Gains cut short by 1989 counter-revolution
Lesbian, gay, bi and trans pride series part 24
By Leslie Feinberg
The official gay and lesbian studies research group, formed
at Humboldt University in 1984 at the behest of the Berlin city
administration, examined the conditions of life for some
three-quarters of a million gays and lesbians living in East
The following spring, this group issued the following
findings. The lack of a clear social policy on homosexuality in
the GDR had resulted in a lack of state-sponsored social
services for gays and lesbians and contributed to emigration.
And discrimination and intolerance led to sexual activity which
could exacerbate the AIDS crisis. The study recalled the
historic role of German revolutionary workers' parties in
supporting the German Homo sexual Emancipation Movement's
demand to remove 19th-century anti-gay legislation. And it
concluded by calling on the Communist Party (SED) to aid in the
struggle for gay and lesbian rights.
Researcher Raelynn J. Hillhouse says the Humboldt group
proposed that, "The state should help homosexuals to integrate
into socialist institutions and should strive to eliminate
public prejudice toward homosexuality. These goals, the report
held, should be accomplished through legal reform, continued
research, the creation of gay and lesbian clubs, expansion of
counseling centers and media campaigns. All these proposals
were implemented on various government levels." (Slavic Review,
This recommendation was sent to the party. In 1985,
Hillhouse noted, "The Politburo responded to the study with the
recommendation that the integration of homosexuals into GDR
society should be encouraged."
And when the party responded to this call, it also recalled
the history of German Communism's early and strong support in
the battle against anti-gay laws.
East Germany issued an electrifying call for an end to all
forms of legal and social discrimination against lesbian and
gay people that sent shock waves around the world.
In the United States, The Advocate, a gay and lesbian news
magazine, reported: "East Germany's official ADN news agency
has issued what appears to be an officially approved call for
an end to discrimination against gays in all levels of East
German society. The news agency asserted that socialist
guarantees of proletarian equality extended to gay people and
that nongays should assist their gay comrades in casting off
the bonds of anonymity, discrimination and disadvantage."
(March 4, 1986)
Even if this had been merely lip-service to the struggle for
gay and lesbian liberation, it would have been a striking call
to raise societal consciousness. But the sweeping progress made
within just a few short years showed that the left current of
the Communist Party and the workers' state was taking
Walking the talk
The gay and lesbian Sunday Club (Sonntags-Club) won official
recognition in 1986, becoming the first state-sponsored gay and
Researcher John Parsons added, "Other parts of the
subculture have also come into greater public view, including
regularly organized dances in public halls." (OUT/LOOK, Summer
In 1987, the Sunday Club affiliated with the House of
Culture of Berlin-Mitte. Similar organizations were formed in
Dresden, Gera, Leipzig, Magdeburg, Potsdam and Weimar.
"Also in Berlin," Hillhouse wrote, "the Kulturbund (League
of Culture) has allowed the Magnus Hirschfeld Arbeitskreis
(Magunus Hirschfeld Study Group) to organize under its auspices
to promote scientific inquiry about homosexuality. The
state-supported Ehe, Familien-, und Sexualberatunsstellen
(Marriage, Sex and Family Coun selling Centers) began special
staff training programs in issues of sexual identity. In
addition, other organizations occasionally sponsored
educational projects on homosexuality as well as social
functions for gays and lesbians."
In 1987, she added, the ministry of health commissioned a
volume on homosexuality in the GDR; it appeared in two
unusually large editions. "The author, Reiner Werner, urged
that lesbian and gay counseling centers be created, allocation
of apartments to same-sex couples be expedited, new contact
forums for gays and lesbians be established, and legal
partnership for nonmarried couples to administer their common
property be considered."
A national conference, similar to the "Psycho-Social Aspects
of Homosexuality" in 1985, was convened in 1988, "explicitly to
include lesbians and gays in East German society." Several
speakers at the second conference emphasized the importance of
changing family law to ensure state recognition of gay couples
and families. (OUT/LOOK)
The Communist Party youth group, the FDJ--a mass
organization, not a cadre party organization--produced several
programs about homosexual and bisexuality on its radio station.
A film and a forum on homosexuality, and a social for gays and
lesbians, were components of the May 1989 FDJ Youth Festival.
And the FDJ central council directed its local groups to help
create gay and lesbian clubs wherever they were needed.
The former first secretary of the central council of the FDJ
issued a statement that emphasized the importance of equality
for homosexual youth. The statement added, "I can assure you
that the FDJ will continue to give great attention toward the
complete equality of homosexual youth and other citizens in its
diverse forms of political and ideological work." (Slavic
The process of liberation
When John Parsons, a Canadian researcher, published his
10-page report in 1989 on gays and lesbians in the GDR, he
wrote from the vantage point of six previous years of research.
"Back in 1983," Parsons recalled, "the lesbian and gay
subculture in East Germany was still very much underground,
although not illegal."
But, he explained, "By 1989 things have changed
dramatically. Public displays of homosexual affection remain
rare, but gay liberation has made significant and surprising
progress in a short period of time. Not only is the gay
subculture in the early stages of coming aboveground, but the
process of liberation is now developing with the active support
of the Communist Party. Lesbians and gay men, communists and
non-communists alike, are exploring anew what sexual liberation
means in a socialist society."
He stressed, "The public discussion of homosexuality now
being promoted by the Communist Party is one in which
homosexuality is finally recognized as a natural aspect of
sexuality and society."
The lesbian and gay movement in the GDR debated whether to
develop an autonomous community or integrate into society. The
leading view of the movement and the state, Parsons reported,
"is one in which autonomy is not set in conflict with
integration. Lesbians and gay men have a need to meet together
for personal, cultural, and political reasons. Their ability to
collectively discuss and decide their views on their oppression
and needs is an important step in enabling the society as a
whole to address the issues.
"Integration, however, is also seen as a positive goal--not
an integration in which lesbians and gays hide their identity,
but one in which their unique identity contributes to and
changes the whole."
Parsons reported these gains without glossing over the
problems that still existed, bringing great sensitivity and
objectivity to his observations.
He noted for example, "The Communist Party itself is not a
monolithic institution. There are millions of members with
various views on sexuality and sexual politics, and it is no
surprise that different views should win sway at different
"But," he added, "what is striking is that the Party has
moved so quickly from a position of, at best, benign neglect to
one of clear advocacy for a reasoned, humanistic and in many
ways radically progressive position."
During the late 1980s, as the more compliant Gorbachev
leadership was weakening the socialized economic base of the
Soviet Union in the name of perestroika, the imperialists--from
Wall Street to Bonn--exerted tremendous pressure on the Soviet
leaders to withdraw their support for East Germany and the rest
of Eastern Europe.
The deal was finally made in a 1989 meeting between Soviet
Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and U.S. Secretary of
State James Baker while boating on Jackson Lake in Wyoming. The
USSR would not intervene if capitalism were restored in Eastern
Europe. This left the GDR sandwiched between imperialist West
Germany and Poland and Czecho slovakia, which themselves were
being taken over by bourgeois elements.
In 1989-1990 the workers' state was overturned and the GDR
was incorporated into capitalist West Germany. East German
workers lost free health care and education, low-cost rent and
the guarantee of a job.
And for lesbians and gay men, "re-unification" with
capitalist West Germany meant the re-imposition of the hated
19th-century Prussian law against homosexuality--Paragraph
175--which had still not been repealed there, although that did
finally happen in 1994.
Not to be forgotten is that in the relatively short space of
little more than four decades after World War II, lesbian and
gay liberation had made swift strides in socialist East Germany
that had no parallel in the capitalist world.
In fact, during that same span of time, life for lesbians
and gays in the U.S. and Western Europe was characterized by
the iron fist of state repression.
Next: Post-World War II U.S.--capitalist anti-gay witch
Reprinted from the Dec. 30, 2004, issue of
Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Email: [email protected]
Subscribe [email protected]
Support independent news http://www.workers.org/orders/donate.php)
:: U.S. NEWS ::
WORLD NEWS ::