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Homosexuality in East Germany (retrospective account, 1994)

Eduard Stapel, a gay rights activist, paints a striking picture of the beginnings of the gay rights movement in East Germany, its role within the Protestant Church, and the response it engendered from the Ministry of State Security.

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Interview with Eduard Stapel (Gay League of Germany, SVD) by Kurt Starke, April 19, 1994

Starke: When would you date the beginning of the gay movement in the GDR?

Stapel: Actually, back to the first attempt by the Dresden doctor [Rudolf] Klimmer in the 1950s, though I don’t know very much about that. In the 1960s, as far as I know, nothing happened. Then, the attempts by the Homosexual Interest Group [Homosexuellen Interessengemeinschaft] in Berlin starting in 1973. And in the late 1970s with Uschi Sillge in Berlin. With respect to the institutionalized movement, the date would be 1982. But before that, these attempts had already been made.

[ . . . ]

Why did the church simply do that [i.e., allow homosexual study groups to be set up within the church]? I mean, the church has its own relationship to homosexuality. I had to ask myself, why did the church of all things accept homosexuals?

There is no such thing as “the” church. Regarding such issues, there is always an entire spectrum from total rejection to approval. It was also not possible everywhere, and not possible everywhere to immediately set up such study groups. But right here in Leipzig there was a college chaplain, a student representative, and also the church council, which, after we explained it to them, agreed and felt this was exactly what had to be done, that the church had to work through things and compensate for deficits. And ultimately that worked in many places. In the end, there were 22 such church-based study groups all over the GDR.

Would you view the church as taking on a certain democratic function in the GDR? To simply take in a minority that had a hard time in society. To offer this minority some space. Democracy is of course always also politics, but in this case the democratic and human functions came together. Could it be explained like that?

Yes, I think so. Certainly, there were also people within the church who thought the GDR could be undermined with the help of the homosexuals. And there were not only the gay and lesbian groups, but also human rights groups, environmental groups, peace, women’s and lots of other groups, that worked in the spirit of this function of the church. . . .

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