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Homosexuality in East Germany (retrospective account, 1994)

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All of them controversial subjects. . . .

All of them controversial subjects. But such groups were even possible in the first place because the eight Protestant state churches in the GDR were pretty democratic. The local congregation decides what will be done. Even if the church leadership was of the opinion that homosexual groups did not belong there, the congregation could say we’re going to do it, let the consistory, the state church authorities, and the bishop have a fit. For one thing, these study groups were possible because the church was democratic (and hopefully still is and stays that way). For another thing, I think, this work itself and the church also contributed to democratizing the GDR or at least to emancipating different groups in the population such as the homosexuals, who otherwise would not have spoken out as they did, would not have learned democracy like that.

In the 1980s and especially within the context of AIDS, I have repeatedly been asked why the FDJ [Free German Youth] did not open up to homosexuals, why the city councils made things so difficult, why it was so hard to set up meeting places, etc. I never really had an answer and just said, well they’re stupid. . . .

Certainly, it has a lot to do with stupidity and prejudice. But over the course of 40 years I don’t think the Politburo and the Central Committee are capable of such perpetual stupidity. There had to be a strategy behind it. That’s what I think. If there really was one, I don’t know. There is also the question, for example, why Stalin reintroduced the anti-homosexuality laws after they had already been abolished. That cannot be due only to stupidity. Maybe it has something to do with treatment of minorities in general, and the function of scapegoats.

[ . . . ]

On the subject of the state: You have had your experience with the state. And so here too, we cannot get around the unpleasant subject of the Stasi. A difficult subject. . . .

Not for me.

Why not for you?

It was totally obvious during GDR times that the Stasi listened to everything, read everything. So when I wrote a letter, I was sure that it would, or at least could, be read. In the end the letters would be delivered to me at home already opened; they didn’t even tape them shut again. We knew about it. Or if we were in groups and I noticed that someone went politically way too far, I would always slow him down so no one would end up walking into the trap. To that extent, I am surprised that today some people are surprised at everything the Stasi did, but back then they never would have been surprised.

[ . . . ]

Source: “Interview von Kurt Starke mit Eduard Stapel (SVD) am 19. April 1994” [“Interview with Eduard Stapel (Gay League of Germany, SVD) by Kurt Starke, April 19, 1994”]; reprinted in Kurt Starke, Schwuler Osten. Homosexuelle Männer in der DDR [The Gay East. Homosexual Men in the GDR]. Berlin, 1994, pp. 91-110.

Translation: Allison Brown

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