Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Greenland: A Dream at the Top of the World: Affluence, Modernity, Tolerance, and Civil Unions: Forget Everything You've Ever Thought about Remote, Icy Greenland. the World's Largest Island Is at the Forefront of the 21st Century in More Ways Than One

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Greenland: A Dream at the Top of the World: Affluence, Modernity, Tolerance, and Civil Unions: Forget Everything You've Ever Thought about Remote, Icy Greenland. the World's Largest Island Is at the Forefront of the 21st Century in More Ways Than One

Article excerpt

"I've lived here whole life, and it's never been a problem for me to be gay," I was told by one of the most famous voices in Greenland in perfect English. "When I came out in the national newspaper with a photo of myself, I had people contacting me from all over Greenland, asking how they could get involved with the gay organization I was starting." Erik Olsen nodded, smiling. "It's OK here. We're accepted."

I was sitting in an upscale bar in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, chatting over a Danish beer with Erik, a well-known personality on Greenland's national radio service. Erik is part Inuit, part Danish (as are the majority of his countrymen). His voice is instantly recognizable across the world's largest island because he reads the news from Europe and, more important in this meteorologically volatile part of the world, the local weather forecasts. His unassuming voice travels to the far, icy blue corners of Greenland, reaching into fellow citizens' homes and offices, linking them to a greater, more hectic world beyond these still, frozen shores. He is an intimate confidant to isolated listeners who exist in months of silent darkness at a time.

"At the height of our gay organization [named Qaamaneq, meaning "light"] a few years ago, we would rent out a house in the old part of town and have parties with up to 50 gay and lesbian people at a time," Erik said, his shy grin spreading across his face again. "We're all like one family here anyway."

In Greenland, everything was a surprise to me. Erik himself was a revelation, as was the posh wood-and-brass pub we sat in, as was the modern city life of Nuuk outside, as was the fact that LGBT parties even occurred in this remote outpost of the globe. Without even seeking them, I found LGBT Greenlanders greeting me everywhere I turned, from my local tour guide to the top two officials at Nuuk Tourism, who happen to be an out gay man and a lesbian. The cliche couldn't be truer: We are everywhere.

And here we were, alive and well in mythical Greenland--a dream at the top of the world, a mysterious, secret, vast, inhuman place where men and women are mere abstracts against the impenetrable reality of the monolithic environment. I had traveled to the cold ends of the planet before, to places like Alaska and Antarctica, but nothing prepared me for Greenland. The towering icebergs, the unending sea, the unimaginably thick ice cap that smothers the island and pushes it down into the planet--it's all on such a severe, unbearable scale you might wonder why humans even bothered to live here at all. One feels like a footnote here, your ego squeezed of its fuel. But that's just the thing about humans: We can persevere and even thrive in the most hopeless scenarios.

The tenacity required simply to exist in this coldhearted land made human habitation an epic struggle here. The first wave of Inuit hunters (Inuit translates simply as "people" and is the correct term for those historically referred to by outsiders as Eskimos) arrived in Greenland around 2500 B.C. but died out within the succeeding 1,000 years. That didn't stop obstinate humans: Later waves of Inuit finally established a foothold, and just before A.D. 1000, Norse settlers (led by Erik the Red, who had the marketing savvy to name the polar island "Greenland") began to populate southwestern shores, only to vanish around four centuries later.

Norway and Denmark argued over ownership of the barely inhabitable island until 1933, the year International Court of Justice at The Hague awarded Denmark total sovereignty. In the 21st century, Greenland is unmistakably Danish. The government of Denmark subsidizes Greenland to the tune of thousands of dollars per inhabitant per year, bolstering this corner of the subsistence economy Arctic. Denmark's benevolent colonialism at times seemed misguided, like in the 1960s, when Danes tried relocating the Inuit in apartment towers in Nuuk in an effort to reduce village poverty. …

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