Finance Director for US President Barack Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign. United States Ambassador to Denmark from 2013 to 2017. Congressional candidate for Massachusetts’ 3rd congressional district. Reality television star. The list of Ambassador Rufus Gifford’s many accomplishments is long, impressive and growing.
And, as of today, he can add one more title to that tally: 2019 Denmark In New York Pride Ambassador.
On June 30th, Ambassador Gifford will join Consul General, Ambassador Anne Dorte Riggelsen in leading the Denmark In New York delegation in the 2019 WorldPride March in New York City. Joined by Copenhagen 2021 and the NordicsForEquality, Denmark In New York’s presence in this year’s March will help mark both the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion and the handover of WorldPride from New York City to Copenhagen and Malmö which will co-host the global WorldPride festival in 2021.
Denmark In New York sat down with Ambassador Gifford to talk Pride, his nostalgia for Denmark and his expectations for Copenhagen 2021.
This year’s NYC Pride will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion — a pivotal moment in LGBTQ history. What does the observance of Pride mean for you and why is it important for the world to continue to honor this movement for equality?
I remember shortly after coming out, I travelled to Washington DC to attend the 1993 LGBT March in Washington. As a young 18 year old, still uncomfortable in his own skin, I saw so much power and strength in the community. I had no gay role models and very few gay friends. To see the community come together to show our diversity and collective strength is something that changed my life.
Every year since, I have celebrated pride in cities around the country and the world. Acknowledging the generations of leaders that came before me and the new generation after me continuing to push for equality continues to be important. We have made so much progress but there is still so much to do.
Across the world, we’re seeing rising levels of intolerance. What do people need to do to stand up for equality and ensure that their rights and the rights of others aren’t forgotten or ignored?
There continues to be so much strength in telling your story. It is so much harder to hate what you know. We have seen enormous strides in public acceptance of LGBT people and I believe that is connected to people being out in their families and their workplaces.
Ultimately, though, we can never take equality for granted. We have to understand that as soon as you feel the fight is done, is the moment you start to slide backwards.
Denmark has made the concept of equality one of its transcendent values. From the Law of Jante and the Nordic tradition of ‘flat hierarchy’ to Copenhagen Pride, equality is a notion that encompasses all walks of Danish life. With this is mind, how does the American understanding of equality differ from the Danish sense?
Denmark has led the way in the fight for equality. When the first same-sex couples in the world walked out of Copenhagen City Hall in 1989, I don’t know that many in the world understood the worldwide spark it would create.
The American fight for equality has been slower, and whether it is the political and cultural power of the religious right or our often reluctance to take on the tough issues, it has taken considerably longer. That being said, we have learned from and catching up to the Danes in many ways. But we must acknowledge that we still have a lot of learning to do, there are still States in the US where you can be fired or denied housing for being LGBT and the continued cultural and political war against the Trans community must be addressed.
You lived in Denmark for four years and developed a strong rapport with the country, culture and the Danish people. What do you miss the most of your time living in Denmark? And what is something that you wish you could have brought with you back to the US?
This is easy: the Danish people. Stephen [Rufus’ husband] and I never imagined we would develop the truly meaningful connection we developed with Danes around the country and we miss that every day. And every time we come back to Denmark, it feels like a homecoming in many ways.
I will always be an Ambassador for Denmark as a private citizen. I learned so much from Denmark and Danes and it is that knowledge that I brought home with me. The best example here is renewable energy. As the United States continues to catch up to the rest of the west as it relates to investment in renewable energy, I look forward to building bridges between the Danish renewable energy industry and my country.
The 2019 WorldPride March in NYC also marks the handover of WorldPride to Copenhagen and Malmö. Can Danes expect to see you in Denmark in 2021?
I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Ema Seferovic is the Press and Communications Intern at DenmarkInNY.