Sat Feb 16, 2013, 08:58 AM
xchrom (106,177 posts)
The Iron Closet: Documentary Explores Gay Life in East Germany
Anything but an easy life: A film still from the documentary "Out in East Berlin"
In 1968, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) legalized homosexuality. Same-sex relations had long been proscribed by the infamous Paragraph 175, the Nazi-era law that not only criminalized homosexuality but led to the imprisonment and murder of thousands of gay people during the Holocaust.
The GDR's lifting of the ban on homosexuality was portrayed by many as an example of its progressivism and forward-looking nature. Indeed, it took West Germany another year to follow the East's lead and decriminalize homosexual relations between consenting adults. Yet decriminalization hardly signalled a new era of freedom for gays in the GDR, as activists continued to be spied on and harassed by the Stasi, the East German secret police. The contradictions between this surface-level tolerance and state-sponsored repression are explored in the new documentary, "Out in East Berlin -- Lesbians and Gays in the DDR," a film by directors Jochen Hick and Andreas Strohfeldt which premiered at this year's Berlin International Film Festival.
Gay Bashing as a Political Tool
The case of GŁnter 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.
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