A strong political voice in government, 63-year-old Uffe Elbæk has worn many hats, including minister of culture and CEO of 2009’s World Outgames. In 2013, he founded Denmark’s Alternativet Party, which now has 10 members in parliament.
OUT: Why does Denmark seem so far ahead of the curve when it comes to human rights?
Uffe Elbæk: We’re a small country, and very well educated. We laid the groundwork for equality in the 1850s, and since then we’ve had plenty of practice placing value on the role of the civil society. We’re progressive in our art, design, and culture—it’s all part of the same story. Our history is not without its fights, of course, but to understand Denmark one must understand consensus. A desire for the common good is in our cultural DNA.
How did Denmark become the first nation to legally acknowledge same-sex unions?
This year is the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love—that era really resonated with Denmark’s youth. And if I remember correctly, we were the first country to legalize porn that same year. It was a really big step when we got recognized same-sex partnership back in 1989, but, in my opinion, it wasn’t until 20 years later, when Denmark hosted the World Outgames, that acceptance of the LGBT community went mainstream. That’s when people really understood that “gay” wasn’t just men, but women, transgender people, and many other people as well. Then diversity strategies started to take place in the private sector, too.
What’s today’s political landscape like?
I’m really happy with attitudes towards the LGBT community. There’s even a double standard for the conservatives right now, because they use their support for our community to hit the Muslim population on the head. But more generally, there’s a certain neoliberal philosophy and economic model—introduced by Thatcher and Reagan—that has infected everyone, including Denmark. Even me. A lot of things in Denmark are fucked up at the moment.
Well, it really started with two young activists approaching me on a Copenhagen street corner. I had just stepped down as the minister of culture, and I was really fed up. There’s a saying in Danish: “40, fat, and finished”—I was 60, fat, and finished, and there was no fucking way I was going to begin a new political party. But then I did some research and eventually decided to start my own track—kind of like Bernie Sanders. The party’s focus is threefold: to attack the climate crisis, to resurrect empathy—we aren’t able to understand one another and see the world through other perspectives—and to tackle the systems crisis. The public sector, private sector, and NGOs can’t solve the world’s problems on their own. We need hybrid solutions, and to develop totally new business models. We’re seeking to create a political platform where anything can happen: a party, or even a dance party!
Any thoughts on American politics?
I really think Bernie Sanders could have beaten Trump. I was on the floor—one of a hundred international politicians invited by the Democratic Party—during the primaries when Bernie, Hillary, and Obama were onstage, and it was just so clear that Hillary never had the love of the people. She didn’t even have the love of her own party. These days I’m damn scared about what your president will do. It can’t be real.