Lesbians and gay men
Great gains in 1980s East Germany
Lesbian, gay, bi and trans pride series part 22
By Leslie Feinberg
"Finally, in the late 1980s, public discussion backed by the
Communist Party and the state was revived," wrote researcher
John Parsons in his extensive article about gains for lesbians
and gay men in the German Democratic Republic. "It included
lesbians and gay men speaking out as self-conscious voices for
their community." (OUT/LOOK, Summer 1989)
Scientists and health professionals convened a conference in
June 1985 on "The Psycho-Social Aspects of Homosexuality."
Parsons stressed, "An important feature of this conference
was that it was organized with the open participation of
lesbians and gay men, both as contributors and
He continued, "Two major demands were voiced at the
conference: first, that the discussion should be taken outside
of these exclusively professional circles and made a public
one; second, that the state should sanction institutions
through which lesbians and gay men could discuss and organize
A year earlier, this same demand for independent groups had
been voiced by a Humboldt University interdisciplinary research
group that had been organized at the request of the Berlin city
administration. This was the first official gay and lesbian
studies committee at a German university, according to
researcher Raelynn J. Hillhouse.
The Communist Party's 11th Congress in 1986 debated the
recommendations of the research group. Parsons said that a
member of the Humboldt University group relayed that there was
"a good deal of success in moving the national Party apparatus
to support the work of these groups." Parsons talked to other
acquaintances who added that there was continued backwardness
from some Party officials.
But what is indisputable is that in 1985, an historically
unprecedented, state-sponsored campaign set out to eradicate
all forms of discrimination based on sexual and emotional
preference and to raise social consciousness about same-sex
The momentum of gains for sexual liberation in the German
Democratic Republic that resulted was dramatic. The facts speak
Gov't-backed media campaign
A government-supported public discussion broadened and
deepened in the period between the 1985 conference and a second
held in the city of Karl-Marx-Stadt in 1988.
Hillhouse concluded in her 1990 article that "The new
openness concerning homosexuality was evident not only in
literature and scientific publications, but also in print and
broadcast media. In 1984 the popular monthly health magazine,
Deine Gesundheit (Your Health), began printing a series of
readers' letters on homosexuality; soon after, several other
major publications published substantial articles on sexual
More than 200 articles on homosexuality were printed in the
GDR during the 1980s, she continued, mostly about gay males.
(Slavic Review, Winter 1990)
Articles about same-sex love appeared in the press and were
incorporated into some state radio and television station
programming. Much of this information was aimed at youth--an
audience with many questions about sexuality.
When public media focused on AIDS education, same-sex
relations were not portrayed as a central feature. And it is
important to recall that everyone in the GDR enjoyed free
The television health program "Visite" broadcast a report in
September 1987 "that described homosexuality as an entirely
natural variation of human sexuality." (Hillhouse)
The following year, the state film company DEFA, working
with gay and lesbian activists, produced East Germany's first
documentary about "the satisfactions and problems" facing
same-sex couples, called "Die andere Liebe" (The Other
In 1989 DEFA also released "Coming Out," a feature film
about a gay teacher.
The same year, literature with gay themes was published,
including a book about the life histories of several gay men in
the GDR, compiled and written by a gay man.
Mass education campaign
"Important social institutions also began to implement
reforms with great speed," Parsons continued.
"For example, the Commission on Marriage and the Family,
which is responsible for running a system of counseling
centers, passed a resolution asserting that the national
network of sexuality and family counseling centers should aid
in dismantling prejudices regarding homosexuality and foster
the integration of gay men and lesbians into society."
Same-sex love was significantly included in a new sex
education curriculum for the public school system.
A chapter on lesbian and gay identity in the 1984 edition of
the standard sex-education textbook presented homosexuality as
a natural variation of sexual identity. Lesbianism was part and
parcel of this chapter. The book included among its sexually
frank and romantic photos two men together and two women lying
naked in each other's arms.
And most significantly, the book acknowledged that the main
problems faced by homosexuals result from persecution and
isolation, which themselves stem from social discrimination and
Next: More gains.
Reprinted from the Dec. 9, 2004, issue of
Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative
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