Alvin Tuling, 37, has always been reserved and shy. He admits he is not openly gay as some of his friends are. He wears typical men clothes and tries to “act like a heterosexual man.” “I do not like drawing attention to myself,” he says.
Alvin comes from the Philippines, a country populated mostly by Catholics. Here being gay comes with a price of stereotyping and sometimes discrimination. Perhaps this was the reason why he has never been open about his sexuality, he says.
But all that has changed after Alvin moved to Denmark two years ago. “I have never experienced discrimination and all are treated equally,” he says.
As he began to understand his sexuality even more, Alvin started exploring online dating sites. This was where he met Morten Nielsen, a Dane. They met, fell in love, and got married.
“He is a natural and honest man. My family did not have any problems that I have chosen to marry Alvin. There are some practical challenges like learning the language and culture but I think these challenges make both of our lives richer,” Nielsen says.
For Alvin, Denmark has lived up to its reputation of being one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world, a forerunner in liberal acceptance of the LGBT community.
Across 49 countries in Europe, Denmark placed sixth in terms of LGBT rights such as marriage equality, employment, adoption, and medical treatment according to the Rainbow map. Denmark also became the first country in the world to recognize same-sex partnerships in 1989. Same sex marriages were legalized in July 2012.
Challenges of the LGBT
Despite the high ratings in the Rainbow index, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) believes that Denmark needs to address some challenges that still persist today.
The same sentiment is echoed by Sabaah, an association supporting minority ethnic LGBT in Denmark. Sabaah spokesperson Fahad Saeed says that the government has been slow in responding and identifying hate crimes and hate speeches against the LGBT community.
In 2015, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights reported a total of 198 hate crimes in Denmark as recorded by the police. Racism and xenophobia are the most commonly cited motivations for the hate crime, followed by bias against Muslims, and bias against LGBT people. A total of 31 cases have been reported as hate crimes against the LGBT community.
“It is hard to get a structure to recognize hate crimes. Police are not sensitive enough to recognize these issues. Another problem is that not many people come forward to report about hate crimes,” Saeed says.
The LGBT people are also more prone to abuse than heterosexual men or women. In a study conducted by the National Institute of Public Health, 1 in 3 lesbian or bisexual women experienced sexual violence, while 1 in 5 considered suicide. Only 1 in every 12 heterosexual people surveyed considered suicide. Surveying 8,500 Danes, the study’s overall findings noted that “non-heterosexual Danes reported higher degrees of sexual and/or psychosocial distress than heterosexuals.”
“Even though there is a general tolerance for LGBT, there is a still a big difference in the living conditions of the LGBT compared to heterosexuals. All these point to inequality,” Saeed says.
As the Danish LGBT community faces it own multiple challenges in the society, immersion and transition can prove to be even more difficult for gay foreigners, immigrants, and refugees.
Sandy Cuerpo, a 24-year-old trans-Pinay waitress, has been married to a Dane for two years. “I’ve found true love in Denmark. Danes are very committed, and they think about marriage and having children thoroughly. They are also not the ‘seloso’ type. They give you freedom to explore, travel, and be yourself,” Cuerpo says.
Instances of Discrimination
But coming to Denmark as a transexual has its own unique challenges. Sandy was not immediately accepted and welcomed in her husband’s family. “His mother approved of our relationship but some of his siblings did not. They questioned my husband for marrying a transexual. But in the end, we were able to work it out,” Cuerpo says.
Cuerpo also recounts some instances where she felt discriminated working as a waitress. She would often get glaring stares from customers because of her appearance. “We try to be friendly but being a Filipino working in a foreign country can be very hard,” Sandy explains. Cuerpo is now studying Danish to better integrate in the society. Learning the language is crucial if you want to land a stable job in Denmark, she says.
Despite the challenges, Alvin and Sandy consider themselves lucky to be living in a relatively gay-friendly country.
The road to gender equality is still under construction: a high rating in the Rainbow index does not mean that the LGBT community can let its guard down. Hate crimes, hate speeches, and discrimination still exist, and while these problems are still lurking, the vigilance continues.
A version of this story was published on Jutland Station, an online news magazine based in Aarhus, Denmark. Read article here.
[Entry 205, The SubSelfie Blog]
About the Author:
Hon Sophia Balod is a storyteller. She was previously a News Producer of special reports and features for GMA Network and Reuters. She is a media fellow of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and recipient of 2016 Gawad Agong and Sarihay Media Awards for Excellence in News Reporting on the plight of indigenous people and environmental issues. She is now studying Media and Politics in Aarhus University, Denmark under the Erasmus Mundus Scholarship Program. Journalism 2010, UP Diliman. Read more of her articles here.