On Saturday 22 March, Copenhagen Pride co-organized the event #GørByenTryg (make the city safe) in Ørstedsparken in Copenhagen and the Botanical Gardens in Aarhus, which aimed to highlight the feeling of being unsafe in the urban space for women and minorities. The following is the speech given by Mariya Alfa Staugaard in Copenhagen on behalf of the organization.
Hello everyone – it’s good to see you. My name is Mariya Alfa Staugaard, my pronouns are she/her, and I work for Copenhagen Pride. I am here today to talk about why feeling is safe in the city is also a problem affecting the LGBTI+ community.
We cannot separate the sexism, violations, and violence that make city spaces unsafe from the discrimination that LGBTI+ people face, and which is allowed to grow in our society if we don’t actively resist it.
Sexism is a monster with many heads, and we only defeat this monster when we say its name. And we need to recognize that one of the heads represents discrimination, prejudice, and stereotypes about LGBTI+ people.
Indeed, we see clearly in the statistics that LGBTI+ people are particularly at risk when it comes to sexualized violence and assault. The SEXUS study from 2019 was the first study in Denmark to quantify this.
SEXUS shows that the proportion of gay, bisexual, transgender and non-binary respondents who reported having experienced at least one sexual assault was all greater than for heterosexual and cisgender respondents. The figure was highest among bisexual women: 31% had been sexually assaulted. By comparison, the figure for heterosexual women was 11% – also a gruesome statistic, but we cannot ignore the difference between these figures and what is behind it.
When it comes to workplace harassment, we see a similar trend. The union HK Hovedstaden has just published a large survey among their members on sexual violations in the workplace, which showed that 20% of LGBTI+ respondents had experienced this, with the figure for heterosexual respondents being half of that.
But these figures are no surprise LGBTI+ people. Because our community is well aware that discrimination is taking place and that it creates an unsafe city space. But now we can call the monster by its name, and hopefully it will be a catalyst for political action in this area, and ultimately a cultural shift to make the world safer for all of us.
One thing we are also aware of is how much of the violence and harassment in city spaces is faced by transgender women. That group is not represented in the line of speakers today, which is a shame, and as a cisgender woman I will not comment on what it feels like to have to fear that violence. Instead, I would say that we must all remind each other of our blind spots, because all too often transphobia has been removed from the equation of sexism. We must address this, and we must state that discrimination against transgender women is a feminist problem that harms us all unless it is actively spoken out against and fought.
This is not about highlighting one vulnerable group over another. It’s about including multiple different voices and perspectives in the conversation. I have experienced on my own body the harm that the oversexualization of bisexual women can cause, and we cannot rightly talk about that until we actively involve those to whom it affects. And we need to recognize the challenges and barriers to justice that exist for LGBTI+ people. It is about us not thinking of “women” as a singular and homogeneous category, but in including the intersections of female identity in the conversation. If not, we run the risk of working towards a security that belongs only to the white, cisgender, heterosexual part of the population. And that must not happen.
We need to take back the public places – some men feel an ownership over the city space which makes them feel entitled to engage in discrimination or sexism under the guise of a compliment or a joke.
We must nurture a culture in which no one is attacked, accosted, or shouted at for their identity, just for existing in the public sphere. As things stand today, this is far from the case, and women and feminine people are particularly at risk, minorities within that group even more so. And it has an impact on the well-being of minority people, on the well-being of all women, and on the humanity of us all.
We must remember that there is nothing about being a woman who invites harassment. Harassment occurs because of people who believe they have the right practice sexism. Similarly, LGBTI+ people are not overrepresented in the statistics because it is written in the stars that LGBTI+ people must live with discrimination. Bisexual women are not sexually assaulted because it is their fate as bisexuals – but because there is a biphobic culture that oversexualizes us, and it contributes to the worldview and actions of abusers. Put the responsibility where it belongs – call the monster by proper name.