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Against loneliness and hermitage: History of the International Homophile World Organisation (IHWO) Welt-Organisation (IHWO)

1. October 2009 – 30. November 2011

Forty years ago, on 1st September 2009, § 175 penal code, which was made stricter by the Nazis, was reformed for the first time. The paragraph (article) criminalising sexual actions or actions evaluated as being criminal between men were removed from the penal code without being replaced in the process of German re-unification in 1994. The International Homophile World Organisation (IHWO) was one of the first homosexual organisations to form after the liberalisation of the paragraph in autumn 1969 and that supported this removal. To honour this organisation, the Hamburg publishing house Männerschwarm will publish a book on the organisation’s history, and the Gay Museum Berlin opens an exhibition on the subject on 30th September 2009. Raimund Wolfert compiled the book and the exhibition as well.

The history of IHWO extends to a term of more than 20 years. Presumably the organisation was founded in Denmark and at first functioned as a mediator for private contacts and as central sales point for homoerotic picture material. As early as the second half of the 60s the organisation adopted political tendencies and turned decisively against the censorship in the Nordic countries and in Germany since the regulations hampered the delivery of their materials. While the IHWO stopped its operations in Denmark at the beginning of the 70s, it succeeded in a considerable new beginning in Germany. There was a stage of radical change from the former homophile movement, which was aimed at adaptation mainly toward a new gay movement marked by students. This process was the start of the new beginning. The Hamburg IHWO never was an international, let alone a world organisation. However, it rapidly developed into an association with a considerable membership, which, due to its greatness and due to the lack of competition, held a certain position of leadership within the gay movement.

The overwhelming majority of the Hamburg IHWO’s foundation members were employed men of the middle class, who either were older than 30 years or at least were on the verge of the “magic” age limit. Thus they had no easy time with their younger contemporaries later on. Neglecting homosexual subculture because it didn’t meet their needs they formed an association that soon failed due to its own ambitious plans for professionalism as well as to conflicts with gay-lesbian action troops of students. They came into existence beginning in 1971 on in the wake of the Rosa von Praunheim film: It’s not the homosexual who is perverted, but the situation in which he lives. Homosexual, harmonic, long- lasting friendship, as it was lived and promoted by both of the chairmen of the managing committee Carl Stoewahs and Claus Fischdick, was the central ideal of the IHWO. No one liked to be identified with the “gay pig from the train yard”.

The Hamburg IHWO was not a part of the gay and lesbian movement, which is commonly called the “third German homosexual movement” nowadays. It belonged to an era that was characterised by high valuation of authority and respectability of the 50s and 60s. Their most urgent concern was the fight “against loneliness and hermitage”; central clubs were supposed to serve as a remedy. This organisation neither tried to shock nor to provoke, it intended to engage social executives like politicians, religious representatives, and scientists in conversation “behind the scenes”. The intention was not to reach “the common man on the street”. When the new gay and lesbian groups around Rosa von Praunheim and Martin Dannecker quite deliberately turned to the path of confrontation with the existing society, denounced “illusionary democratic” relations and unrelentingly raised the subject of discrimination of homosexuals, the IHWO reacted with misunderstanding. In 1972 they asked, full with irritation: “Shall we give even more reason for the public to be against the ´gays´? Just as their representatives never would have admitted their gayness in public, they didn’t accept being represented by “radical students” – neither in style nor in argumentation. Although they made efforts for a certain co-operation with groups of students, the IHWO never really took them seriously.

The “rival camp” didn’t differ very much. The younger, self aware gays and lesbians haven’t been able to identify with the mostly elderly bourgeois homosexuals. According to Martin Dannecker, the homosexuals of the 50s and 60s have been “driven by a glowing desire for recognition and the pressing longing to appear normal”. In a tough, detailed effort, they tried to defeat the anti-homosexual discussion and the stereotypes of homosexuality. Thus they certainly were deeply involved deeply in anti-homosexuality. Shamelessness, morality, and decency, words that have been used to devaluate homosexuals – were positive concepts for most of the older activists, which they in turn used to distance themselves from those younger activists, whose definition of pride, morality, and decency did coincide with their own, although they, too, were homosexual. The gay and lesbian movement of the 70s radically broke with those tactics and manoeuvres: According to the claims of the homophobic society, homosexuals are abnormal and perverted. The politically ingenious strategy of the gay movement was not to defeat such concepts, but to supposedly redefine and confirm their way of acting and by the slogans and theories they put forward. In 1973 the IHWO kept silent during a TV discussion about Rosa von Praunheim’s film It’s not the homosexual, who is perverted, but the situation in which he lives. Only a few months later they failed to send a representative to the signature action against the §175 penal code, which was carried through on the federal level. Thus they made themselves useless. They didn’t have any contributions to the modern forms of action. “Visibility” and “identify ability” were not their slogans. Within their own circles, annoyance on account of lack of social criticism, arrogance despite lack of competence and a lack of democratic understanding increasingly spread, and the consequence that more and more IHWO members were leaving. At the beginning of 1974, a completely failed financial policy finally led to the end of the inglorious organisation.

Curator: Raimund Wolfert