How do gays spend their lives

Homosexuals in the GDR: Invisible in the East

Status: 03/23/2019 8:15 a.m. | archive

Invisibility is the feeling that Bianka H. from Mecklenburg, like many other lesbians and gays in the GDR, accompanied for years. "There were so many things that you didn't talk about, and you didn't talk about such things either," she says while walking across the Schwerin Castle Island. She grew up in a small town in what is now the Ludwigslust-Parchim district. It was then that she realized that she was more attracted to women than to men.

"We had an unlikely fear"

But there is no openly lesbian life in the GDR. "Back then there was no way to talk to anyone about it," says Bianka H., who worked as a librarian in Wismar after completing her studies and had a relationship with a woman there. "We didn't reveal ourselves. We were unlikely to be afraid of it," she says, looking back today. Your relationship will remain a secret. Her library colleagues cannot understand that she has no husband. "For a while they put the 'Wochenpost' magazine in front of me and ticked off the personal ads which men might be suitable for me," says Bianka H. From then on, she takes a gay acquaintance with her to company parties.

No public awareness of gays and lesbians

In the GDR public, gays and lesbians are not noticed, they do not appear on radio and television. "Gays and lesbians were made invisible," says Kristine Schmidt from the Schwules Museum Berlin. It manages the archive holdings on the East German homosexual movement.

"It was forbidden to run ads for same-sex dating," she says. Or the personals had to be written in clauses. Schmidt finds an old advertisement in one of the many boxes. "'Enchanted', for example, was a word that appeared in advertisements to say which person is looking for which." This invisibility drives many lesbians and gays in the GDR into loneliness and isolation.

Influences from the west

At the beginning of the 1970s, a group of East Berlin gays and lesbians no longer want to accept their situation. One of the initiators was the then 23-year-old Peter Rausch: "At that time we saw Rosa von Praunheim's film 'It is not the homosexual that is perverse, but the situation in which he lives' and we were electrified," he says. The group wants to become an association, but that is forbidden by the authorities. The government's fear that the movement will organize itself politically is too great.

First changes

It was not until the 1980s that gays and lesbians in the GDR should noticeably change. In 1982 the Evangelical Academy Berlin-Brandenburg organized a theological conference on the subject of homosexuality. The response to the event is so great that church discussion and working groups are gradually being formed across the GDR.

Volker Gasser started the first discussion groups on homosexuality in the 1980s.

Volker Gasser co-founded one of the first discussion groups in East Berlin: "Sometimes a film was shown and then there was a discussion. But there were always evenings without a topic, where we got together and exchanged ideas about the problems that everyone had so had. " The special thing about the working groups is that the doors should be open to everyone. "The participants back then were very mixed," says Gasser. "From the party secretary of the SED to the dissident who submitted an application to leave the country." For all of them, the Evangelical Church becomes a protective roof.

Outrage and support

In the mid-1980s, discussion groups were also set up in the north-east. Olaf Brühl is involved in the establishment in Schwerin. In 1985 he even managed to publish a series of articles on the subject of homosexuality in the Mecklenburg church newspaper. It is titled: "The shame that it is so easy to look."

"It was the first publication in the GDR in which someone himself said: Homosexuality is something positive and it is not something sick and not something that we have to pity," says Olaf Brühl in an interview with NDR Info. The publications caused a sensation, also within the Protestant Church. Olaf Brühl: "Back then there was a storm of indignation that broke out on me. But there were also positive reactions and I was invited to lectures by young congregations."

The church's efforts to offer homosexuals a shelter seem to be putting pressure on the GDR. Suddenly, texts by well-known GDR sexologists such as Kurt Starke or Siegfried Schnabl are published. The popular DT64 youth radio broadcasts a series on the subject of homosexuality. A feature film is commissioned from DEFA. Even in the Palast der Republik there is a play in which gay men talk about their situation in life.

Sunday club holds readings and talks

In the 1980s, Peter Rausch founded the Sunday Club.

Peter Rausch and his former members are precisely registering the tentative change in public perception and want to take advantage of the opportunity. Again they try to found a club. "So that the founding of the association is possible this time, we have given ourselves a cover name," says Peter Rausch. Since the group holds readings, invites to cultural talks and organizes parties every Sunday, they come up with the name Sunday Club. A special "mail processing group" answers letters and helps with personal problems. For many homosexuals in the GDR, this is the first opportunity to talk anonymously about their loneliness. Looking back, Rausch says: "I realized everything I wanted to do in the 1970s. We wanted to have a club like that back then."

Homosexuality earlier unpunished in the east than in the west

From a criminal law perspective, many lesbians and gays in the east seem to have fared better than in the west of Germany. In the GDR, homosexuality among adults had been exempt from punishment since 1968, while in the Federal Republic of Germany Paragraph 175, which made homosexuality a criminal offense, existed until 1994. The prosecution of homosexuals was also lower in the east, says Rüdiger Lautmann from the University of Bremen. "That was a difference to West Germany, where until the end of the 1960s there was a lot of pressure on homosexuals and which was very decisively enforced in all areas of life." Nevertheless, the acceptance of homosexuals in the workers 'and peasants' state has always remained restrained, explains Lautmann. Homophobia was part of everyday life.

Section 175

  • Section 175 of the German Criminal Code existed from January 1, 1872 to June 11, 1994. It made sexual acts between men a criminal offense.
  • In 1935 the National Socialists tightened the paragraph. They increased the maximum sentence from six months to five years in prison. In severe cases, the sentence was even up to ten years in prison (Section 175a).
  • The Federal Republic of Germany adhered to the versions of Section 175 from the National Socialist era for two decades.
  • In 1969 there was a first and in 1973 a second reform of the paragraph.
  • It was not lifted until 1994. A total of around 140,000 men were convicted under Section 175, 50,000 of them after 1949.

Lesbian and gay life in the northeast of the GDR

A traveling exhibition is dedicated to the life of homosexuals in the northeast.

Stella Hindemith from the association "Lola for Democracy in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania" also sees everyday homophobia in this way. "The early abolition of Paragraph 175 in the GDR led the public to, strangely enough, the impression that everything would be fine then," she says. Together with students from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, she took on the history of lesbians, gays and trans people in the state. "They have all always been part of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and we want to make people aware of this," says Hindemith.

We here! Lesbian, gay and trans * between Hiddensee and Ludwigslust

The traveling exhibition can be seen:

02/14/19 - 03/28/19 Greifswald, Socio-Cultural Center St. Spiritus
04/01/19 - 05/08/19 Wismar, court arbor in the town hall
May 13, 2019 - July 22, 2019 Neubrandenburg, University of Applied Sciences Neubrandenburg

Further information and dates on the exhibition website.

The research resulted in the exhibition "We * here! Lesbian, gay and trans * between Hiddensee and Ludwigslust", which will tour Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania throughout the year in 2019. The story of Bianka H. can also be found there. A listening station provides information about their everyday life in the GDR. "That's when I first realized how much time has passed and how many years I have spent with this strange, invisible life," she says, looking back today. "I think that's the great thing about the exhibition that we can show ourselves openly today and that everyone has the opportunity to welcome us as we are."

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