Struggle for decriminalization
Lesbian, gay, bi and trans pride series part 25
By Leslie Feinberg
In the "Cold War" following World War II,
imperialist ideologues sought to make capitalist democracy synonymous with
"freedom" and the workers' states out to be "totalitarian."
In fact both
were based on the dictatorship of one economic class over another. However, the
class character of the two social systems was the opposite.
state brutally upheld the social relationship of exploiter and exploited,
oppressor and oppressed. East Germany (GDR) and the Soviet Union
while not the pinnacle of workers' demo cracy that is possible in a
socialist society--were based on liberating the working class from the
exploitation and oppression of capitalist rule.
As this series has
demonstrated, at the same time that the U.S., Britain and West Germany were
excoriating East Germany as despotic, workers there enjoyed jobs, free health
care and education, rent that could not exceed 10 percent of their income,
vacations. And the advances made towards lesbian and gay liberation far
surpassed anything that had been wrested by struggle under
What was life like for gay men and lesbian women in other
capitalist countries in Europe and in England during and after WWII?
extensive historical exhibition at the Art Academe in Berlin in the summer of
1997 provided some important historical details. The art exhibit, co-sponsored
by the Schwules Museum, was entitled, "Goodbye to Berlin? 100 Years of Gay
Liberation." A limitation of the exhibit is that it did not incorporate the role
of lesbians in the century of struggle.
This following information was
provided in the published curator's notes.
rise of German fascism, Paris supplanted Berlin as the European gay center--that
is, until Nazi troops goose-stepped into Paris.
"The end of the Third
Republic in the late thirties was accompanied by social and political struggles.
The Spanish Civil War and the Popular Front in France forced homosexuals to take
a stand either on the right or left."
While the southern part of France
was unoccupied, the northern region, including Paris, was under the rule of
German Nazi forces. The quisling Vichy government, led by Marshall
Pétain, collaborated with German fascism.
"One group of
homosexuals took up opposition to Pétain and any form of collaboration
with the Germans, joining the resistance movement. A second group, including
André Gide and Giraudoux, waited. A third group collaborated. Once again,
homosexuals were represented on both sides of oppressors and victims,
collaborators and resisters."
In 1940, Pétain's regime instituted
the Code Penal, which included statute 334, making homosexual behavior
punishable by imprisonment.
"Although most of the laws initiated by the
Vichy govern ment were rescinded when the Nazi regime was defeated, this clause
was maintained under a new name, [Statute] 331, paragraph 3, and was enforced
Homosexuality between consenting adults had been
legal in the country since the Napoleonic Code was introduced in 1804. That
code, following the French bourgeois revolution, formally removed the anti-gay
vestige of feudal law. It was the first time in Europe that a criminal code
omitted consensual same-sex relations.
"In the course of the 19th
century, Holland, Italy and sev eral Swiss cantons adopted the revolutionary
French penal code. The prosecution and persecution of 'pederasts' continued,
however, in the scope of police disciplinary powers under which alleged offenses
could still be pursued."
The end of German fascist occupation did not lead
to gay and lesbian liberation in France.
In 1960, while transgender was
celebrated entertainment in the Paris Variétés performances, the
repressive De Gaulle government beefed up penalties for
Some gays who fled the rise of
fascism in Germany emigrated to Basel and Zurich, Switzerland.
have been initiatives for organizing homosexuals in German-speaking Switz erland
since 1922. After several failed attempts in Zurich and Lucern, the
Schweizerische Freund schafts bewegung (Swiss Friendship Move ment) was founded
in 1931 with the decisive participation of lesbian women in Zurich and Basel."
Together with the Damenclub Amicitia and the Excentric-Club Zürich,
they published the first Swiss magazine for homosexuals. The first issue of the
"Friendship Banner" was published in January 1932. Beginning in 1941, women took
a less active role and the group became an exclusively male organization which
called itself Liga für Menschenrechte.
"During World War II, when
the Nazis destroyed the beginnings of a gay movement in occupied Czechoslovakia
and Holland, the Zurich-based group was the only worldwide organization that
could preserve the idea of homosexual emancipation.
Although the legal
restriction against homosexuality had been formally lifted in Switzerland in
1942, anti-homosexual campaigns continued. The leader of the Swiss Homo erotic
Movement, Karl Meyer--known by the nom de guerre "Rolf"--advocated "unobtrusive
behavior" in public.
The gay group called the Reading Circle (Der Kreis)
survived the war. "In 1945 Zurich's Reading Circle (Der Kreis) had an unbroken
13-year history which served as a model for other countries in the immediate
post-war years. The group's magazine, Le Cercle, had an international
After the war, the The Circle held regular meetings which drew
members from many counties. "In order to protect themselves from police action,
only subscribers to the magazine who were above 20 years old and had valid
identity cards were allowed into the meetings. Members also had to vouch for any
guests they had brought."
Near the end of the 1950s, the meetings ended
altogether after the magazine "Tat" (Action) complained that The Circle was
allowed to meet on state property.
note, "The sexual openness that existed in England during the Second World War
was pushed back in the years immediately afterwards.
"The gay spies Guy
Burgess and Donald MacLean defected to the Soviet Union in 1951, events which
became the subject of intense investigation by a press that had few
And the case of Lord Montague of Beaulieu, charged with having
had sex with working-class youths, exploded into another media-fueled
Calls to clamp down on the "increasing threat" of homosexuality
led to the establish ment of a government commission in 1954.
later the commission recommended decriminalizing homosexuality between
consenting adult males.
It took another decade before the law was
Demand for decriminalization
"The need for
international contacts and exchange was very strong after the experiences in the
Nazi period," the curators conclude. "In particular, the Inter national
Committee for Sexual Equality (ICSE), which had been founded in Amsterdam
shortly after the end of the war, made efforts to create an international
network of newly formed gay movements."
focusing on homosexuality took place in Amster dam in 1951, Frankfurt on the
Main in 1952, Amsterdam in 1953, Paris in 1955 and Brussels in 1958.
newest research results were presented by doctors, psychologists, lawyers,
sociologists and staff from various homophile organizations in Europe and
"In addition, demands for worldwide decriminalization of
consenting homosexuality were formulated, individual cases of homosexual
discrimination were denounced, and new strategies in the fight for legal
equality were decided upon."
The Swiss "Circle" continued to hold
influence. It played a role in creating an international connection. Editor Karl
Meyer (Rolf) maintained contacts with homophile groups in France, Germany,
Scandinavia and Holland.
In addition to poetry and short stories, The
Circle reported on activities of homosexual organizations around the world.
"It created not only a singular forum for the most recent discussions
about the theme of homosexuality, but also contri buted greatly to the
international exchanges within homosexual movements."
Beginning in the
mid-1950s, the trilingual magazine even reached the shores of the United States,
where a ferocious storm of anti-gay state repression was reaching hurricane
Next: McCarthyite witch hunt.
at the Berlin Art Acad eme in July 1997, an event sponsored by the
Spinnboden--the German lesbian archive. The event was part of the 100th
anniversary of the start of the German Homosexual Emancipation Movement.
Reprinted from the Feb. 5, 2005, issue of Workers World newspaper
This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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