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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 citizenship."

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 youth."

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 merely legal.

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 relations.

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 public arena.

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 Communist Party.

Reprinted from the Dec. 23, 2004, issue of Workers World newspaper

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