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Sat May 15, 2021, 03:23 PM

The forgotten origins of the modern gay rights movement in WWI

Gay soldiers who survived the bloodletting returned home convinced their governments owed them something – full citizenship. Especially in Germany, where gay rights already had a tenuous footing, they formed new organizations to advocate in public for their rights.

Though the movement that called itself “homosexual emancipation” began in the 19th century, my research and that of historian Jason Crouthamel shows that the war turned the 19th-century movement into gay rights as we know it today.

A death in Russia
In the winter of 1915, a German soldier died in a field hospital in Russia. The soldier, whose name is missing from the historical record, had been hit in the lower body by shrapnel when his trench came under bombardment. Four of his comrades risked their lives to carry him to the rear. There, he lay for weeks, wracked by pain in the mangled leg and desperately thirsty. But what troubled him most was loneliness. He sent letters to his boyfriend whenever he could manage it.

“I crave a decent mouthful of fresh water, of which there isn’t any here,” he wrote in his final letter. “There is absolutely nothing to read; please, do send newspapers. But above all, write very soon.”


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Reply The forgotten origins of the modern gay rights movement in WWI (Original post)
Behind the Aegis May 2021 OP
thucythucy May 2021 #1

Response to Behind the Aegis (Original post)

Sat May 15, 2021, 04:55 PM

1. The German singer Ute Lemper years back

did two CDs of German cabaret songs of the Weimar period, all of which were banned by the Nazis. One CD was in the original German, the other featured English translations, with printed lyrics in both languages.

Included are several gay rights anthems. One such was "Lavender Nights."

The English translation of the chorus is:

"We're not afraid to be queer and different
if that means hell, well hell we'll take the chance!
They are so straight, uptight upright and rigid
they march in lockstep--we prefer to dance!
We see a world of romance and of pleasure
all they can see is sheer banality
Lavender Nights are our greatest treasure
where we can be just who we want to be."

The CD also includes Marlena Dietrich's first hit (she started as a pop singer) called "The Special Girlfriend" -- about a lesbian couple.

"Just last week her boyfriend had her in a whirl--
That romance is over: She's dropped him for a girl..."

The gay scene in Berlin post World War I was legendary. What an unfathomable tragedy that it ended in such pain and atrocity.

There are also songs with a feminist theme. One is called "Throw All the Men out of the Reichstag!"

Even the straight love songs are radical for the time. My favorite I think it "Peter"--very sweet but also very "unladylike."

"If I told him that I'd been unfaithful,
he would sigh and then he'd say,
'Darling just as long as you are happy'--
that's the man I threw away!
Now whenever I'm in bed with others
on a lark or idle whim
I pretend the man I'm with is Peter
O how my heart yearns for him..."

You can imagine how the "traditional values" crowd reacted to all of this.

Other songs take on government corruption and also Hitler and the Nazis.

I highly recommend the recordings as another part of gay history, and the music is actually excellent and lots of fun.

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