Late 1980s East Germany
Gay/lesbian clubs in Party, state
Lesbian, gay, bi and trans pride series part 23
By Leslie Feinberg
In a landmark ruling on Aug. 11, 1987, the Supreme Court of
East Germany set the minimum age of consent for all sexual
relations at 14.
This addressed an important legal inequity. In 1968, when
the 19th-century Prussian anti-gay laws had been abolished,
paragraph 151 was established which set 18 years old as the
minimum age of consent for same-sex relations. The minimum age
for heterosexual relations remained 14.
The 1987 court decision overturned the conviction of a man
who had sex with a youth. The judges found that the minor was
openly gay, had visited gay clubs and parties and had sought
sexual contact. The only basis for conviction, they ruled,
would have been if the sex had not been consensual or the youth
had been harmed.
The written ruling created a legal milestone. The justices
wrote, "[T]he starting point for a judgment about the sexual
relations between persons of the same sex must be the principle
that homosexuals just as much as heterosexuals are members of
the socialist society and are guaranteed the same rights of
And, the court continued, " ... homosexual relations between
an adult and a person between the ages of 16 and 18 do not
necessarily lead to an abnormal development and do not have any
other harmful consequences than homosexual relations between
two youths or heterosexual relations between an adult and a
The justices concluded, " ... discrimination against
homosexuals and bigotry is therefore to be opposed. Homosexuals
are to be protected by legal regulations and judicial
punishment against attacks on their integrity--for example by
slander or physical violence or rowdiness--through civil as
well as criminal proceedings." (OUT/LOOK, Summer 1989)
In 1988, the government in East Berlin declared all
discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal.
And in July 1989, the East German parliament officially
removed the age of consent discrepancy from the law books.
Satisfying material needs
But the gains for lesbians and gays in the GDR were not
As the planned economy demonstrated momentum, even while
encircled and undermined by the capitalist West, living
standards rose for all in the GDR--including gays and lesbians.
And as the economic struggle for survival eased, so did social
An extensive article in the Winter 1989 Slavic Review by
researcher Raelynn J. Hillhouse was not particularly
sympathetic to the Communist Party and the state, which were
shouldering the task of building socialism in the GDR.
But Hillhouse made this pithy observation: "When a socialist
state satisfies basic material needs and provides its citizens
with a sense of material security, its citizens may gradually
shift their political interests to moral matters, gender
issues, environmental concerns, and similar issues. ... The
relatively and reliable levels of satisfaction of basic
material requirements in the GDR makes such transitions there
probable and East German values concerning marriage, gender
roles, and sexuality indeed have been liberalizing."
These important advances in social progress were made
possible by communist political campaigns to raise
consciousness and in turn resulted in raising mass
consciousness even higher.
One important indication of this political commitment to
change was the creation of gay and lesbian clubs within party
and state institutions. And gay and lesbian organizations won
official recognition from state officials and moved into the
The most significant of these was the Berlin "Sunday Club"
(Sonntags-Club). The group emerged from private discussion
circles in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s, the group became
more semi-official when officers of a neighborhood youth club
worked with gays and lesbians to organize Sunday discussions,
cultural events and trips.
The club's application for a "Cultural and Consultation
Center" for gays and lesbians was denied in 1983 and 1984 by
the city. But the applications, in part, helped propel the
Berlin administration to request the creation of the research
group at Humboldt University in 1984--the first official gay
and lesbian studies committee at a German university--to study
the conditions facing the estimated three-quarter of a million
gays and lesbians in the GDR.
Next: Lesbian/gay liberation--active support from
Reprinted from the Dec. 23, 2004, issue of
Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative
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