, it communicates a set of political messages to the local queer community. Third, it presents an unapologetic collective self. Constructed through the assembly and the message about what matters, this unapologetic self is, at once, a matter of taking pride in itself while also being formed against the empirical and conceptual phenomena of commercialisation, homonormalisation (Duggan, 2002) and homonationalism (Puar, 2007).
Nørrebro Pride is composed of five consecutive sections: gathering, warm up, marching, assembly, and party.
Gathering and warm up.
B: Arriving at the starting point of Nørrebro Pride, T and I find a buzzling crowd of people, taking up space on the big square opposite the train station. Music is playing. People are chatting. Colourful posters are held up. The atmosphere is lively, the crowd seems excited. The bodies uniting here are full of energy. From the first moment on, it feels precious to be part of this collective; to be in this group of people, who show up, ready to transform anger, frustration, fear, rage, longing, joy, and excitement into energy for a collective protest. Their–our–energy leaves no doubt that this is a protest. Neither do the chants that are practised together before the demonstration starts. The Nørrebro Pride core team – this year QTIBIPoC separatist for the first time – starts gathering people in a big circle. With megaphones, they start chanting: ‘What do we want?’ ‘Queer liberation!’, a loud collective voice replies. ‘When do we want it?’ – ‘Now!’ Several chants are practised and repeated before we start taking to the street. As we start moving down the main road, we are walking, dancing, chanting in protest: ‘Let’s get critical – pride is political!’ ‘No hate, no bigotry, fight white supremacy!’ ‘No borders, no nations, stop deportations!’ ‘Apples, lemons and honey – give sex workers their money!’
B: As we walk down Nørrebrogade, the main street through the Nørrebro neighbourhood, I see banners hanging from windows and people watching from their apartments. Someone is standing on a balcony with a child, maybe seven or eight years old. They’ve put out a patchwork blanket that features many of the different colours that remind me of a rainbow flag. But it is not a rainbow flag and I like that. It’s colourful and queer, but also personal and not just yet another copy of the by now commercialised standard rainbow flag. While I think it’s important that there are now several versions of the queer/Pride identity flag, such as the BIPoC version with a brown and a black stripe, or the trans and non–binary versionthat features pink and blue stripes, I realise that hardly anyone brought any of these flags to Nørrebro Pride.
T: Suddenly, the crowd halts. Those at the front of the demonstration have ‘taken the knee’, leading to the entire crowd kneeling. I think about George Floyd. I think about the gesture of kneeling, and I think that it feels genuine, that I can make the gesture without appearing to be performing or faking it. It feels genuine, and I feel both empowered, and I feel sad, because it makes me think of the hardships of so many people of colour. The kneeling crowd stands up in sync, forming a wave that runs through the body of people and then we cheer. We pick up the pace again.
Assembly and party
T: B left. I’m on my own now. The march arrived at Folkets Park. A sound system is set up in front of Folkets Hus, a user–controlled communal culture house. People gather and a few speakers are introduced. The collective Bumzen speaks, presenting themselves as QTBIPoC, anti–capitalist, anti–/decolonial, against environmental racism, and non–monogamous. The collective states why they define themselves in these ways, but don’t explain what each political marker means. They state that it’s all about self–determination and resistance. They’re applauded by the crowd. Chants. Music. A row of cargo bikes are parked in front of Folkets Hus, each containing a person and a drum. The microphone controllers introduce them as Dykes Against the Machine. The dykes pick up a beat. It is time to reiterate the chants again. People find spots in the park, form small groups. They eat, drink, chat, kiss. I scan the area and identify a few people I know from Ungdomshuset. Older now, with kids. I observe the crowd slowly. Ethnically diverse, I see people that I interpret as of sub–Saharan descent, I see people of East Asian descent. I see people that I think of as South and Central European. I see people that I interpret as of North European ethnicity. The crowd is mainly composed of people in their late teens, twenties and thirties. I only see one person visibly display religious affiliation: a woman wearing a hijab. The majority are wearing clothes that I interpret as casual and their everyday wear. Some are wearing face masks, probably as we are still in the midst of the Covid–19 pandemic. But maybe also to mask their identities as not everyone is equally safe, when being visible as part of a queer crowd in public. Some are wearing slogan t–shirts. Some have dyed their hair. Sneakers, jeans, baggy and skinny, T–shirts. Perhaps a third of the crowd looks dressed for the occasion: small skirts, high heels, masks, fishnet stockings and tops, makeup. I guess that some of them are used to doing drag shows, perhaps burlesque or ballroom shows, because they seem to be at ease in their various attires. I note that a particular type of person is absent: the male jock. I don’t observe any muscular, clean cut men. Almost all the folks, I read as men, wear high heels, skirts and dresses, appear effeminate, or just skinny looking. After the talks: loud music, dancing, and drinking into the night.
Temporarily, Nørrebrogade, Blågårdsgade and Folkets Park become queer territory and, by extension, Nørrebro is turned into safer space (McCartan and Nash, 2022; Hartal, 2018) to be QTIBIPoC. Nørrebro Pride creates social and spatial conditions for individual persons to assemble and form an autonomous collective body, much like Bey’s (1985) Temporary Autonomous Zone. Nørrebro Pride is an event that reveals the power of a crowd to carve out physical space in public (DeGagne, 2020) and create a moving social place organised and governed by its own set of rules and principles. It creates a site of transgression and disruption that troubles general assumptions of public space as cis–heteronormative (Browne, 2007). Nørrebro Pride thus provides its participants, the researchers included, with a way to take part and experience the effects and affects – ‘anger, frustration, fear, rage, longing, joy, excitement and energy’ – of taking part in a collective party and protest in response to everyday apocalypse that, unlike the temporary queered territory, is lasting.
Not a gathering of self–sufficient preppers and survivalists, Nørrebro Pride is a temporary assembly observing the anarchist principle of individual voluntary commitment to a solidary community of others, the principle of mutual aid, and the principle of direct action (Parker et al., 2014). Nørrebro Pride is bound and governed by self–determined rules that stipulate not only the sequence of things, but also the organising group’s legitimate authority to determine who–goes–where in the march, how participants are permitted to express themselves in chants, appearance, and picket signs, and how collective order is observed (keeping the order of the march, taking the knee, listening to speakers). Nørrebro Pride creates self–governed queer territory.
Nørrebro Pride sends three sets of messages: specific messages (picket signs and chants), general self–interpellative (Althusser, 1971) messages (‘we are here, we are queer’), and general auto–communicative (Christensen et al., 2013) messages (‘we can organise ourselves’).
Specific messages on picket signs and chants
J: I notice only a single rainbow flag, which to me is the very symbol of the Pride movement. In the absence of rainbow flags, I see several banners and signs in a red colour that I associate with the international labour movement, and which demand that environmental issues are decolonized, that sex workers are granted rights and get their money. ‘Fuck you, pay me!’
T: Hanging from a window, a banner drop reads: ‘Bottoms vs tops. We all hate cops.’ I smile at the pun and recognise my own feelings towards the police force. I feel like slashing the tires of police vehicles, and I feel uneasy when cops are present with their attitudes, weapons, and monopoly on violence. I remember a demonstration, the cops billy clubbed everyone in the back. Without reason or warning. Motherfuckers.
B: For a brief moment, I can’t hear the drums any longer. But then someone starts chanting ‘no racists in our streets’, everyone else picks up, and the chant spreads throughout the crowd until everyone is shouting in unison, amplifying each other’s voices: ‘NO RACISTS IN OUR STREETS!’, only to be replaced by a call for ending bigotry, hate, and white supremacy.
Singular participants in Nørrebro Pride use picket signs, banners, and chants to send messages that address particular concerns. In the absence of censorship and as others join in on chants, these messages become attributable to Nørrebro Pride, which effectively becomes an assembly of people demanding that environmental racism is ended, that sexwork is recognized as work, that police brutality towards queers and ethnic minorities must stop, that racism, bigotry, hate and white supremacy must end. Read as statements about the lived experience of Nørrebro Pride participants they signify: We experience environmental racism, unpaid sexwork, police brutality, racism, bigotry, hatred, and white supremacy. We also observed messages concerning queer loneliness, queer homelessness, and kids protesting adult tyranny. To foreground an example and to elaborate: buying and selling sex is not illegal in Denmark. Yet, it is not recognised as a form of employment either, and some policies treat sex work as a ‘social problem’, often subsuming it as a problem of trafficking (cf. Bernstein 2019), effectively barring sex workers, many of whom are queer, from enjoying rights as sex workers (Huglstad et al., 2020; Outshoorn, 2018).
General self–interpellative messages
J: I register a smile on my face, as the crowd begins to chant ‘Let’s get critical, Pride is political’. It is now also visible to me, the crowd, and appears ordered with everyone staying in only one lane of the street. In front, a banner reading: ‘We are here to stay. Racialized, trans and gay’.
B: A homemade banner names the area ‘Palestine Plaza’. Next to the banner are two signs with the slogans ‘Pride is political’ and ‘Our movement is unstoppable’.
These are examples of how Nørrebro Pride sends unapologetic messages about itself to onlookers and to participants. Read as statements about itself to itself, to be a participant means that one is part of something that is critical, political, permanent, racialized, trans, and gay, in solidarity with the Palestinian people, and unstoppable. These properties are summed up in the catch all slogan: we are here, we are queer.
General auto-communicative messages
A message not featured in chants or on picket signs is the message that is sent by virtue of the physical assembly itself (Butler, 2018). Nørrebro Pride communicates at least two messages. To the individual QTIBIPoC, present or not, it says you are not alone, we are several, we make quite a crowd. At the same time, Nørrebro Pride communicates: we assemble, we present ourselves without shame, and we are in protest to the life conditions we are made to suffer. Interestingly, Nørrebro Pride communicates this message in a neighbourhood that author T in the sub-section refers to as ‘friendly territory’. It communicates these messages to onlookers, which are either members of that neighbourhood or outsiders present, and Nørrebro Pride communicates to Nørrebro Pride. We claim that the auto-communicative message is the most important and effective because it reveals to itself that the community is organised and solidary. Given its history, this neighbourhood is the most appropriate setting in Copenhagen and the onlookers the sufficient witnesses to an act of revealing the existence of a community with the capacity to assemble and to act. While you could argue that it would be more dramatic to raise the stakes and reveal oneself in a hostile territory and in direct confrontation, we argue that Nørrebro Pride, revealing itself to itself and the present witnesses, is both a way of claiming territory and claiming a right to be on it and also claiming that Nørrebro is already QTIBIPoC territory. We are here, we are queer, deal with it.
Unapologetic collective queer self
On the street, Nørrebro Pride is composed of people expressing not just different ‘sartorial selves’ (Geczy and Karaminas, 2013), but also different sexual orientations, ethnic backgrounds, legal status, professions, ages, and very diverse life experiences. Though Nørrebro Pride has rules for how the march is organised structurally, people are invited to ‘come as they are’. Indeed, Nørrebro Pride constitutes a diverse body of people, a queer multitude. The sprawling multitude stands in stark visual contrast to the uniformed Black Bloc type demo (Dupuis-Déri, 2014), or the equally uniformed fascist march (Falasca-Zamponi, 1997). A slogan at Nørrebro Pride says Pride is political. This dual message means both that taking pride in one’s authentic self is a political act, and that Nørrebro Pride is a political act. By extension, Pride should be considered a political act.
The unapologetic self, which is constructed through the capacity to assemble and the messages about what matters, not only takes pride in itself; it is also articulated against a set of other interrelated phenomena, which we identify as mainstream commercial Pride, homonormalisation, and homonationalism. In the following excerpt, we observe how confrontational messages seemingly have little incendiary effect at a local level.
T: ‘What do we want?’ ‘Queer liberation!’ ‘When do we want it?’ ‘Now!’ The sounds of our voices resonate in the street. From the sidewalk and from windows, onlookers greet us with smiles, flags, and cheers. A bus driver passing by gives us a thumbs up. I do not sense in any way that our protest is aimed at the passersby and onlookers. Even the challenging chants, such as ‘you have a lot to fear. The gay agenda is here’, or ‘we see you. You can’t hide. Stand up and join the fight!’, seem amicable, not confrontational. We’re in friendly territory, if not preaching to the converted then at least vibing with the locals.
Smiles, thumbs up and friendly territory. A particular object of protest is not present locally but is marching elsewhere: Copenhagen Pride. A grievance held against commercial pride is that, effectively speaking, it is an organised effort to normalise being queer and, in the process, physically exclude, and symbolically and materially marginalise, those forms of queer being and living that overstep the tolerance level of cis–heteronormative bourgeois society – essentially the difference between affirmative and transformative recognition (Fraser, 2008, see also Duggan, 2002). While broadly acknowledged in existing literature that Pride is a ‘party with politics’ (Browne, 2007), some researchers criticise what they describe as an increasing commercialisation of the Pride movement (Enguix, 2009), and, by implication, how the party element appears to take precedence over that of protest, inscribing a ‘gay universalism’ that neglects ‘class, gender, sexual, racial/ethnic’ and other differences (Drucker, 2011: 3). Capitalist co-optation of the party aspect of Pride not only commodifies some LGBTQIA+ identities (Valocchi, 2017), it also potentially leads to forgetting the struggles faced by others in the community.
Commercialisation of Pride becomes problematic if and when it obscures the lived realities of the LGBTQIA+ communities it supposedly serves. A recent example of this can be found in a study of Johannesburg Pride in South Africa. There, Conway (2022) argues, the ‘lifestilisation’ of LGBTQIA+ identities reflects individualist notions of consumerism with the underlying assumption of equal and unlimited agency at the expense of neglecting the intersectional (e.g. raced, classed) struggles against inequality, and for social justice of those within (or outside) the acronym, who are marginalised the most. So, while bourgeois values can tolerate and celebrate homosexual love and sexual desire, there is less tolerance towards so–called ‘promiscuous’ or ‘perverse’ sexual behaviour. There are aspects of queer culture that can be recognised, because they are isomorphic with bourgeois norms for love, sex and relationships and those that are alien: polyamory, transsexual desire, BDSM culture, ‘bears’, and other forms of queer culture that go against hegemonic ideas about the nuclear family, binary gender, normal sexuality – not to mention ‘repronormative ideals’ against which certain queer embodiments appear to be future-negating (Edelman, 2004; Shulman, 2013).
Nørrebro Pride and Copenhagen Pride do not have the same ‘gay agenda’: mainstream society has little to ‘fear’ from Copenhagen Pride. In fact, a quantitative study of Pride parades across six European countries found Pride participants to be overwhelmingly ‘from the middle strata, highly educated, young’ and ‘politically left oriented’, meaning that these demographic groups and their interests dominate (Peterson et al., 2018: 1163). From Nørrebro Pride, however, general society should fear the multitude that takes pride in living queer lives that do not conform with mainstream, bourgeois values. Along the same line, Nørrebro Pride is protesting what Puar (2007: 228) coined homonationalism: ‘the concomitant rise in the legal, consumer, and representative recognition of LGBTQ subjects and the curtailing of welfare provisions, immigrant rights, and expansion of state power to surveil, detain, and deport.’ Homonationalist discourse, far from foreign to Denmark (Hansen, 2021), conceptualises how pro-LGBTQIA+ nationalist ideology is used in many Western countries to legitimise intolerance of other marginalised groups, in particular groups of people with minority ethnic backgrounds, effectively building and sustaining a racist, xenophobic political stance against, among others, immigrants. Or, in Puar’s (2007: 228) own words:
Homonationalism fundamentally highlights a critique of how lesbian and gay liberal rights discourse produces narratives of progress and modernity that continue to accord some populations access to cultural and legal forms of citizenship at the expense of the partial or full expulsion from those rights of other populations.
We argue that the presentation of an unapologetic collective queer self is in response to both chauvinist, cis-heteronormative, racist structures of bourgeois society, and policies that aim at making queer normal, commercially viable, and in the service of the liberal democratic nation state. The presentation of a proud collective queer self reveals the perception of another collective queer self that is imagined to seek recognition by conforming, that is, gaining acceptance through self–molestation, self-harm, and self-oppression.
Concluding discussion: The revealed
We began by asking: If Nørrebro Pride is a response to apocalypse now, what does this response reveal? We have demonstrated that Nørrebro Pride responds to a set of problems that QTIBIPoC suffer, must cope with, or simply endure, such as systemic racism, anti–queer discrimination, police and state violence, environmental racism, homelessness, or loneliness. We argue that Nørrebro Pride responds simultaneously in two ways. First, it indicates or explicitly names life conditions that we have labelled as apocalyptic because, even if individuals may endure them for a while, they are unsustainable. Some of these are local problems, some are globally distributed conditions. Second, it responds by using party, protest, and articulating Pride (Browne, 2007) in the face of the apocalypse as a structure of unsustainable, harsh life conditions (Gergan et al., 2020). The double operation reveals that the social, cultural, economic, political, and juridical order is only beneficial to those who ‘fit in’ or can ‘pass’, and detrimental to those who deviate from the taken–for–granted order of things (cf. Hall, 2009), and it reveals that those who deviate are a diverse group insisting on and willing to act up to change the established order. In other words, the act of assembling reveals the diverse group’s capacity to assemble as a community.
This capacity to assemble should not be taken for granted; it must be demonstrated by and in action. For example, Husted et al. (2023) found that online ‘doomsday’ prepping communities, despite common narratives and identities, are unable to act as organisations; they individually prepare for rather than act on imminent (perceived) crises. In comparison, Nørrebro Pride not only reveals apocalypse–as–structure; it also reveals that such instantiations of the apocalypse require (collective) responses different from (individualised) responding to apocalypse-as-imagined-future-event. Nørrebro Pride reveals a community responding in solidarity to ongoing apocalypse, which we may conceptually contrast to individuals preparing for the apocalypse to come (Garrett, 2021; McKenzie, 2021; Sims and Grigsby, 2019; Campbell et al., 2019) or to governments and organisations securing data as a form of prepping for a future catastrophe (Taylor, 2022). While the individualistic and atomized prepping is a response to the destruction of societal structures, that is Western, political, capitalist institutions, then the collective and organised response of Nørrebro Pride is to the continued existence of these structures.
We have argued that Nørrebro Pride organises an unapologetic collective queer self that enables participants to take part in the act of organised response that is expressive of and in solidarity with multiple queer life experiences and identities. We have argued that the effect of organising a Pride whose participants are ‘numerous’ (Lennard, 2019) is to insist on the right and power to take up space and to be in a way that asserts the very value of being multiple in contrast to being homogeneous and uniform. By taking part in a temporary collective organisation, it becomes possible to act autonomously; to insist on recognition by state institutions, market corporations, civil society, and Copenhagen Pride, and become part of the set of lives that are grievable (Butler, 2009), while disregarding the lure of respectability, mere tolerance, and all the while neither assuming nor expecting that any recognition is given.
Nørrebro Pride provides participants with the agency to respond as an autonomous, solidary organised collective to individually experienced everyday racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and capitalist exploitation of land and people on both a local and a global scale. The organised response not only raises a transnational consciousness (Shield, 2020), it also, at a local level, provides participants with a piece of temporary land to inhabit. Thus, neither Nørrebro Pride nor its participants can be expected to simply change the structures that Nørrebro Pride reveals and responds to. And we do not think the purpose of Nørrebro Pride is to organise for structural change. We assert that it provides participants with an experience of exercising agency, with what Punk band Catharsis (1999) called ‘dance in the shadow of the great guillotine’. Organising to take up space is an exercise in collective agency. Through its combination of party with politics, Nørrebro Pride reminds us of the inherent playfulness in queer politics, the pleasure of questioning rigid dichotomies and resisting categorization, the ‘fun’ of queer transgression (Browne, 2007: 65). To rephrase a quote attributed to feminist anarchist Emma Goldman: If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my apocalypse.
 The reference to Francis Ford Coppola’s (1979) Apocalypse now! is more than a pun. The film and its literary source material – Joseph Conrad’s (1899) Heart of darkness – is a revelation of the sheer brutality and destructiveness of centuries of European colonialism, as much as it is a judgement of contemporary American culture and society.
 For this part of the article, we adopt the acronym as used in the sources that we cite so as not to make excessive claims about group identities/categories that are in fact not included in the materials.
 See https://www.facebook.com/nbropride
 Technically, there was no Copenhagen Pride event in 2021, since the organisation behind Copenhagen Pride that year had won the licence to host World Pride, branded and marketed as ‘Copenhagen 2021’. For consistency and simplicity, we refer to Copenhagen Pride.
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Thomas Burø, PhD, is assistant professor at DTU. He studies the intersection between culture, technology, and organization, and he still does not know how to do quantitative research. He often worries about the future. He does not own a dog.
Email: tbur AT dtu.dk
Jannick Friis Christensen is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) in Denmark. Focusing on norm-critical approaches to organising and researching diversity, Jannick has in recent years studied LGBT+ workplace inclusion from queer perspectives in collaboration with Danish labour unions. For his current project, Jannick takes a particular interest in pinkwashing critiques and purity politics in relation to partnerships between Pride organisers and corporate sponsors.
Email: jfc.bhl AT cbs.dk
Bontu Lucie Guschke is a postdoctoral researcher at the Research Group Gender Studies at the Institute of Sociology, Freie Universität Berlin. Her research interests include intersectional feminist organizational analyses, queer feminist and norm-critical theory, anti-/racism research, feminist epistemologies, and the interplay of discourse and affect analysis. Empirically, she investigates the persistence of sexism and racism in different settings, both on an organizational and policy level.
Email: bontu.guschke AT fu-berlin.de