1. Love at First Fight!
On the night of June 27 into 28, 1969, queer people vehemently resisted a police raid on the Stonewall Inn bar. For many LGBTQIA communities around the world, the days of the uprising around Christopher Street in New York mark the beginning of the queer revolt. As a joint project of the Goethe-Institut, Schwules Museum Berlin, and the Federal Agency for Civic Education, this exhibition takes the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots as an opportunity to offer an insight into the history of queer movements in the Federal Republic of Germany, the German Democratic Republic, and reunited Germany since the 1960s. Particular emphasis is placed on the manifold relations with US movements. Under the title Queer as German Folk, in the summer of 2019, the exhibition will tour the Goethe-Instituts in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and will also be presented at Schwules Museum Berlin; beginning in 2020, it will travel to other cities and countries worldwide.
The exhibition highlights moments of the queer movement’s history without claiming to tell the only possible story. Just like the debate about the legacy of the Stonewall Riots, it questions the power dynamic at work in the queer politics of memory. What is under fire today is the appropriation of the riots by those parts of the movement that, in their struggle for social acceptance, lost sight of its radical goals and of the cause of many of its heroes: dykes, drag queens, trans people, sex workers, and young people living in precarious conditions, among them many queer people of color. Perhaps above all else, this debate shows that resistance from civil society is still necessary in the 21st century and must be reinvented again and again. On this note: remember Stonewall and happy Pride!
Queer as German Folk is a project of the Goethe-Institut North America in collaboration with Schwules Museum, Berlin and the Federal Agency for Civic Education, Berlin as well as local partner organizations in Chicago, Guadalajara, Mexico City, Montreal, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington DC.
PROJECT LEADERS: Georg Blochmann, Goethe-Institut New York and Birgit Bosold, Schwules Museum Berlin
CURATORS: Birgit Bosold, Carina Klugbauer
ACADEMIC CONSULTANTS: Christopher Ewing, Markues, Ben Miller, Peter Rehberg, Kristine Schmidt, Sébastien Tremblay, Lisa Weinberg
COPY-EDITING: Marie Frank, Anina Falasca
TRANSLATION: Sara Stevenson
SCENOGRAPHY & GRAPHIC DESIGN: chezweitz GmbH, Berlin; Dr. Sonja Beeck and Detlef Weitz with Lena Schmidt, Danielle Gringmuth, Ravena Hengst
We have tried our best to obtain all rights of use for the publication of third-party materials. Should the rights of use not have been cleared in individual cases, please contact Schwules Museum Berlin.
We thank all those involved in the project for a great and constructive collaboration, all institutions and individuals for granting rights of use, as well as HAU Hebbel am Ufer and all authors for permission to reprint the Manifestos for Queer Futures. Our thanks also go to everyone who advised and supported us with their expertise and experience. In particular, we would like to thank all those who shared their “snap moments” with us.
Final demonstration of the Pentecost meeting of the Homosexual Action Group West Berlin (HAW), West Berlin, 1973, image: Rüdiger Trautsch, SMU Berlin // Booth of the lesbian group at the Peace Workshop of the Erlöserkirche, East Berlin, 1983, image: Bettina Dziggel, RHG_FO_GZ_0419, Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft Berlin // ADEFRA National Meeting in Cologne, 1987, image: Daniela Tourkazi // Walpurgis Night demonstration, West Berlin, 1983, image: Petra Gall, SMU Berlin // First demonstration of homosexual emancipation groups in the Federal Republic, Münster, 1972, images: Uli Plein, Rosa Geschichten, Schwul-lesbisches Archiv Münster
2. Before the Law
With paragraphs 175 and 175a, both German states incorporated the criminalization of male homosexuality into their postwar criminal law. The Federal Republic (FRG) adopted the restrictive version introduced by the Nazis in 1935, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) the one from the Weimar Republic. In the FRG about 50,000 people were sentenced before the liberalization in 1969, in the GDR about 4,300 by the time the law was abolished in 1968. Female homosexuality was not directly criminalized but, like gay men who had never been in conflict with the law, lesbian women’s life choices were condemned by society and the state. In both German states, the nuclear family based on heterosexual marriage was propagated as the only legitimate arrangement of private life. To live a self-determined life outside this framework was particularly difficult for women. In the GDR since 1976 and in the FRG since 1980 laws were in place that made it possible to change marital status as well as to carry out sex reassignment surgery in the case of trans people, but with discriminatory conditions.
Wolfgang Lauinger (1918-2017)
In 1941, the Nazi Secret Police summoned Wolfgang Lauinger and kept him in custody for three months because he was part of the Harlem Club in Frankfurt am Main: an association of young people who were passionate about swing music. Shortly after his release, he was sentenced to four months in prison for alleged gambling and possession of leather, which constituted a violation of the wartime’s consumption rule. Released from prison, the son of a Jewish journalist went underground and survived Nazism. After the end of the war, persecution was not over for Lauinger. In 1951, in the course of the Frankfurt Homosexual Trials, one of the biggest waves of persecution against homosexual men after 1945, he was imprisoned again and held in custody for several months without charge. As a result, Lauinger lost his job. In 2017, the Bundestag decided to rehabilitate all men sentenced after 1945 on the basis of paragraphs 175 and 175a. Until his death at the age of 99, Lauinger was denied rehabilitation and reparations for time served in prison, because no formal charges had ever been brought against him.
Rudolf Klimmer (1905-1977)
The Dresden physician and sexologist Rudolf Klimmer fought tirelessly for the decriminalization of homosexuality in the GDR. Klimmer, who had been imprisoned twice in Nazi Germany for violations of paragraph 175, tried as early as 1947 to have the persecution of homosexual victims by the Nazis recognized – in vain. As a doctor he worked against the stigmatization of homosexuality and counseled people seeking advice in his office, even in judicial questions. In the GDR, however, his expertise as a sexologist was ignored. The publication of his sex education book Homosexuality as a Bio-Sociological Matter in West Germany in 1958 was regarded as collaboration with the “class enemy” and led to Klimmer’s professional isolation. Nevertheless, his continuous commitment to the decriminalization of homosexuality influenced the public debate and paved the way for the liberalization of paragraph 175 in 1968. During his lifetime, however, he never received public recognition for his engagement.
Gertrude Sandmann (1893-1981)
Successful in the 1920s with exhibitions in Berlin and illustrations in fashion magazines, the Jewish painter Gertrude Sandmann was banned from working in 1935 because of her “non-Aryan descent.” In 1942, she fled impending deportation to the underground and survived with the help of friends including her partner Hedwig (“Johnny”) Koslowski. Sandmann was involved in the emerging women’s and lesbian movement in the 1970s. She was a member of the group L 74, an organization for older, working lesbian women founded in 1974, and contributed numerous articles to their UKZ (Unsere kleine Zeitung) magazine, including the cover of the first issue.
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (1928-2002)
She was a museum director, a self-proclaimed housewife, a gay transvestite, and the fairy godmother of East German queers – or simply “her own woman.” Charlotte von Mahlsdorf grew up in fascist Germany with a violent father who would have rather turned her into a dutiful soldier. After the war, she supported her mother and siblings by restoring old furniture. Later she was employed as a conservator at the Märkisches Museum in East Berlin but the position was not extended because Charlotte did not wear “gender-conforming” clothes. In 1959, she took over an old manor house in the East Berlin district of Mahlsdorf and established the Gründerzeit Museum (Founders’ Era Museum) with a collection she had been building up since her youth. In the 1970s, the museum became a hangout for East German LGBTQIA and was surveilled by the state, which banned the meetings in 1978. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf spent the last years of her life in Sweden and died during a visit to Berlin in 2002.
Wolfgang Lauinger, around 1953, private collection Bettina Leder
Rudolf Klimmer, East Berlin, 1976, image: Manfred Herzer, SMU Berlin
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, Berlin, around 1990, image: Petra Gall, SMU Berlin
Gertrude Sandmann, around 1950, image: unknown, estate of Gertrude Sandmann
Bars and pubs, dance halls and nightclubs were (and continue to be) central platforms of queer culture: places of retreat from the hostility of mainstream society; spaces in which self-acceptance, sexual freedom, and collective solidarity can be experienced. They played an important role in the politicization of different communities but, as exposed landmarks of queer life, they were also the target of police assaults and homophobic attacks. Along with the non-commercial magazines that functioned as important sources of information and as communication forums, these venues lost their significance in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots, with the increasing acceptance of LGBTQIA lifestyles and the massive expansion of queer infrastructure.
Friendship and Tolerance
Magazines with innocuous names like Der Weg zu Freundschaft und Toleranz (The Way to Friendship and Tolerance, 1952-1970) or Humanitas (1954) were the mouthpieces of homophile groups in the 1950s and 1960s. They discussed the abolition of paragraphs 175 and 175a, promoted the social acceptance of men who desired men, and published homoerotic art and photography. They also provided one of the few ways to find out about meeting spots and to get to know fellow homosexual men through classified ads. With the exception of Wir Freundinnen (Us Girlfriends, 1951-1952) and the Aphrodite supplement in the magazine Der Ring (1955-1958), there was no publication catering to homosexual women.
Founded in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg in 1912, the dodgy pub remained open during the Nazi period and became one of the most popular venues for queer people in postwar Berlin. Though it bothered the authorities and was constantly subject to police raids, the legendary beer bar and its hostess Elisabeth Hartung, called Elli, held their ground until 1986. Famous artists and actors were seen in this unglamorous bar as were members of the leftist Kommune 1, sex workers, and the “normalos” from the block. Soon another clientele joined the motley crew: from 1966 to 1969 the bar was home to the probably first gay leather club of the FRG.
Home of sex workers, homosexuals, transvestites, and trans persons, as early as the 1920s the Mulackritze in Berlin-Mitte became a meeting place for those deemed outsiders by society. When the war ended in 1945, the old crowd returned until the GDR authorities closed the bar in 1951. At the end of the 1960s, the Mulackritze found a new home: Charlotte von Mahlsdorf saved the entire inventory and faithfully recreated the bar in her Gründerzeitmuseum in the East Berlin district of Mahlsdorf, where it again became a hangout for East German queers.
Ellis Bierbar, West Berlin, around 1978/79, image: Detlev Pusch, SMU Berlin
Charlotte von Mahlsdorf at Mulackritze, Berlin, 1991, image: Rolf Fischer, SMU Berlin
Covers of homophile magazines from the 1950s, SMU Berlin
4. Out to the Street!
In the course of a comprehensive reform of criminal law, paragraphs 175 and 175a were liberalized in 1969. Sexual acts between men over 21 were henceforth legal. Driven by the social changes of the 1960s, the reform marked a paradigmatic shift in legal terms: legal regulations no longer served to enforce randomly legitimized moral values, but to protect legal interests such as sexual self-determination. The broad social debate about the decriminalization of homosexuality also led to a (new) visibility of homosexual people as members of society. Inspired by the uprising of feminist women and of the New Left at the universities, a homosexual emancipation movement started forming. Activists initiated provocative actions in the public space such as “kiss-ins,” founded publishing houses and bookstores, organized festivals and demonstrations, and started engaging in trade unions and political parties.
The film It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives by Rosa von Praunheim (b. 1942) in collaboration with sexologist Martin Dannecker (b. 1942) ignited the West German gay movement. Less critical of society’s repressive majority than of adjusted gay men eager for social acceptance, it ends with the legendary call “Raus aus den Toiletten, rein in die Straßen!” (“Out of the toilets and into the streets!”). The film premiered in 1971 and was shown nationwide, often leading to the formation of political action groups in the aftermath of public screenings.
In 1974, a trial against a lesbian couple took place in the northern German town of Itzehoe. Judy Andersen and Marion Ihns were sentenced to life in prison for hiring the murder of Ihns’ violent husband. Throughout the Federal Republic, lesbian and feminist activists protested against the defamatory coverage by the tabloid press and the discriminatory legal proceeding. On September 16, 1974, a group broke into the trial chanting “Haut der geilen Männerpresse eine in die Fresse!” (“Slap the male tabloid press in the face!”). With their protests on the “witch trial of Itzehoe,” lesbian activists for the first time reached a broad public in the FRG.
Warm Brothers and Sisters
In 1972, the Student Action Group Homosexuality Münster (HSM) called the first nationwide meeting of homosexual activists. Thus, the first widely known demonstration for the rights of homosexual people in the Federal Republic took place in the northwest German college town of Münster. The banner “Lieber ein warmer Bruder als ein kalter Krieger” (“Rather a warm brother than a cold warrior”) cheekily turned a line with which the conservative politician Franz-Joseph Strauß (1915-1988) had captured the opinion of his beer hall voters on its head.
Parades commemorating the Stonewall Riots took place as early as 1970 in the United States. It was not until 1979 that this tradition was adopted in Germany, with the first demonstrations taking place in West Berlin, Cologne, and Bremen. Today, annual Christopher Street Day (CSD) parades take place in more than 50 cities across Germany. Criticism of the increasing commercialization of the events and of the marginalization of women, trans persons, and queer black people and people of color has led to the Transgenial CSD in Berlin and since 2013 to Dyke Marches all over the country.
Film poster It Is Not the Homosexual Who Is Perverse, But the Society in Which He Lives, West Berlin, 1971, SMU Berlin
First demonstration of homosexual emancipation groups in the Federal Republic, Münster, 1972, images: Uli Plein, Rosa Geschichten. Schwul-lesbisches Archiv Münster
Posters and flyers from the first pride parades in the Federal Republic, 1979, SMU Berlin
First pride parade in the Federal Republic, 1979, Bremen, image: Wolfgang Vogt; flyer: SMU Berlin
First pride parade in the Federal Republic, Christopher Street Day, West Berlin, 1979, image: Rolf Fischer, SMU Berlin
Richter flüchten vor lesbischen Frauen (Judges Flee from Lesbian Women), collage from the front page of daily tabloid BILD, © Axel Springer SE, 17.09.1974, SMU Berlin
5. System, Criticism, and Sunday Club
One year earlier than in the Federal Republic, the GDR reformed § 175 and decriminalized sexual acts between adult men in 1968. Since 1957 it had for the most part refrained from criminal prosecution. On the one hand, the liberalization allowed for a more carefree life; on the other, it was hardly possible for LGBTQIA in East Germany to organize. Political organizations beyond the state were prohibited and meetings were surveilled. Nonetheless, the first independent gay-lesbian group in the GDR, the Homosexual Interest Group Berlin (HIB), was founded in 1973 and remained active until 1979. In the 1980s, the East German queer community was able to organize more effectively under the umbrella of the Protestant Church, the only non-state institution tolerated by the Socialist Unity Party (SED). In 1986, former members of the HIB in East Berlin founded the first LGBTQIA association outside the church, the Sunday Club (Sonntags-Club), which still exists today.
With its “bisexual, gay, and lesbian” cabaret program Hibaré, the Homosexual Interest Group Berlin (HIB) proved that political engagement can be funny, too. In their acts, the protagonists debated the strains and joys in bi- and homosexual people’s lives with equal doses of self-deprecating and self-confident humor. Hibaré’s venues included bars such as the Bärenschänke in East Berlin and the Mulackritze in the Gründerzeit Museum in Berlin-Mahlsdorf, which was a regular meeting spot for the HIB. The amateur production was popular: according to a report of the GDR’s secret police, which surveilled the meetings, the audience was enthusiastic about a performance in February 1976.
In 1973, together with members of the Homosexual Interest Group Berlin (HIB), Peter Tatchell (b. 1952) – a member of the British delegation to the 10th World Festival of Youth and Students – distributed pamphlets of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) demanding “gay liberation.” The pamphlets decried the oppression of homosexuals, also under Socialism. The Ministry for State Security (MfS) quickly put an end to this first public stunt of homosexual activists in the GDR. The group also met with resistance from other British delegates who at the final rally tore apart Tatchell’s poster calling for “homosexual liberation.”
We Are Many
From 1983 homosexual women organized independently from men within the structures of the Protestant Church. Lesbians in the Church (LiK) groups emerged in several East German cities and criticized both the homophobia and the sexism of Socialist society. These feminist-lesbian groups organized trips and events that stimulated identity-building and political discussion. The East Berlin LiK had their first public appearance at the Protestant Peace Workshop in 1983, a meeting of opposition peace groups in the GDR.
Due to the strong US influence on the emancipation movement after the Stonewall Riots, coming out as a “commitment” to one’s queer identity became a dominant moment in the self-narrations of many LGBTQIA. It is also the title of the first GDR film to portray gay life in East Germany. Directed by Heiner Carow (1929-1997), Coming Out celebrated its premiere on November 9, 1989. Because the Berlin Wall fell on the same night, the film received no attention at first but later toured festivals around the world and won a Teddy Award and a Silver Bear at the 1990 Berlin International Film Festival, also known as Berlinale.
Performances by the theater group Hibaré, East Berlin, 1970s, SMU Berlin
Flyers of the British Gay Liberation Front, East Berlin, 1973, SMU Berlin
10th World Festival of Youth and Students, East Berlin, 1973, image: Rainer Mittelstädt, image 183-M0729-0767, Bundesarchiv
10th World Festival of Youth and Students, East Berlin, 1973, image: Hubert Link, image 183-M0729-403, Bundesarchiv
Activists at the final demonstration of the 10th World Festival of Youth and Students, East Berlin, 1973,
C Rep. 303 No. 642 images 2 and 7, Landesarchiv Berlin
Booth of the lesbian group at the Peace Workshop of the Erlöserkirche, East Berlin, image: Bettina Dziggel, SMU Berlin and RHG_Fo_GZ_1950, Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft Berlin
Booth of the lesbian group at the Peace Workshop of the Erlöserkirche, East Berlin, image: Bettina Dziggel, RHG_FO_GZ_0419/RHG_FO_GZ_1950/ RHG_FO_GZ_0396, Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft Berlin
Film poster and film stills Coming Out, 1989, SMU Berlin, © DEFA-Stiftung/Wolfgang Fritsche
1872 – Introduction of §175 RStGB during the German Empire
Following the foundation of the German Empire in 1871, its criminal code (Reichsstrafgesetzbuch, RStGB) came into effect on January 1, 1872. §175 punished sexual activity between men: “[T]he unnatural fornication committed between persons of the male sex […] is to be punished with imprisonment; the loss of civil rights may also be recognized.”
1935 – Tightening of §175 RStGB during the Nazi Period
In 1935, §175 RStGB was tightened and extended by the addition of §175a. At this point, even the attempt to initiate homosexual activity was punishable. Conviction required neither sexual contact nor even a touch. Under the newly created §175a, “particularly serious” cases including sexual activity with persons under the age of 21 and sex work were punished with imprisonment in correction facilities where hard physical work, among other things, made detention even tougher. Between 1933 and 1945 almost 50,000 men were sentenced on the basis of §175 and §175a. About 10,000 men were sent to concentration camps because of their homosexuality.
1949 – §175 RStGB East and West
After the capitulation of fascist Germany in 1945, the Allies divided the country into occupation zones. The German Democratic Republic (GDR) emerged in 1949 on the territory of the Soviet occupation zone and installed the moderate, pre-1935 version of §175 StGB. Sexual intercourse between men was punishable, while “intercourse-like” acts such as mutual masturbation were not. §175a StGB (which had been introduced by the Nazis) also remained in force, penalizing same-sex male sex work, among other things, as a “particularly serious offense.”
The Federal Republic of Germany was founded on the territory occupied by the Western Allies (United States, France, Great Britain) and retained the more restrictive version of §§175/175a StGB from 1935. Between 1950 and 1969, more than 100,000 men were investigated and about 50,000 were convicted – often by judges who had been in office before 1945.
1957 – Suspension of Criminal Prosecution According to §175 StGB in the GDR
After 1957, §175 StGB was de facto suspended in the GDR. Although the law was not formally repealed, prosecution could be waived due to the insignificance of the offense or because it did not pose a threat to socialist society.
1957 – Confirmation of §§175/175a StGB by the Federal Constitutional Court
In June 1957, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled on a complaint filed by the Berlin lawyer Werner Hesse (1906-1989) regarding two verdicts for offenses against §175. Hesse maintained that, among other things, this section of the criminal code violated the Basic Law’s right to personal identity and principle of equality before the law, as it punished male, but not female homosexuality. After extensive consultation with experts, the Federal Constitutional Court decided that the principle of equality was not applicable in this case. “Lesbian love and male homosexuality” were not “comparable offenses,” not least because “lesbians are not exclusively same-sex oriented to the same extent, which makes it easier for lesbians to revert to the other sex.” The case was dismissed. The court argued that “homosexual activity violates the moral law” and it also established that the “criminal provisions against male homosexuality (§§175ff. StGB)” were compatible with the Basic Law and did not constitute “a legal imprint of the Nazis”. Remarkably, the wording was not directed against sexual activity in general but against homosexuality.
1968 – Repeal of §§175/175a StGB in the GDR
In 1968, the GDR repealed §§175/175a StGB and replaced them with §151 StGB. Homosexual activity between adults and minors under the age of 18 remained liable to prosecution. For the first time, this extended to lesbian relationships. Even though homosexual activity between adults was legalized, the treatment of same-sex relationships remained unequal, as the age of consent for heterosexual activity was 16.
1969 – Liberalization of §175 StGB and Repeal of §175a in the Federal Republic
In the Federal Republic, §175 StGB was amended and §175a repealed in 1969. Sexual activity between men over the age of 21 was no longer punishable. Same-sex sex work, sexual activity with men under the age of 21, and the abuse of dependents, however, remained punishable offenses for men.
1972 – Legalization of Abortion in the GDR
In 1972, a “Law on the Termination of Pregnancy” was passed in the GDR: “In order to determine the number, time, and chronological sequence of births, in addition to the existing contraception options, women have the right to decide on the termination of a pregnancy on their own responsibility” (§1, clause 1). For the first time, pregnant women were able to make their own decisions about terminating their pregnancies during the first trimester and did not have to provide justification. Prior to this, abortions could only be performed for medical reasons that endangered the mother’s life or if one of the parents carried a hereditary disease. Terminating a pregnancy for social reasons was not allowed. Abortions had to be approved by a commission of doctors and representatives of the healthcare system and of the Democratic Women’s Association. Numerous women submitted petitions to the GDR government to protest this regulation. While this did not lead to an amendment, in 1965 a ministerial decree allowed the termination of pregnancy for social reasons. Whether such reasons were in place or not was examined and determined by the commission.
1976 – Amendment of Vital Records in the GDR
In the GDR, it was possible for transsexuals to change the gender marker on their vital records but this was tied to discriminatory and pathologizing medical assessments.
1976 – First Marriage and Family Law Amendment in the Federal Republic
Before 1976, marriage could only be dissolved according to the principle of fault, i.e. one of the spouses had to take responsibility for the failure of the marriage. Divorced required mutual consent; the “guilty” person had to pay spousal support to the former partner and usually lost child custody. This made divorce particularly challenging for women. Before the amendment, marriage was designed as “housewife marriage:” women could only be gainfully employed if this was compatible with their duties in marriage and family. Many women therefore did not work and risked their livelihood in the event of divorce. The amendment established a partnership principle that no longer prescribes the division of labor within marriage. It also introduced a “principle of disruption” for divorce. Since then, a marriage can be dissolved if one of the spouses seeks divorce and neither partner has to bear the blame. Spousal support is determined according to economic capacity, not by fault.
1976 – Indication-based Abortion Law in the Federal Republic
The debate about the amendment of §218 StGB, which has made abortions punishable since 1926/27, goes back to the 1974 introduction of two legislative proposals in the Federal Republic: the so-called “deadline solution” provided for the impunity of abortions up to the twelfth week, while the “indication solution” exempted abortions from punishment for medical, ethical, and social reasons. After the more liberal deadline solution was passed, the Constitutional Court declared it unconstitutional in 1975. In 1976, the indication solution was adopted.
1981 – Introduction of a Transsexual Law in the Federal Republic
In 1981, a Transsexual Law was passed in the Federal Republic that made it possible for trans persons to change their vital records, i.e. their gender on record, as well as their first name. However, this requires a diagnosis of gender identity disorder by an officially appointed physician. Trans associations have long protested against this discriminatory practice and its pathologizing effect.
1988 – Repeal of §151 StGB in the GDR
In 1987, the Supreme Court of the GDR ruled that “various regulations in the StGB (§§149, 150, 151) regarding homo- and heterosexual activity of adults with adolescents […] cannot be justified” because “like heterosexuality, homosexuality is a sexual behavior. Homosexuals thus do not stand outside socialist society, and civil rights are guaranteed to them as they are to all other citizens.” The repeal of §151 StGB was passed in 1988 and enacted in 1989.
1994 – Repeal of §175 StGB in Reunified Germany
German reunification and the convergence of the two legal systems led to the repeal of §175 after 122 years. Since then, consensual homosexual activity between adults is no longer punishable. The age of consent has been revised irrespective of sexual orientation.
1995 – Pregnancy and Family Assistance Amendment Act Becomes Applicable
In the course of legal harmonization after German reunification, abortion regulations were readjusted. According to §218a StGB, abortion remains illegal but under certain conditions it is not subject to prosecution. Pregnant women, among other things, must seek “conflict resolution counseling”. This counseling is by no means neutral, as it “serves to protect the unborn child” and “must be guided by the effort to encourage the woman to carry out the pregnancy” (§219 StGB). The high costs of abortion without medical indication are no longer covered by health insurance.
1997 – §177 StGB
Before 1997, marital rape was not a criminal offense in the Federal Republic or in unified Germany. It was not until 1997 that the qualifier “extramarital” was removed from §177 StGB, making sexual violence punishable within marriage, too.
2001 – Civil Partnership Act
In 2001, the Civil Partnership Act came into force, allowing same-sex couples to have their relationships legally recognized. Even though the law initially imposed the same obligations on them as on spouses in heterosexual marriage, it did not grant them the same rights, for example with regard to income and inheritance tax privileges or the adoption of children. This unequal treatment was gradually reversed, mainly by the Constitutional Court, and civil partnership today is largely aligned with heterosexual marriage.
2006 – General Equal Treatment Act
The General Equal Treatment Act (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz, AGG) implements European anti-discrimination directives and is intended to prevent unequal treatment in the labor and housing market, among other things. “The aim of this law is to prevent and eliminate discrimination based on race or ethnic origin, gender, religion or belief, disability, age, and sexual identity” (§1 AGG). For the first time, “sexual identity” was included among the grounds of discrimination.
2017 – Law Introducing the Right to Marry for Persons of the Same Sex
Since October 1, 2017, same-sex couples have the right to enter civil marriage. Pre-existing civil partnerships can be converted into marriage.
2018 – Reform of the Vital Records Act
Since 2018, instead of the binary gender options “male” and “female,” the option “diverse” may be selected or the question left unanswered In official documents. At the same time, it is possible to change the first name. Changing the gender marker on a birth certificate, however, requires the medical certification of a “variation of gender development.” This excludes both intersex persons who cannot present a doctor’s report and non-binary trans persons. Instead of promoting the self-determination and self-definition of persons, the law pathologizes the change of the gender marker by linking it to a medical examination.
2019 – Amendment of §219a StGB
In 2018, the Bundestag debated the amendment of a penal law related to abortion: according to §219a StGB, it is forbidden “to advertise one’s own or third-party services for the performance or promotion of abortion […] for pecuniary advantage or in a grossly offensive way.” In practice, this means that doctors who carry out abortions are not allowed to inform their patients about it. Doctors who for example on their website mention their abortion services face up to two years in prison. This both constrains the free choice of doctors and makes access to information on abortion more difficult for patients. With the new version of §219a, the advertising ban remains in place; doctors may indicate that they perform abortions but are not allowed to provide information on the termination of pregnancy.
7. Can Drag Queens be Socialists?
In 1973, the Homosexual Action Group West Berlin (HAW) organized an international meeting of homosexual activist groups. Some participants who had travelled all the way from Italy and France appeared in drag at the final demonstration, with “eye shadow and blue fingernails,” as the tabloid press reported. Their appearance triggered a major strategy debate within the West German gay movement, which went down in history as the “drag queens’ dispute” (“Tuntenstreit”). While some saw drag as an unnecessary and apolitical provocation that stood in the way of an alliance with the working class, others saw it as the most effective way to make one’s gay identity “public.” The latter wing of the HAW became henceforth known as Feminists and solidarized with the feminist women’s movement. Their position did not prevail: the feminist critique of gender roles was not to play an important role in the political project of the gay movement.
8. Must Lesbians Be Feminists?
The first national meeting of lesbian activists in the Federal Republic took place in West Berlin in 1974. More than 200 participants discussed the question “Is feminism the theory and lesbianism the practice?” with reference to the popular thesis attributed to Ti-Grace Atkinson. American authors such as Rita Mae Brown, Kate Millet, Jill Johnston, and Mary Daly were vital instigators of radical lesbian feminism in the Federal Republic. In the mid-1970s, lesbian activists separated from the gay movement; they no longer called themselves gay (schwul) but lesbian, became involved in the women’s movement, and were key to the success of the feminist revolt. In the GDR, too, lesbian women initially organized along with homosexual men but started forming their own groups by the mid-1980s.
Rockfete im Rock
In May 1974, the Women’s Center in West Berlin organized the first women’s festival in the Federal Republic. The Rockfete im Rock (Rock Party in a Skirt) – to which men were denied access – meant to provoke. Because a British band cancelled, a newcomer band called Flying Lesbians, formed just a few days earlier, played the main act. The performance of the “first women’s rock band on the continent” was a great success. They went on to produce an LP and toured across the Federal Republic and Europe in the following years.
In the face of (sexualized) violence against women and girls perpetuated by men, martial arts became an instrument of body politics. The idea was to unlearn passivity and fear, and to develop fierce self-confidence. Entire generations of feminists were socialized in the “dojo,” i.e. the Japanese martial arts training hall. The West Berlin supporters of the East Berlin group Lesbians in the Church not only provided them with feminist literature but also with self-defense workshops.
Final demonstration of the Pentecost meeting of the Homosexual Action Group West Berlin (HAW), West Berlin, 1973, image: Rüdiger Trautsch, SMU Berlin
The band Flying Lesbians at Rockfete im Rock at the Technical University, West Berlin, 1974, image: Cristina Perincioli
Self-defense group in the Gethsemane parish, East Berlin, 1986, images: Bettina Dziggel, RHG_FO_GZ_2037, RHG_FO_GZ_2032, RHG_FO_GZ_2033, RHG_FO_GZ_2036, Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft Berlin
9. LOVE AIDS RIOT SEX
The outbreak of the AIDS crisis at the beginning of the 1980s confronted gay communities with illness and death among their closest friends, while also renewing anti-homosexual resentment and dismantling the just recently achieved sexual uninhibitedness. In the fight against the epidemic, self-help organizations and health authorities closely collaborated in the development of a successful public health model, which also led to an enormous professionalization of the gay infrastructure. In particular in the US, where the authorities did not react for a long time, groups of drug users and (often trans) sex workers, who were also extremely affected, created new alliances with sex-positive feminists and gay and lesbian activists, which we now call “queer.” Since the mid-1990s, combination therapies have turned AIDS into a treatable chronic disease. Today, new drugs reduce the viral load below the detection threshold, making infected people no longer contagious. While the AIDS trauma continues to this day, the catastrophe, paradoxically, was a remarkable driver of the social normalization of homosexuality.
Self-disclosure, Jürgen Baldiga, 1992
“In 1959 as a sturdy eight-pounder I saw the light of day
Son of a miner
Since 1979 in Berlin
A cook/barkeeper/lover/prostitute/occasional worker for a living
Since 1980 the first steps towards the fine arts
Lustfully acquired an immunodeficiency in 1984
Since 1985 self-taught in the art of photography
Since 1989 fully in the picture or rather:
Never put off until tomorrow what you can today.”
Jürgen Baldiga (1959-1993)
After moving from the Ruhr region to West Berlin in 1979, the artist and photographer Jürgen Baldiga began taking photographs in the mid-1980s when he already knew that he was HIV positive. He immortalized the queer West Berlin of the late 1980s with his expressive portraits of the protagonists of the drag scene and provoked with his artistic exploration of AIDS and of his own death. Baldiga’s estate is part of the collection of the Schwules Museum, which dedicated a large exhibition to him in 1997.
Founded in 1977, SchwuZ was the first alternative gay club in West Berlin and a hub for political mobilization and networking as well as a hip party and performance space. The quirky shows of drag ensembles such as Ladies Neid (Ladies’ Envy), with members including Melitta Sundström (1964-1993), Pepsi Boston (1962-1993), Polette (d. 1989), and others, were legendary. Today SchwuZ is one of the largest queer clubs in Berlin.
Quote Melitta & Pepsi
“Why men in women’s clothes? What is a drag queen? What is a dress? All these questions are in the room but none shall be answered here. What are these images for, after all? Here we find images of lady actresses and teenagers taking revenge on their mothers. In a cosmos of their creation, they enjoy life up on high heels over the pigeonhole of bland routine. ‘If the world were to end tomorrow, we’d sew a dress for the occasion.’”
In the name of all
Melitta & Pepsi
(Jürgen Baldiga, Tunten Queens Tantes, Ein Männerfotobuch, Vis-a-Vis, 1988)
Dear Fellow Citizens
In 1985, the West German government distributed an AIDS information brochure to all households. Under the leadership of Health Secretary Rita Süßmuth (b. 1937), the Federal Republic’s AIDS policy focused on education, self-determination, and the protection of individual rights instead of government sanctions. In close collaboration with victims’ organizations such as AIDS-Hilfe, the health authorities developed a successful prevention program that is now internationally considered best practice.
What Do I Need to Know?
When in the mid-1980s the GDR government was no longer able to ignore HIV/AIDS as a “Western problem,” it responded with traditional public health measures: mass testing and tracing of transmission chains through the disclosed sexual partners of persons tested positive for HIV. In 1987, a set of measures was drawn up and resulted in the publication of the educational brochure AIDS: What Do I Need to Know? How Can I Protect Myself? Even though it contested homophobic prejudice, the brochure followed a moral agenda, suggesting as a preventive strategy the “development of solid relationships” instead of safer sex practices.
Founded in New York in 1987 as a broad alliance against the discrimination of people infected with HIV and suffering from AIDS in society, medicine, and politics, ACT UP (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) spread across the Western world. The Marlboro boycott in 1990/91 was ACT UP Germany’s largest campaign. It was directed against the tobacco company Philip Morris for its support of the homophobic US Senator Jesse Alexander Helms Jr. (1921-2008). The boycott was successful on both sides of the Atlantic: Philip Morris became a generous sponsor of gay activities and for the first time the German tobacco company Reemtsma wooed gay men as a new target group with a marketing campaign for its brand West.
Curated by Frank Wagner (1955-2016), the exhibition Vollbild Aids. An Exhibition about Life and Death in the West Berlin gallery nGBK (neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst) presented artistic positions on AIDS for the first time in Europe. The exhibition featured artworks by Gran Fury, General Idea, Peter Hujar, and David Wojnarowicz that would later become iconic. The works are as personal as they are political, documenting the artist’ touchingly intense and enormously productive confrontation with the tragedy. In 2013/14 Wagner presented an impressive overview of the changing relationship between art and AIDS in the exhibition LOVE AIDS RIOT SEX at nGBK, Berlin.
Educational brochure AIDS. What You Should Know about AIDS, published by the Federal Center for Health Education on behalf of the Federal Secretary of Youth, Family, Health, Cologne, 1985
Educational brochure AIDS. What Do I Need to Know? How Can I Protect Myself? by Niels Sönnichsen, Verlag Volk und Gesundheit, 1987, East Berlin, SMU Berlin
ACT UP flyers and Poster on the Marlboro boycott, Berlin, around 1990, SMU Berlin
Ad campaign of the cigarette brand West in magazines for gay men, from left to right: 1991; 1992; 1991, 2000; reverse: 1993, SMU Berlin
Jürgen Baldiga: Selbstportrait (Diva), 1990
Jürgen Baldiga: Polette, 1988/ Melitta Sundström, 1988/ Kenny (The Queen of Berlin), 1992/ Pepsi Boston, 1988
Vollbild Aids exhibition poster, West Berlin, 1988, design: Augenblitz, SMU Berlin
10. Sex Wars
Women’s fight against sexual violence and for control over their bodies was at the center of the feminist movements of the 1970s. With the insight that sexual relationships are not free from domination, pornography and sex work came under criticism, as did the sexual culture of gay men and sexual practices of women such as BDSM and the use of dildos. The participation of trans women in the movement also became the subject of controversy. Triggered by developments in the US, “sex-positive” feminists emerged in the Federal Republic in the mid-1980s. They positioned themselves against anti-gay resentments in the feminist movement and against “bourgeois” tendencies in the gay and lesbian scene, while advocating for queer forms of caring communities that did not model themselves after the heteronormative marriage-based family. The dispute went down in history as the “feminist sex wars” and remains an important reference for contemporary queer political activism today.
Krista Beinstein (b. 1955) is a photographer, artist and activist, grande dame of pornographic performance, enfant terrible of erotic photography, and pioneer of sex-positive feminism. Hefty controversy follows her every step of the way: be it her images of women in leather with dicks, which in the early days of the women’s movement were regarded as identification with the male enemy, or her positive references to sadomasochistic practices.
Quote Krista Beinstein
“Art saves me and makes me see the magic (…). The magic also lies in the desire, in the erotic encounter. Unrepeatable, and therefore always repeated, just like photography. One could actually also say: my images are corny. They are romantic, on a quest for the unique and magical through the process of repetition.”
From: Sex ist mein Medium. Claudia Reiche interviewt Krista Beinstein – Fünf inszenierte Gespräche (Sex is my Medium. Claudia Reiche Interviews Krista Beinstein: Five Staged Interviews). February 28, 2015, Beinstein’s apartment, video
“Porn Stores to Pieces!”
Shattered store windows, robberies, and attacks with butyric acid: sex shops and adult movie theaters were the main targets of militant feminist protests against sexism and misogyny. The left-wing autonomous group Rote Zora (Red Zora), for example, raided a number of sex shops in Cologne in 1977 and robbed goods worth more than 100,000 German Marks. In their statement, the group writes: “These stores have bothered us for a long time. Women are reduced to their bodies – degraded to sex objects that can be handled at the buyer’s discretion. Let’s smash porn stores to pieces!”
The Nachtexpress – Zeitung für Bar, Bordell und Bordstein (Night Express – Newspaper for Bar, Brothel, and Curb) was published regularly from 1980 to 1995 by the association HYDRA, the first independent organization of sex workers in Germany. In the Nachtexpress, sex workers reported on their daily work routines, discussed their working conditions, and argued against the stigmatization of sex work. As part of a state-funded AIDS prevention program, HYDRA received public funding in 1985 and was able to professionalize its activities. It continues to stand up for the rights and interests of sex workers today.
Key catalyzers of the West German debate included American figures such as, on the one hand, Gayle Rubin, Susie Bright, Pat Califia, Camille Paglia, and Samois, a group of lesbian BDSM enthusiasts, and, on the other, Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin, Robin Morgan and the organization Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media. In German-speaking countries, the controversy focused primarily on the PorNO campaign launched by Alice Schwarzer and her magazine EMMA.
The film Verführung: Die grausame Frau (Seduction: The Cruel Woman) by Elfi Mikesch (b. 1940) and Monika Treut (b. 1954) came out in 1985. Based on the novel Venus in Fur by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, the film revolved around sadistic and masochistic fantasies and was highly controversial with both mainstream and lesbian-feminist audiences. In the late 1980s, Treut immigrated to the United States and became an important transatlantic ambassador and influential protagonist of the New Queer Cinema with films including Annie (1989), about the sex-positive icon Annie Sprinkle, and Gendernauts (1999), in which she introduces the transgender scene in San Francisco.
Krista Beinstein: self-portrait, 1988
Krista Beinstein: from the series „Dominas“, 1985/ Boy, 1988
Krista Beinstein: from the series „Schwule Ladys“, 1985
Cover of the magazine Nachtexpress by the association HYDRA, West Berlin, 1980s, FFBIZ. Das feministische Archiv Berlin
Women’s demonstration in the red light district on Walpurgis Night, 1978, Frankfurt/Main, image: Barbara Klemm, FFBIZ. Das feministische Archiv Berlin
Graffiti at a sex shop, 1976-1986, image: unknown, FFBIZ. Das feministische Archiv Berlin
Smashed sex shop windows, 1976-1984, FFBIZ. Das feministische Archiv Berlin
Initiative against sexist advertising, undated, image: unknown, FFBIZ. Das feministische Archiv Berlin
Initiative against pornography, undated, image: unknown, FFBIZ. Das feministische Archiv Berlin
Die Machtfrage aushandeln (Negotiating the Power Issue), interview with Pat Califia and Gayle Rubin, conducted by Nancy Wechsler, in the feminist magazine Courage, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1982, SMU Berlin
Das kalte Herz (The Cold Heart), article by Catharine A. MacKinnon in the feminist magazine EMMA, No. 10, 1987, EMMA Archiv
11. Showing Our Colors
ADEFRA (Black Women in Germany) is a network of black women and women of color. Founded in 1986 as a non-profit organization, it was one of the first associations of black people in Germany. The work of black activists inspired by Audre Lorde (1934-1992) led to a debate about racism, anti-Semitism, and classism in the women’s and lesbian movement and beyond. From 1984 until her death in 1992, the African-American writer taught several times as a visiting professor at Freie Universität Berlin. Encouraged by her, the groundbreaking book Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out, edited by May Ayim (Opitz), Katharina Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz, was published in 1986. May Ayim (1960-1996) made a name as an activist and writer. In 2009 a street was named after her: the May-Ayim-Ufer (May Ayim Bank) in Berlin-Kreuzberg.
Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider, 1984
“Certainly there are very real differences between us of race, age, and sex. But it is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior and expectation.”
Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider, Trumansburg, NY, Crossing Press, 1984
Audre Lorde at a reading in Munich, 1987, image: Daniela Tourkazi
ADEFRA national meeting in Cologne, 1987, images: Daniela Tourkazi
Cover of the magazine Afrekete, published by ADEFRA members, FFBIZ. Das feministische Archiv Berlin
Our own experience of discrimination does not prevent us from discriminating against others. Organizations of queer black people and people of color such as Gladt e.V. criticize discriminatory behavior and structural exclusion in queer communities whose actors often do not want to recognize that they, too, reproduce the racism of mainstream society. It is equally important for these organizations to create their own spaces and empowerment networks. Events such as the trans film festival TransFormations decentralize perspectives of privilege and give space to marginalized experiences; demonstrations like behindert und verrückt feiern Pride Parade (Mad and Disability Pride Parade) address the queer scene’s ableism. Event series such as the hip-hop hoe_mies, which caters specifically to “women and gender-queer people of color,” seek to offer safer spaces to these communities.
Gayhane – House of Halay is a party for LGBTQIA and their friends. It has taken place once a month in the legendary Club SO36 in Berlin-Kreuzberg since 1999. Initiated by Fatma Souad and Sabuha Salaam, with its “HomoOriental Dancefloor” where people of all sexual orientations and gender identities cavort, the party has become an institution of the queer, post-migrant Berlin. Gayhane is one of the most diverse queer nightlife event in Berlin.
Gayhane, undated, SO36 Berlin
behindert und verrückt Feiern Pride Parade party, flyer, sticker, 2013, credit: Hannah Fitsch; posters, 2014, 2015, credits: Hannah Fitsch, Nina Urban; flyers, stickers, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, credit: Hannah Fitsch, Julia Weidenbach ; flyer, 2018, credit: Ruth Wiegering; posters, 2018, credit: Jasper Dombrowski / Gegen, credit: Stefan Fähler / House of Living Colors, credit: Danielle Nebula / hoe_mies, Vol. 1 2, 4, 9, 10, 11, credit: Gizem Adiyaman, Lucia Lucian / hoe_mies, Vol. 7, credit: Gizem Adiyaman, Tatjana Glowinski / Pornceptual, credit: Chris Phillips / Rooms 4 Resistance, 2015, 2016, credit: Stefan Fähler / TransFormations, 2018, credit: @soyfordkelly
13. Smash the Cis-Tem
While first initiatives were formed in West Germany as early as the 1980s, trans and intersex activists did not emerge as key players in the queer movement until the end of the 1990s. One of their basic political demands, the depathologization of trans and intersex people, has yet to be met. Since 2017 there has been a legal improvement: under certain conditions, it is possible to choose the option “diverse” or to leave the gender question unanswered in official documents. Associations like the Berlin-based TransInterQueer e.V. (TrIQ) not only intervene in the legal and healthcare system but also create infrastructures of support and counseling as well as subcultural spaces for trans and intersex persons, where they at least temporarily are not exposed to the demands of cis-heterosexist society. Many of these actors consider themselves part of the queer feminist movement and share its political agenda of dismantling the gender binary.
In reaction to the increasing commercialization and depoliticization of the “official” Christopher Street Day (CSD), Berlin saw the launch of alternative events such as the transgenial CSD (tCSD) in 1998, the Kreuzberg CSD from 2014, and the X*CSD in 2016. These collectively organized demonstrations explicitly placed themselves in the “tradition of the Stonewall Riots and the militant resistance of above all migrant gays, lesbians, and trans people.” In the wake of conflicts over racism, anti-Semitism, and the handling of sexual assault, the last event took place in 2016.
“‘Is this real?’ Yes, I say. It is. ‘Did it hurt?’ Yes, but I was naive. The concept I had in mind was based on a self-portrait by Catherine Opie. I have always loved this photograph and wanted to pay homage to it. So I asked a friend to carve NORMAL on my skin. ‘And the beard?’ I work with my own hair. ‘Oh ok, I see, the beard isn’t real.’ Well. That depends on how you define fake and real. For me, that’s my real beard.”
(Risk Hazekamp, 2007)
The artistic work of Risk Hazekamp (The Hague/Berlin) revolves around the complex relationships between body and image, political and social systems through a combination of personal activism, analog photography, and intersectional thinking.
14. Civil Registry Office Campaign
Since the beginning of the 1990s, homosexual civil rights associations – most prominently the SVD (Gay Association in the GDR), renamed LSVD in 1999 (Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany) – have been fighting for marriage equality. In 2001, the German Bundestag passed the “Act on Registered Civil Partnerships.” This law introduced a kind of “marriage lite” for homosexual couples and did not grant full legal equality with heterosexual marriage. While conservative groups agitated against the law, the Federal Constitutional Court ruled in favor of homosexual couples in several instances and acted as a motor for marriage equality. In June 2017, the Bundestag voted in favor of extending marriage to same-sex couples. “Homo marriage” remains controversial among the queer population itself. The main criticism is that it does not take into account the living arrangements of many queer people, which may include more than two people assuming responsibility for each other and in some cases also for children.
Since the early 2000s, the “particular” situation of queer immigrants has been a topic of debate and concern for a variety of civil society, academic, and state entities. Research grants have been awarded, specialized counseling centers set up, and public awareness campaigns organized. The LSVD, for example, launched the Respekt campaign and has since presented it in different editions, featuring people depicted as “immigrants” juxtaposed with others who appear to be “of German origin.” Networks of queer people of color have criticized both the stereotypical presentation of immigrant communities as generally homophobic and the implicit postulation of the LGBTIQA scene as white.
tCSD Berlin banner, postcard, and poster, 2008/2009, credit: TCSD Berlin
Risk Hazekamp, Under Influence / Catherine Opie, analog color print, 2007
Volker Beck and other parliamentary group members of the party “Bündnis 90/Die Grünen” celebrate the result of the Bundestag’s vote on same-sex marriage, 06/30/2017, Berlin, image: Wolfgang Kumm/picture alliance
Flyer Wir wollen, daß Schwule ihr Recht bekommen (We Want Gays to Get their Rights), undated, image: Volker Janssen, SVD / Brochure Weg frei zum Standesamt (Clear the Road to the Civil Registry Office), SVD, around 1991/ Flyer Ticket zur Gleichberechtigung (Ticket to Equal Rights), 2003, LSVD / Flyer Wir wollen, dass Lesben und Schwule ihr Recht bekommen (We Want Lesbians and Gays to Get their Rights), 2002, LSVD / Flyer Keine halben Sachen (We Do Nothing Halfway), 2009, LSVD / Ehe für alle – Hartnäckigkeit zahlt sich aus (Marriage for All – Obstinacy Pays Off), 2017, LSVD / Poster Aktion Standesamt 19. August 1992 (Civil Registry Office Campaign, August 19, 1992), 1992, design: trash line design, image: Jörg Mang, SVD / Poster Aktion Ja Wort (I Do Campaign), around 1999, LSVD
From the brochure Liebe verdient Respekt (Love Deserves Respect), published by BLSB e.V. and LSVD Berlin-Brandenburg, 2010
With the continuing criminalization of male homosexuality after 1945, both German states recognized the persecution of homosexual men by the Nazi state as lawful and not as Nazi injustice. Memorials, museums, and research ignored their history. Attempts to commemorate their fates were met with massive resistance. In 1984, homosexual activists unveiled the first plaque commemorating the homosexual victims of Nazism on the grounds of the former Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. It bears the inscription “Totgeschlagen – Totgeschwiegen” (“Slaughtered – Silenced”). In 2002, the Bundestag voted to overrule the Nazi verdicts against homosexuals. In 2008, the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted under Nazism was inaugurated. Heated debates on whether and how lesbian women should be commemorated in the context of Nazi persecution and extermination persist to this day.
Between 1984 and 1986 the East Berlin group Lesbians in the Church undertook a number of attempts to publicly commemorate their “lesbian sisters” in the Ravensbrück National Memorial on the site where once stood the largest Nazi concentration camp for women. Albeit hindered by the state, these were the first commemorative acts specifically dedicated to lesbian women. Since 2013, a German-Austrian initiative has been campaigning for the installation of a memorial plaque on the site – so far unsuccessfully. This is to a large extent due to the resistance of historians such as the former LSVD (Lesbian and Gay Association in Germany) speaker and member of the advisory board of the Brandenburg Memorial Sites organization, Alexander Zinn, for whom the idea promotes the “myth of lesbian persecution”.
In 1983, queer groups in the GDR started organizing regular visits to the National Memorial Sites. On June 30, 1984 – a date deliberately picked to coincide with Christopher Street Day – some 80 people visited the two memorial sites in Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald. Such initiatives were an important political practice of the LGBTQIA community in the GDR, which allowed them to circumvent the tight restrictions on freedom of assembly and association. At the same time, the attempt to establish lesbians and gays as “victims of fascism” attacked the anti-fascist founding myth and thus the self-conception of the state.
Wreath-laying ceremony at the Memorial Museum Ravensbrück, Ravensbrück/Fürstenberg (Havel), 1985, RHG_FO_GZ_0744, Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft Berlin
Blank space of the wreath laid by the group Lesbians in the Church at the Memorial Museum Ravensbrück, Ravensbrück/Fürstenberg (Havel), 1984, image: Bettina Dziggel, SMU Berlin
Reading from the diaries of gay men at the Buchenwald Memorial, organized by the church’s homosexuality workgroup, Buchenwald, 1982, image: Matthias Kittlitz, SMU Berlin
Memorial wreath for the homosexual victims of the Buchenwald concentration camp, organized by members of the homosexuality workgroup of the Protestant Student Community Leipzig, Buchenwald, 1987, image: Matthias Kittlitz, RHG_FO_GZ_0690, Robert-Havemann-Gesellschaft Berlin
16. Pink Triangle
A pink triangle (Rosa Winkel) was used to mark prisoners sentenced under paragraphs 175/175a and sent to Nazi concentration camps. In 1972, Johann Neumann published the book The Men with the Pink Triangle under the pseudonym Heinz Heger. It was the first testimony of a homosexual concentration camp survivor, Josef Kohout, and contributed to a “rediscovery” of the persecution of homosexual men in Nazi Germany. In the mid-1970s, the pink triangle gained popularity as a symbol of the West German gay movement thanks to, among others, an appeal by the Homosexual Action Group West Berlin (HAW) in its magazine HAW Info in 1975. In the GDR, too, the Homosexual Interest Group Berlin (HIB) called on its members to wear the triangle at the May Day demonstration in 1976. During the AIDS crisis, ACT UP’s iconic logo with a reversed pink triangle and the slogan “Silence=Death” gave the triangle international significance. Today, along with the rainbow flag, the pink triangle is one of the most recognizable LGBTQIA symbols and is even used in product marketing by mainstream companies.
ACT-UP poster with the design of the Silence=Death Project, 1987, credit: ACT UP, Wellcome Collection
Posters with the pink triangle from the SMU Berlin collection
1975 HAW Info magazine cover and posters with the pink triangle from the SMU Berlin collection
Conservative, Christian-fundamentalist, and rightwing organizations and parties that regard the heterosexual nuclear family as the “germ cell of the nation” and see it threatened are growing stronger. These groups resemble each other in their anti-feminism: parties like the Alternative for Germany (AfD) want to abolish gender studies programs in universities; allegedly “worried parents” protest against sexual and gender diversity education in school curricula; and the pro-life movement demands a ban on abortions and advocates traditional gender roles.
The What-the-Fuck!? alliance mobilizes against the most important rally of Christian-fundamentalist pro-life groups in Germany, the annual March for Life in Berlin. With the slogan “my body my choice,” the alliance advocates the right to sexual self-determination and gender self-identification and demands the abolition of paragraphs 218 (which criminalizes abortion, save in exceptional cases) and 219 (which complicates access to information about abortion). The struggle of the feminist movements of the 1970s, for which the legalization of abortion was a central demand, continues.
B: Repeal §218!
In 1971, on the cover of the magazine Stern, 374 women admitted: “We had an abortion!” This campaign triggered a broad protest movement and reproductive rights became one of the most important demands of the feminist movement in West Germany. Lesbian feminists vigorously supported the feminist cause and pushed against the abortion ban. According to §218 of German criminal law (StGB), abortion remains a crime to this day and is only in exceptional cases not subject to prosecution. The photographer Petra Gall (1955-2018) captured the rallies against §218. She is also the great documentarian of the West Berlin women’s and lesbian scene and of the underground (women’s) music scene of the 1980s. Her estate contains tens of thousands of photographs and is part of the collection of Schwules Museum.
Posters and banners against the March for Life, Berlin, 2016, 2017, 2018, What-the-Fuck-Bündnis
Demonstrations against §218, West Berlin, 1984 / Protest against §218 in front of Humboldt University, Berlin, 1991 / Walpurgis Night demonstaration, West Berlin, 1983, images: Petra Gall, SMU Berlin
18. Minor Contradictions
Right-wing populist movements exploit the uncertainty created by economic crisis and cultural transformation to mobilize against queer feminist achievements. They claim that the focus of the established political forces on the rights of ethnic and sexual minorities and women happens at the expense of the “little man” and his concerns. As children of the leftist revolt, the early lesbian-feminist and the gay movements were committed to the anti-capitalist cause. But their insistence that the oppression of women and homosexuals were not “minor contradictions” that could wait for the revolution’s victory differentiated theirs from more traditional leftist positions. In the following years, even as the revolutionary momentum waned and the fight for equal rights dominated especially gay politics, the critique of class relations never completely disappeared from the feminist agenda. The ongoing theoretical development of so-called materialist or Marxist feminism and the practical criticism by groups such as the Prololesben (Proletarian Lesbians) attest to this.
In 1981, in an sqatted, later legalized building in Berlin-Schöneberg, an activist space “for the female arts” was created in a former fur store. The collectives that over the years ran it were united in the subversive effort to provoke their own feminist community. The now legendary project space – like many other noncommercial spaces – closed down when public funding was discontinued in 1996. The Bauarbeiterinnenparty (Female Construction Workers’ Party) ironically references both the fetishization of the muscular working class man in gay and the (erotic) appropriation of masculinity in butch lesbian culture.
As early as the 1980s, groups such as the West Berlin Prololesben addressed economic privilege and class issues in the magazines and events of the lesbian-feminist movement. Seeking empowerment, they criticized what they viewed as classist tendencies – discrimination based on social background – within the movement. One of their interventions was the establishment of a widely used redistribution account into which well-off lesbians could pay and from which lesbians in need could anonymously withdraw money.
Gay Workers’ Struggle
In 1978 an AG Schwule (Gay Working Group), the following year an AG Lesben (Lesbian Working Group) were founded within the Kommunistischer Bund (KB, Communist Alliance), a Maoist organization based in Hamburg. These would remain the only working groups within the radical left to continuously engage with gay and lesbian issues, for example with a column in the newspaper Arbeiterkampf (Workers’ Struggle). Though the KB had been skeptical about the autonomous women’s movement and its women’s policies had long been limited to winning the support of proletarian women for the class struggle, it opened itself up to feminist issues.
“Give Us the Good Life! To All of Us Worldwide!”
Unpaid or poorly paid and undervalued “care work” is the focus of feminist economics, because it makes the entanglement of hierarchical gender relations and capitalist mode of production explicit. Child and elderly care and housework are commonly assigned to women and (mostly immigrant) care workers. Alliances like the Care Revolution, a Germany-wide network, bring activists from different fields of social reproduction together and promote a community that “does not focus on profit maximization, but on the needs of the people, and does not distribute care work along racist, gender, or class-based structures.”
Pelze Bauarbeiterinnenparty poster. Berlin, 1993. SMU Berlin, permanent loan by Roswitha Baumeister
Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (GEW, Education and Science Union) poster with sticker of the gay group AG Rosa Februar. Berlin, May 1, 1977. SMU Berlin
Homosexual emancipation groups at May Day protests. Berlin, 1970s. Images: Rolf Fischer. Bottom right image: Günther Höhne. SMU Berlin
Care Revolution network logos. Berlin, 2018
AG Prololesben event announcement in the 5th Lesbian Awareness Week’s program. Berlin, 1989. SMU Berlin
Columns on gays, lesbians, and women in the newspaper Arbeiterkampf. Hamburg, 1977-1981. SMU Berlin
19. Stonewall Moments
Ina Rosenthal – You Will Never Be Forgotten!
The moment I realized that the words lesbian or woman had not been mentioned even once in the past 45 minutes at the memorial event for the homosexual victims of National Socialism, and that the coming minutes would not change that, I knew that we should no longer wait to be perceived as equal and visible. It’s time to empower ourselves. I just had to say it loud and clear at that moment!
Ina Rosenthal (b. 1968) works in Berlin as an author, coach, project manager, and queer activist.
Katharina Oguntoye & Carolyn Gammon – We Stand on Your Shoulders!
The Montreal Feminist Book Fair in the summer of 1988, where Katharina presented her book Showing Our Colors, was a formative event for both of us: We got to meet each other there (and have been together for 28 years) and we also met Audre Lorde. The encounter with Lorde changed our lives. We all stand on the shoulders of great activists like Audre Lorde and the champions of the Stonewall Riots!
Katharina Oguntoye (b. 1959) is a co-founder of ADEFRA (Schwarze Frauen in Deutschland, Black Women in Germany) and of the Intercultural Network JOLIBA. She is a co-author of the book Showing Our Colors, published in 1986. Carolyn Gammon (b. 1959) is an author and LGBTQIA activist.
Ulrike Janz – IHRSINN
When I was in Canada in the 1980s, I found lesbian magazines like the British Gossip: A Journal of Lesbian Ethics or Sinister Wisdom and Lesbian Ethics from the United States. And I wanted such a forum for radical feminist-lesbian theory, too, which is why the founding of IHRSINN was so important to me.
Ulrike Janz (b. 1956) lives in the Ruhr region, came out in 1982, and has been active as a lesbian feminist since then. She was a co-founder and co-editor of the “radical feminist lesbian magazine” IHRSINN, which was published twice a year from 1990 to 2004.
Bernd Gaiser – Stonewall in Berlin
The first Christopher Street Day in West Berlin was triggered by the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. And by the necessity for lesbians and gays to take to the street for the first time since the Pentecost demonstration on the Ku’damm in 1973 – not under the same banner, but united – to make visible their lesbian and gay ways of life with the motto “Make your gayness public” while lesbian women followed the slogan “Lesbians rise up and the world will get to know you!”
Bernd Gaiser (b. 1945) has lived in Berlin since 1967 and today devotes himself to the queer multi-generational housing project Lebensort Vielfalt (Diversity as a Place to Live). In 1979, together with Andreas Pareik, who died from a car accident in 1982, he initiated Christopher Street Day (CSD), the first Pride Parade in Berlin.
Ulli Würdemann – „…a Free Gay Life“
Jean Claude Letist (1946-1990) was a leading actor in the gay and lesbian movement in Cologne (and other places) and died in 1990 of AIDS complications. For me, he was not only a political companion for many years, but a role model of a self-confident, politically committed gay man. The Cologne local newspaper refused to print the word “gay” in his obituary. Back then, that upset us so much that we protested in front of the newspaper’s administration building. That evening, ACT UP Cologne was finally born. Our protest was successful: the publisher apologized in a letter with a 2,000 DM check for the queer center SCH.U.L.Z.
Ulli Würdemann (b. 1959), co-founder of ACT UP Cologne, AIDS activist, author of the book Silence = Death, Action = Life: ACT UP in Germany, 1989-1993, self-published 2017.
Nadja Schallenberg – Courage to Be Yourself
A decisive moment was the founding of Transen Power in 1992 – a meeting place for trans people in the Sonntags-Club. We did PR work and raised awareness for the lives of trans people, who in the early 1990s were not yet an obvious part of the LGBTQIA scenes. For me, Transen Power was an important place to connect people and to accompany them in their transition.
Nadja Schallenberg (*1969) is a trans activist who founded the First Interest Group for Transvestites and Transsexuals in the GDR in 1990 and the self-help group “Butterfly” for lesbian-transsexual and queer women in 1998.
Gianni Jovanovic – Queer Roma Action
Prejudice, exclusion, and discrimination are part of the daily life of most Romani people. To this day, in 2019, the Sinti and Roma are still discriminated against. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, intersexual, and queer people, too, know the feeling of not belonging. I want to change that. Years ago, I decided to lead my own life. Participating in the Cologne CSD parade was important because I wanted visibility and publicity for our community – we should be seen, we exist, and are not alone!
Gianni Jovanovic is an LGBTQIA and Roma activist and founded the Queer Roma initiative in Cologne.
Ina Rosenthal on the first Berlin commemoration ceremony for lesbian victims of the National Socialism in Tiergaten/Berlin, 2018, Photo: Caroline Walburg
Audre Lorde & Katharina Oguntoye, Montreal, 1988, image: Carolyn Gammon
Carolyn Gammon & Katharina Oguntoye with their son at the Lesbian Spring Meeting, Cologne, 1989, image: self timer
IHRSINN No. 7 magazine cover, 1993, SMU Berlin
Bernd Gaiser (right) at CSD, Berlin, 1979, image: Rolf Fischer
Obituary by glf-sozialwerk e.V. for Jean Claude Letist in the Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 03/05/1990, SMU Berlin
Brochure Transen Power, Berlin, around 1992, SMU Berlin
Gianni Jovanovic at the Cologne CSD, 2015, Photo: Pascal Amos Rest