On the evening of June 30, filmmaker Jochen Hick found his way to the Reichstag in Berlin for a party he never expected to attend. The Green Party was celebrating a vote, just hours earlier, to legalize same-sex marriage in Germany.
At the party, people danced and sang, toasted to equality, and celebrated the career of Volker Beck, a member of Parliament who’d devoted decades of work to LGBT liberation. Beck was about to retire, and the party in his honor had been planned well in advance — that it coincided with the last-minute vote was pure coincidence.
“Ah,” Jochen remembers thinking as he surveyed the scene, “So far we’ve come. But what will be next?”
After years of delay from Chancellor Angela Merkel, legal marriage will come to Germany this autumn with startling speed. German queers are elated; at a party thrown by the Ministry of Family Affairs, singer and actress Sigrid Grajek sang the nearly century-old queer anthem “The Lavender Song.” At Christopher Street Day in Berlin, marchers stomped ebulliently through puddles amidst a torrential downpour.
Germans are beyond ready for marriage to arrive. A recent poll by Germany’s Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency showed 83 percent in favor, and the Federal Constitutional Court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht, noted that same-sex couples faced unacceptable injustice. Unlike in America’s religiously dominated political parties, there’s majority support for equality in Germany’s Christian Democrats and right-wing AfD.
German resistance to marriage equality is limited, and comes either from small groups of religious fundamentalists or from queer activists who note the institution’s history of oppressive patriarchy.
But with work on marriage now all but complete, many German queers turn now to the question of what’s to be done next. In activist circles, the conversation has turned increasingly toward attitudes of exclusion within the community itself.
“The same CIS white players — male and female — pretend to speak about the community as a whole,” said Jochen, “and sometimes it seems like the additional letters B, T, I, etc., have just been added to the line, but a real representation for those groups is not always guaranteed.”
“I would like to see more community projects that bring together trans, bi, lesbian, and gay people,” agreed Jonathan Grupp, a gay man from Stuttgart. “I feel that each community is a little separate from each other. There are pretty mixed places and parties, for instance at [gay nightclub] Schwuz here, which are really nice and you get to meet very different people.”
Outreach to rural communities is also a growing priority. “I grew up in a small city 60 kilometers away from Hanover,” said journalist and novelist Kriss Rudolph. “There was no LGBT community back then and there sure is none today. No gay bar, no club — nothing. ... Naybe today people find friends through Grindr or Facebook. Maybe we can call this an online community. Is it the same? I guess not.”
Because of its location, Germany is also poised to offer asylum to queer refugees. The country recently took in victims of the violence in Chechnya — something U.S. officials have failed to even discuss in public — and politician Michael Roth is engaged in ongoing talks with Turkey’s embattled gay community.
Rules regarding asylum seekers is also in need of reform. “Often they have to answer very intimate questions by the authorities,” said Kriss. “Sometimes they are told, If you don’t come out and act straight you can live your life in Iraq — or Morocco or Russia. This is outrageous!”
Drag queen Patsy L’Amour Love, who is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in gender studies, is focused on health care. Currently, insurance will not pay for pre-exposure prophylaxis in Germany, leaving the community without an important means of preventing transmission of HIV. “In comparison to the U.S. we have a well-working health system for most people,” she said. “But in some regards it stays rigid, as it is in the case of PrEP.”
“The stigma surrounding HIV-positive people is still stuck in the the ‘80s,” said Jonathan Gregory, a social worker for a gay health project in Berlin called manCheck, “so this is a huge topic that needs media coverage, and people need to get educated on these topics.”
And marriage itself may present new challenges to the LGBT community. Just as in other countries, there’s fear that marriage may pressure queers to conform to the standards of heteronormative respectability: divorce, codependency, and sexual repression.
“There was kind of a self-censorship at this year’s parade in Stuttgart,” said Jochen. “Groups and floats showing too much nakedness are supposed not to be invited for the next year. … I sometimes do worry about a further mainstreaming of LGBT society. I do fear more boredom. Uniformity. And seeing more advertisements for marriage accessories.”
“Every person can be an activist in their own way,” said Jonathan Gregory. “Activism starts with being fearless in an environment that tries to box you in when you don’t want to fit into society's boxes.”