Glad to be gay behind the wall: gay and lesbian activism in 1970s East Germany

Dr Josie McLellan (University of Bristol)
7 November 2012

The development of East and West German identities between 1970 and 1980 saw the emergence of subcultures of queer activism that begun to publicise the once private and discreet taboos of homosexual life. Much of the historiographical work that examines East and West German life throughout this period, such as that of Paul Betts, tends to comment on the privatisation of life and the ‘boxing in’ of the personal, whereas McLellan’s paper argues the case for this period being crucial in the publicising of the personal. The development of the Homosexual Interest Group Berlin (HIB) in 1973 after the decriminalisation of homosexuality in East Germany in 1968, saw a movement take hold that promoted self-confidence and queer visibility.

The movement of both ideas and people from West to East proved invaluable to the development of a gay liberation movement in Germany. The German strand of gay liberation sought to engage in a cultural and sexual revolution through the establishment of queer only spaces and by engaging in of grass roots political activism. Although the actions of HIB were limited by a government policy of obstruction, causing its disbandment in 1979, HIB and the organisation and gathering of gay people, sparked debate and brought the issue of sexuality into the public dialogue.

This paper charts the growth of the East German gay liberation movement and the impact of Western spheres of influence from Tatchell in London, to the gay community of West Germany. It closely considers the social and cultural progress made under this movement whilst examining the lack of political change in a society that was struggling to catch up.

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