How are the LGBT movement and socialism related?


Benno Gammerl

To person

Benno Gammerl, born in 1976, is a historian and research associate at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in the "History of Emotions" research area.

How did the situation of lesbians and gays develop in Germany between 1945 and 1989? What successes can the homosexual movement look back on in the struggle for respect and recognition? Benno Gammerl gives an overview.

As a result of the gay and lesbian civil rights movement, the Life Partnership Act of 2001 came into being in Germany. (& copy AP)


"Just the gays," says Walter, "we've forgotten them." The older man played by Werner Dissel looks back pessimistically into contemporary German history of homosexualities. He is sitting in an (East) Berlin restaurant in front of a table with empty brandy glasses, while the gay and lesbian nightlife is celebrated in the background. The historiographical key scene from Heiner Carow's film "Coming Out" (GDR, 1989) throws a resigned but not desperate light on the hopes for progress that the man-loving man had placed in democratic Germany after the persecution by the National Socialists. Even today, his somewhat tired eyes tell the young teacher Philipp, who is sitting across from him, the violation of the heteronormative order leads to punishment and grief.

Didn't the situation of same-sex lovers in Germany really improve between 1945 and 1989? Or asked less judgmentally at first: How did the way of life of homosexual people and their environment change during this time?

Intimate spheres, semi-publics and repression

The very terminology already indicates a change. While the adjective "homosexual" was closely linked to medical, psychological and criminological discourses about deviance and perversion in the 1950s, [1] it is now a largely neutral description of love for people of the same sex. [2] The most common self-designations, on the other hand, are "gay" for men and "lesbian" for women. In the 1950s these words were carefully avoided by those "affected". Women who met at private dance events or lived together at the time were more likely to emphasize their innocent girlfriends and decency than their same-sex loves. Attempts to create structures for "like-minded people" beyond the private sphere remained very sparse. [3] The lively social and cultural city life of women-loving women of the Weimar period, which the National Socialists had destroyed, hardly continued in western or eastern Germany in the 1950s and 1960s. Beyond pubertal romances à la "Girls in Uniform" - the second film adaptation of this material with Romy Schneider came to the cinemas in 1958 - the married mother alone embodied the ideal of the adult woman during this time. Not least because of the threat of discrimination and abuse, a strategy of hiding oneself dominated among women-loving women. [4]

The same was true for homophile men. Magazines designed for them such as "The Path to Friendship and Tolerance" from Hamburg or "Der Kreis" from Zurich were able to establish themselves in the West over several years. In addition, there were predominantly male-run organizations such as the "Association for Humanitarian Lifestyle" in Frankfurt am Main, who wanted to use scientific persuasion to transform the social rejection of homosexuality into tolerance. The model of non-sexual comradeship and the aesthetic and theoretical exaggeration of male intimacy corresponded to this goal and the homophile spirit of the time. [5] However, the publications and groups mentioned hardly reached a broader public. The lives of men who love men also largely took place in private secrecy. This was all the more true for the GDR as homosexual groups and magazines were banned there. [6]

In the Federal Republic of Germany, state repression reached a peak around 1960, and many publishers and associations had to stop their work. In addition, the criminality of sexual acts between men forced them to be cautious and clandestine. Much of the often anonymous sexual life between men took place in the semi-darkness of public toilets. Around 45,000 people were sentenced in the West between 1950 and 1965 under Section 175 of the Criminal Code. [7]

  1. Cf. Hans-Joachim von Kondratowitz, keyword early Federal Republic, in: Rüdiger Lautmann (Ed.), Homosexualität. Handbook of Theory and Research History, Frankfurt / M. 1993, pp. 239-243; Bert Thinius, Experiences of gay men in the GDR and in Germany East, in: Wolfram Setz (Ed.), Homosexualität in der DDR, Hamburg 2006, pp. 17-20.
  2. This change in meaning left the homo / hetero dichotomy, which can be regarded as the central signature of the 20th century, untouched. See Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, The Epistemology of the Closet, Berkeley-Los Angeles 1990; Michel Foucault, The Will to Know. Sexuality and Truth 1, Frankfurt / M. 1977.
  3. Cf. Christina Karstädt / Anette von Zitzewitz (eds.), ... much too much concealed. A historical documentation of the life stories of lesbian women in the German Democratic Republic, Berlin 1996; Kirsten Plötz, as if the better half were missing. "Single" women in the early FRG, 1949-1969, Königstein / Ts. 2005.
  4. See Sabine Puhlfürst, "More than mere enthusiasm". The representation of love relationships between girls / young women as reflected in the German-language women's literature of the 20th century, Essen 2002, pp. 174-180; Ilse Kokula, years of happiness, years of suffering. Conversations with older lesbian women, Kiel 1990².
  5. See Burkhardt Riechers, Friendship and Decency. Guiding principles in the self-image of male homosexuals in the early Federal Republic, in: Invertito. Jahrbuch für die Geschichte der Homosexualitäten, 1 (1999), pp. 12-46; Martin Dannecker, The insatiable desire for recognition. Homosexual policy in the fifties and sixties, in: Detlef Grumbach (Ed.), What does gay mean here? Politics and Identities in Change, Hamburg 1997, pp. 27-44.
  6. See Andreas Sternweiler, self-assertion and perseverance, Berlin 2004, p. 49; Rainer Herrn, Schwule Lebenswelten im Osten: other places, other biographies, Berlin 1999, p. 30f and passim.
  7. See A. Sternweiler (ibid.), P. 149; See also Sabine Mehlem, Police investigation methods according to §175 StGB, in: Schwulenreferat im AStA of the Free University of Berlin (ed.), Homosexualität und Wissenschaft II, Berlin 1992, pp. 193-208.