Who invented homosexuality?
Daniel Schwitzer, born in 1976, studied humanities and now works as a freelance journalist in Cologne. Photo: Anke Tillmann
From the Stonewall uprising to the water pistol battleIt all started in New York in 1969. But gays and lesbians in Germany took another ten years before they confidently dared to take to the streets. Today Christopher Street Day (CSD) is a big, colorful party.
The gay and lesbian movement began in New York in 1969. (& copy AP)
Perry Brass had come to New York from the deep south of the USA shortly before his 19th birthday. It was 1966 - a time when protests against the Vietnam War raged across the country and the hippie movement propagated sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. Something was happening in society. But the homosexuals hardly benefited from the new zeitgeist. Very few lived openly. Anyone who dared to go to the relevant bars in the big cities always had to expect to be arrested during one of the regular raids. The police even used decoys to catch gay men in the act and then prosecute them for prostitution. "Things were really bad," recalls Brass. "It was the time of free love and we were wondering, hey, what about our love?"
But then June 28, 1969 comes and changes everything. For the first time, homosexuals oppose a police raid on a gay bar: the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street in New York City. It's a violent day. But at the same time it is the prelude to one of the largest emancipation movements - not only in the history of the USA.
Start of the worldwide gay movementWhen Perry Brass arrived at the Stonewall Inn on the morning of June 28th, the violent uprising against the raid was already approaching its climax. "The mood was heated," says Brass. "There were police everywhere, but the people weren't intimidated." Chants echo through the streets: "Gay Power, Gay Power!" Outside, protesters throw anything they can get their hands on at the police, recalls Brass. Eight police officers have barricaded themselves in the bar itself. The angry lesbians, gays and transvestites on the street try to break open the door with garbage cans and a parking meter that has been broken from its foundations. They even want to set fire to the shop. Only a special police unit finally succeeds in bringing the situation under control. At least for a short time, because the following night the protests broke out again. Perry Brass: "A lot of anger had built up in the community over the years. And it was now discharging with full force."
"More than 500,000 gay voters cannot be ignored": In 1970, a year after the Stonewall riots, gays demonstrated for their rights in New York City. (& copy AP)Immediately after the Stonewall riots, the first political groups such as the Gay Liberation Front were founded and demanded tolerance and more rights. Numerous media devoted themselves to the topic and gave gays and lesbians a face in public. Police raids continued, but the homosexuals no longer accepted them as shamefully and tacitly as before. Exactly one year after the Stonewall uprising, around 4,000 homosexuals gathered in New York's West Village in 1970 to commemorate the event with a large demonstration. This example was followed by gays and lesbians in many cities in the United States and Europe in the years to come. The "liberation" of Christopher Street is now considered to be the beginning of the gay movement around the world.
450 lesbians and gays came to the first CSD in BerlinIt took until the late 1970s for the first Christopher Street Day parade to take place in Germany. In this country, the gay movement developed primarily from the student movement of the 1960s. The most important demand at that time was the deletion of paragraph 175 without replacement. This made sexual acts between men a criminal offense and was even valid until 1969 in the stricter version of the National Socialists. What had happened in New York was of only marginal interest in the German gay movement. That changed in 1979. There was a certain stagnation in the homosexual movement. The activists looked for new ways to give more weight to their own demands. The tenth anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion came at just the right time as the occasion for a large demonstration.
Bernd Gaiser was one of the people who helped to organize the first Christopher Street Day (CSD) in Berlin in 1979. "We sat down, wrote a leaflet and then distributed it for weeks in the Berlin subculture, in bars and pubs," says the now 65-year-old. On the last Saturday in June, around 450 lesbians and gays finally met at Savignyplatz to take a walk along Kurfürstendamm towards Halensee - compared to today's number of participants, downright tiny. "We were still very impressed because we didn't have the imagination to imagine that one day there could be a lot more." The participants set off with flatbed trucks, self-painted banners and megaphones. At that time, their demands were directed strongly towards their own clientele: "Gays, stop staring, come over and get in line! - Lesbians, stand up, and the world will see you!"
The media would rather show the bird of paradise than the activistThe mood on the way was exuberant and happy, says Bernd Gaiser - no comparison to events in earlier years, when gay demonstrators, some of them only dared to go out on the street in disguise. "Such a climate of fear no longer prevailed in 1979. We have now been able to celebrate our being gay and have shown that we are even proud of it. That was a very important aspect of the first CSD." There was no hostility or even violence against participants.
At the beginning of the nineties, today's managing director of the Lesbian and Gay Association Germany (LSVD), Klaus Jetz, experienced his first CSD parades in Cologne. He considers the often criticized freedom of movement at the parades to be normal, after all, the CSD takes place in summer. "At the Carnival in Rio, people are only lightly dressed and nobody gets upset." Incidentally, the topic is often exaggerated by the media, who would rather portray the half-naked bird of paradise than the activist with his political slogan. Even if the events have become much larger and more commercial today, they are still about political content. In 2009, for example, most of the German CSDs demanded an amendment to Article 3 of the Basic Law in their motto. The third paragraph of Article 3 lists the prohibitions of discrimination: gender, origin, race, language, religion ... So far there is no talk of sexual identity there. The LSVD and other groups want that to change. Another current issue is violence against lesbians and gays, which has been increasing again for a few years. And even with the Civil Partnership Act, everything has not yet been achieved, says Jetz. In a civil partnership, lesbians and gays still do not have the same rights as heterosexual spouses.
Not much is left of the grass roots movement
Colorful, loud, shrill and with a political message: As here in Berlin, the CSD is a fixed item on the program in many German cities - and not just for gays and lesbians. (& copy AP)Bernd Gaiser comes from a small village near Heidelberg. In order to be able to breathe more freely as a gay man, he once left his conservative homeland and went to the big city. Today CSD parades have long since found their way into the German provinces, they can be found in Iserlohn and Oldenburg, in Schwerin and Altötting. Hundreds of thousands of people come to the biggest events in Berlin and Cologne every summer. Trucks then wind their way through the city centers like a giant rainbow-colored python, on which scantily clad people, equipped with whistles and water pistols, dance to thumping house and puffy pop music. Many of the cars are now sponsored by discos and breweries. The entire spectrum of political parties - from dark red to green to black - including their top staff takes part, sets topics and solicits the favor of the gay and lesbian electorate. There is not much left of the once grassroots Christopher Street Day movement in 2010.
But not everyone thinks that is a good thing. In Berlin, towards the end of the 1990s, a group of activists split off from the traditional CSD and founded their own event, the "Transgeniale CSD". Parties and commercial sponsors are explicitly undesirable in the demonstration procession and at the final rally in Kreuzberg. In addition, the organizers endeavor to present homosexuality, transsexuality and intersexuality in all its dimensions and thus move it into a larger political context. The gay migrant who is staying illegally in Germany and is therefore afraid to take to the streets is just as much a topic as the unemployed lesbian from the province who lives on Hartz IV and cannot even afford to travel to the parade. Klaus Jetz from the LSVD finds the motives of the alternative competition legitimate, but does not want to accept the argument that the traditional CSD has simply become too big and too commercial: "Of course you could say we are going back to our roots. But then that would come in Cologne and Berlin probably no more 500,000 people, but maybe 50,000. And that would also diminish the impression that the event makes on politics and society. " Bernd Gaiser, however, would like future CSDs to emphasize the concerns of older lesbian and gay people more. These have so far received too little attention in the youth-dominated community.
Like a giant rainbow colored pythonStonewall veteran Perry Brass has just seen the 41st edition of the New York "Christopher Street Liberation Day" parade. He does not want to know anything about the criticism that comes up again and again in the USA about the character of the event. "It's great that the CSD has been taking place for so long. And every year I remember how difficult it was back then when it all started." In these moments, Perry Brass is a happy person.
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