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Out of the Closet behind the Wall: Sexual Politics and Social Change in the GDR

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 January 2017


The search for avenues to express changing cultural values has shaped recent politics in the German Democratic Republic (GDR). During the past decade tens of thousands of GDR citizens became involved in new social movements that included issueoriented groups within both the Protestant church and such mass organizations as the Kulturbund (League of Culture) and the Freie Deutsche Jungend (Free German Youth, FDJ). The rise of these issue-oriented movements evoked reactions from the former government ranging from repression to accommodation. Perhaps the most striking example of the old regime's response to social change can be seen in the emergence of a very visible gay and lesbian movement. Beginning with a handful of activists within the Evangelical church, the East German gay and lesbian movement expanded into state and party institutions throughout the republic. In 1985, partially in response to the growing movement, the state began a campaign to end discrimination on the basis of sexual and emotional orientation.

Copyright © Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies. 1990

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The author would like to express her thanks to Zvi Gitelman, Ronald Inglehart, Alfred G. Meyer, and William Zimmerman for their comments on various drafts of this article. The research in the German Democratic Republic was made possible through assistance from the Liga fur Volkerfreundschaft der DDR, as well as through financial support of the Center for Russian and East European Studies of the University of Michigan.

1. On changes in western Europe, see Inglehart, Ronald, Culture Shift (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1990), 11 Google Scholar, 66-161; see also Louis, Dumont, “Religion, Politics, and Society in the Individualistic Universe, ” in Proceedings of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (London : Royal Anthropological Institute, 1970), 3141.Google Scholar

2. Compare Wolfgang, Eichhorn I., “Individuum und Gesellschaft im Sozialismus, ” Einheit 28 (1973) : 779789 Google Scholar, and Koch, Hans, “Karl Marx und die ‘SelbstverwirkHchung des Individuums,” Einheit 28 (1973) : 12831292.Google Scholar

3. Compare Miller, Reinhold, “Sinn des Lebens und Anspruch an sich selbst, ” Einheit 38 (1983) : 917923 Google Scholar; Stiehler, Gottfried, “Kollektivitat und Individualitat, ” Einheit 39 (1984) : 692697 Google Scholar; Jarmatz, Klaus, “Dialektik von Literatur und Literaturkritik im Sozialismus und im Kampf der beiden Systeme, ” Weimarer Beitrage, no. 3 (1981) : 5–25Google Scholar; Uwe Korner, “Sterben und Tod und der Sinn des Lebens, ” DeutscheZeitschriftfiir Philosophic 30 (1982) : 876-891; Wrona, Vera, “ZumBegriff derSelbstverwirklichung, ” Deutsche Zeitschriftfiir Philosophic 34 (1986) : 784794 Google Scholar; and Kretzschmar, Albrecht, Soziale Unterschiede-Unterschiedliche Personslichkeiten (Berlin : Dietz, 1985 Google Scholar.

4. Steininger, Herbert, “Freiheit und Individualitat, ” Einheit 35 (1980) : 771779 Google Scholar; and Kosing, Alfred, “Sinnerfulltes Leben in unserer Gesellschaft, ” Einheit 37 (1982) : 676684.Google Scholar

5. See Honecker, Erich, Bericht des Zentralkomitees der Sozialistischen Einheitspartei Deutschlands an den XL Parteitag der SED (Berlin : Dietz, 1986), 76.Google Scholar

6. Compare Thinius, Hubert, “Zur Fragen der Personlichkeitsentfaltung Homosexueller im Sozialismus, ” in Psychosoziale Aspekte der Homosexualitat, ed. Lykke Aresin, Kurt Bach, and Erwin Giinther (Jena : Friedrich Schiller Universitat, 1986), 1834 Google Scholar; Dietmar Bsonek, “Zu Problemen der ethischen Bewertung der Homosexualitat in der entwickelten sozialistischen Gesellschaft, ” in ibid., 35-46; Wolfgang Bradter, “Homosexualitat, —Menschenwtirde und Toleranz im Sozialismus, ” in ibid., 95-100; and “Individualitatsforschung als notwendiger theoretischer Beitrag zur produktiven sozialen Integration Homosexueller im Sozialismus, ” in Natiirlich anders : Zur Homosexualitdtsdiskussion in der DDR, ed. Giinter Amendt (Cologne : Pahl-Rugenstein, 1989), 229-239.

7. The importance of the development of an individual personality and lifestyle has also been presented as part of the official reason for the creation of the Gesellschaft fiir Natur und Umwelt in the Kulturbund. See Fiedler, Manfred, “Initiativen fiir Natur und Umwelt, ” Einheit 39 (1984) : 1024 Google Scholar. For a detailed, but somewhat incomplete, history of homosexuality in the GDR, see Kowalski, Gudrun v., Homosexualitat in der DDR (Marburg : Arbeiterbewegung und Gesellschaftswissenschaft, 1987 Google Scholar. Seealso Rosa Liebe Unterm roten Stern, ed. Kurt Krickler et al. (Hamburg : Fruhlings Erwachen, 1984).

8. See Olaf Briihl, “Die Scham, dass einem das Hinsehen so leicht fallt, ” parts 1-6, Mecklenburgische Kirchenzeitung, 21 April 1985; 28 April 1985; 5 May 1985; 12 May 1985; 19 May 1985; 26 May 1985.

9. Homosexuality has been discussed occasionally in the Hungarian, Polish, Czech, and Slovene media. Although sexuality and, especially, homosexuality have long been ignored by the Soviet media, articles on both subjects have been appearing with some frequency in recent years. The treatment of homosexuality has been mixed, reflecting how divergent and reactionary attitudes are in the Soviet Union. The silence on homosexuality was broken with a scathing condemnation, see A. Borodenkov, “Kavelery priglashaiut kavalerov, ” Moskovskii Komsomolets, 24 March 1987. In the same vein, see I. Gruber, “Spravedliva li kara?” Literaturnaia Gazeta, 28 June 1989. In his letter to the editor, Gruber lumped together drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics, and homosexuals. He wrote that they could “hardly be referred to as’ humans” and that they should be isolated in special camps to prevent the spread of AIDS; Gruber concluded that “barbed wire and Siberian frost are the best medicines for them.” See also “Gomoseksualisty i venchanie v kostele, ” Letuvos Ritas, trans, in Baltiia, no. 6-7 (1990) : 24. For more positive portrayals, see Oleg Moroz, “Otvershennye” Ogonek, no. 16, 14-21 April 1990, Argumenty i Fakty, 3-9 March 1990, 8. “Partiia men'shinstva dlia men'shinstva, ” Kommersant', no. 24, 18-25 June 1990, 10; and “Nas malo, a my est'!” SPID-INFO, 31 May 1990, 3. In Moscow in 1990, a handful of homosexual activists began an underground newspaper, Tema, with a circulation of 500. Also in 1990, a Moscow lesbian produced a lesbian samizdat literary journal, Lira Safo, with a limited circulation. Since 1988 homosexuality has been discussed in the Estonian print and broadcast medias and some Estonian newspapers including the Eesti Ekspress have carried contact ads for homosexuals. In May 1990 the Estonian Academy of Sciences hosted the Soviet Union's first conference on homosexuality in which a dozen scholars from the Soviet Union, western Europe, and the United States lectured on their research on sexual minorities in Eastern Europe and the west. A lesbian group has formed in Estonia as an indirect result of the conference.

10. “Dialog, ” Deine Gesundheit, nos. 4, 8, 11 (1984). Erwin Giinther, “Psychosoziale Aspekte der Homosexualitat, ” Humanitus, 24 (1985) : 13; idem, “Homosexuelle, ” Deine Gesundheit, no. 11 (1985) : 340; Sigfried Schnabl, “Gleichgeschlechtliche Liebe, ” Fur Dich 2 (1986) : 46; Jutta Resch-Treuwerfh, “Mein Sohn ist homosexuell, ” Wochenpost 2 (1986) : 30; Ursula Hafranke, “Ungestraft Anders?” parts 1 and 2, Das Magazin, January, February, 1989.

11. See Berkes, Ulrich, Eine schlimme Liebe : Tagebuch (Berlin : Aufbau, 1987 Google Scholar; and Lemke, Jiirgen, Ganz normal anders : Auskiinfte schwuler Manner (Berlin : Aufbau, 1989 Google Scholar. Coming Out is the title of the film in German; this term has been adopted from English throughout Germany.

12. See Dorner, Giinter, Sexualhormonabhangige Gehirndifferenzierung und Sexualitdt (Jena : Gustav Fischer, 1972 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13. See Aresin, Bach, and Giinther, eds., Psychosoziale Aspekte, 3. The Central Organ of the SED broke its long-standing silence on homosexuality in its coverage of the conference; see Neues Deutschland, 29 June 1985.

14. “Strafrecht 151, 3 Abs. 1 StGB, ” NeueJustiz, no. 11 (1987) : 468, my translation.

15. Gesetzblatt der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik, no. 29, part 1 (28 December 1988) : 339, 343, 349.

16. An unofficial social and discussion group, the Homosexuelle Interessengemeinschaft Berlin, existed between 1973 and 1978. See Moritz Jahnig, “Wie welche schneller sprechen lernten als andere zuhoren, ” in “Homosexuelle 1987—Fortgesetzte Versuche zur Verstandigung, ” Conference of the Evan gelische Akademie Sachsen-Anhalt, Magdeburg, 26 September 1987, internal church monograph, 25-27. See also James Steakley, “Gays under Socialism, ” The Body Politic 29 (December-January 1977) : 15 ff.

17. See Ursulla Sillge, “Der Sonntags-Club in Berlin, ” paper presented at the conference Psychosoziale Aspekte der Homosexualitat, 23 April 1988, Karl Marx Stadt (Chemnitz).

18. See “Homosexualitat. Gesprach mit Giinter Grau und Erwin Gunther, ” Wochenpost 44 (1987) 16-17. Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935) was one of the world's first sex researchers and homosexual rights supporters.

19. See “Wissen und Toleranz, ” Neues Deutschland, 6, 7 February 1988.

20. See Streitlexikon. DT64. ‘Mensch Du!' : Ein Begleitmaterial zu Ratgebersendungen von JugendradioDT64, no. 3, circa March-April 1989.

21. Eberhard Aurich, letter to Dr. Kurt Bach, Hohenmolsen, GDR, 13 Oct. 1988, cited in Kurt Bach, letter to the editor, Dorn Rosa 2 (February 1989) : 37, my translation.

22. One should note that regardless of government policies, many difficulties remained for East German homosexuals. See Giinter Grau, “Uber die gesellschaftliche Integration homosexueller Manner und Frauen, ” in “Homosexuelle 1987—Fortgesetzte Versuche zur Verstandigung, ” 9-23; and Eduard Stapel, “Zur psychosozialen Situation der Schwulen in der DDR, ” paper presented at the conference Psychosoziale Aspekte der Homosexualitat, Leipzig, 25 June 1985; the censored version was published in Aresin, Bach, and Giinter, eds., Psychosoziale Aspekte, 47-61.

23. Prorektor fur Gesellschaftswissenschaften, “Zur Situation homophiler Burger in der DDR (Analyse des Phanomens und Losungsvorschlage), ” Humboldt Universitat zu Berlin, April 1985, classified monograph.

24. Ibid.

25. See Eissler, W. U., Arbeiterparteien und Homosexuellenfrage. Zur Sexualpolitik von SPD und KPD in der Weimarer Republik (Berlin : Rosa Winkel, 1980.Google Scholar

26. One should avoid the assumption that German society was generally tolerant of homosexuality during the Weimar Republic. Although homosexuals were able to develop extensive subcultures in Berlin and other major cities, these remained on the fringes of society. The Nazis did not introduce antihomosexual sentiments into German culture but, rather, played upon pre-existing prejudices.

27. “In welcher Fassung sind die 175ff. StGB anzuwenden?” Neue Justiz, 3, 6 (1949), 143-147; “175, 175a StGB, ” ibid., 4, 4 (1950) : 129-130; and Rudolf Klimmer, “Die Homosexualitat und ihre Bestrafung, ” ibid., 109-111. “Zur Situation homophiler Burger in der DDR.” For an interesting reinterpretation of early Bolshevik attitudes toward sexuality, see Karlinsky, Simon, “Russia's Gay Literature and Culture : The Impact of the October Revolution, ” in Hidden From History : Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, ed. Martin B. Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey, Jr. (New York : New American Library, 1989), 347364 Google Scholar. See also Beliaev, N. A., ed., Kurs sovetskogo ugolovnogo prava (chast’ osobennaia), 3 vols. (Leningrad : Leningradskogo Universiteta, 1973) 3 : 646.Google Scholar

28. More recent articles have abandoned the concept of risk groups and now refer to high-risk behavior. See “AIDS, ” n I intim. Das Magazinfiir zwei, special supplement to Neues Leben, circa March-April 1988.

29. “AIDS-eine neue Infektionskrankheit, ” Wochenpost, no. 40 (1985), 19. See John Borneman, “AIDS in the Two Berlins, ” October : Journal of Art, Politics, Culture 43 (Winter 1987), 228.

30. Werner, Reiner, Homosexualitdt. Herausforderung an Wissen und Toleranz (Berlin : Volk und Gesundheit, 1987), 154171 Google Scholar. For an excellent critique of Werner's book, see Thinius, Hubert, “Nattirlich anders. Zu dem Buch : Homosexualitat, Herausforderung an Wissen und Toleranz von Reiner Werner, ” Sonntag, 6 December 1987 Google Scholar. On conditions leading to high-risk behavior, see Hubert Thinius, “Promiskuitat? Nachdenken iiber einen Aspekt des Sexualverhaltens bei Schwulen, ” in Nattirlich anders, ed. Amendt, 206-215.

31. “Zur Situation homophiler Burger in der DDR. “

32. M Punge, Manfred, “Das gebrochene Tabu : Zu Gang und Stand der Homosexualitats-Debatte in den evangelischen Landeskirchen der DDR, ” in Und diese Liebe auch : Theologische und sexualwissenschaftliche Einsichten zur Homosexualitdt, ed. Giinter Grau (Berlin : Evangelische, 1989) : 93–94.Google Scholar

33. “Man sollte dariiber sprechen : Homosexualitat als Frage an Theologie und Gemeinde, ” Die Kirche, 21 February 1982; and ibid., 6 March 1983.

34. Andreas Dummel et al., Evangelische Studentengemeinde Leipzig, Arbeitskreis Homosexualitat, “Werkstattbericht, ” circa July 1983, Bund der Evangelischen Kirchen der DDR, internal church monograph.

35. See Grau, Giinter, “Homosexualitat im Gesprach von Kirchen und Gemeinden. Zwischenbilanz— Probleme—Konsequenzen, ” Die Zeichen der Zeit, no. 5 (1987) : 126136.Google Scholar

36. Manfred Punge, “Homosexuelle in der Kirche?” Beitrage der Theologischen Studienabteilung beim Bund der Evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR, Reihe B, Gesellschaftliche Diakonie, no. 12, May 1984, internal church monograph.

37. On opposition to the church's acceptance of homosexuals, see Landesbruderrat der Bekennenden Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche, “Kirche und Homosexualitat—32 Thesen, ” Dresden, 1983, internal church monograph. Christoph Richter, “ ‘Hilfe im Sicht?’ Ein Alternativ-Beitrag zum Papier der Theologischen Studienabteilung beim Bund der Evangelischen Kirchen in der DDR ‘Homosexuelle in der Kirche, '” October 1984, Bund der Evangelischen Kirchen der DDR, internal church monograph; Karlheinz Blaschke, “Homosexualitat als sozial-kulturelles Problem in biblischer Sicht, ” Die Kirche [Magdeburg edition], 24 March 1985; and “Verstandigungsschwierigkeiten, ” ibid., 25 September 1983; “Das Leserecho : Thema Homosexualitat, ” Mecklenburgische Kirchenzeitung, 26 May 1985.

38. “Votum des Bischofskonventes zur Frage der Ordination Homosexueller, ” Berlin, 5 June 1986, Bund der Evangelischen Kirchen der DDR, internal document; see also “Das aktuelle Dokument. Beschluss der Provinzalsynode in Halle vom 28 Oktober 1984, ” Die Kirche [Magdeburg edition], 6 January 1985.

39. Only in Berlin did lesbians create their own separate lesbian-feminist association as early as 1983. This association arose out of the perception that their needs could not be met within the framework of a predominantly male group. See “Lesben in der Kirche, ” Arbeitspapier des Arbeitskreises Homosexuelle Selbsthilfe Berlin, November 1983, Bund Evangelischen Kirchen der DDR, internal church monograph; and “Zur Geschichte des Berliner Lesbenkreises, ” November 1988, Bund der Evangelischen Kirchen der DDR, internal church monograph. Since lesbian groups have appeared so recently, whether their organizations will become established or even if the lesbian movement will develop in the GDR is still not clear. For a list of groups, see Frau anders no. 1 (1989) : 2-3, no. 2 (1989) : 5, duplicated as an internal church monograph, Bund der Evangelischen Kirchen der DDR.

40. Inglehart, Ronald, The Silent Revolution (Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1977)Google Scholar; and idem, Culture Shift.

41. Ibid.

42. Ronald, Inglehart and Siemienska, Renata, “Changing Values and Political Satisfaction in Poland and the West, ” Government and Opposition 23, no. 4 (1988) : 440–457Google Scholar, and Inglehart, Culture Shift.

43. See Kurt, Starke and Friedrich, Walter, Liebe und Sexualitat bis 30 (Berlin : VEB, 1984.Google Scholar

44. Inglehart, Culture Shift, 371-392.

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