Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,

[LINK] "The Iron Closet: Documentary Explores Gay Life in East Germany"

Writing for Spiegel International, James Kirchick describes a documentary, Out in Ost-Berlin - Lesben und Schwule in der DDR
, which recounted the history of GLBT rights and people in East Germany. The seeming tolerance evidenced by the decriminalization of homosexuality in East Germany--something that took West Germany longer--didn't necessarily translate into pro-gay policies at any level. Difference was dissidence.

The case of Günter Litfin, the first East German citizen to be shot for attempting to cross the Berlin Wall, provides an example of the ways in which anti-gay sentiment could be utilized as a political tool against regime opponents. A week after his death on Aug. 24th, 1961, Neues Deutschland, the official newspaper of East Germany's Socialist Unity Party, published an article accusing Litfin of being a homosexual who tried to flee the country because he had been caught performing unspecified "criminal acts." Responding to the creation of a makeshift memorial by West Berliners to commemorate Litfin's murder, the paper published an article entitled, "A Memorial to Dolly?" ("Dolly" apparently being Litfin's homosexual pet name).

It may seem ironic to some, but many gays and lesbians found comfort and organizational support from the church, which itself was emerging in the 1970's and 80's as a major fount of resistance to the communist regime. Numerous gay "working groups" arose in congregations across the country, actively aided by sympathetic church officials. Many, if not all, of these organizations -- oftentimes little more than discussion clubs -- were secretly monitored by the Stasi, which considered any sort of grassroots political action as a threat to the hegemony of the communist regime. The flim depicts several of its subjects, long time targets of Stasi surveillance, poring over their files, astonished at the extent to which the regime monitored their activities in an operation dubbed "Orion." "Romeos," single, attractive men recruited by the Stasi to sexually blackmail the secretaries of high-ranking West German officials in Bonn, were also used to infiltrate the nascent gay liberation scene throughout the East by coming on to gay political activists.

While homosexuality had been officially decriminalized in much of the East Bloc by the end of the 1960's, it merely provided a mask over a deeply ingrained homophobia that existed within many socialist milieus. One of the more fascinating interviews comes not from a German but rather the British gay activist Peter Tatchell. In 1973, he visited East Berlin for the World Youth Festival, a quadrennial extravaganza hosted by the communist bloc where tens of thousands of leftist young people from around the world gathered for massive processions and conclaves discussing ways to overthrow capitalism and imperialism. He tells the interviewers that he was the only openly gay delegate in East Berlin that year, a status that earned him harsh verbal and at times violent abuse from his comrades. Most of the participants, Tatchell recalls, saw homosexuality as a "bourgeois perversion." When Tatchell tried to march in the festival's parade with a sign promoting gay rights, Stasi officers chased him through the crowd. It was, Tatchell says, "probably the first gay rights protest in a communist country."
Tags: central europe, communism, east germany, germany, glbt issues, history, human rights, links
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