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Can Democracy Be Queer?: Male Homosexuality, Democratisation, and the Law in Postwar Germany

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 June 2022

Samuel Clowes Huneke*
Department of History and Art History, George Mason University, 4400 University Drive, 3G1, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA


When Nazi officials surrendered to the Allied powers on 8 May 1945, gay German men hoped fervently that their suffering had come to an end. Ten years earlier, the fascist government had promulgated draconian new laws criminalising all forms of male same-sex behaviour. After the war, as Allied officials embarked on an extensive programme of democratic renewal in the occupied lands, gay men hoped that democratisation would mean the repeal of these laws. Yet, the new West Germany retained the Nazi-era laws until 1969, convicting over 50,000 men in those twenty years. Using petitions to government officials as well as essays in and letters to the editors of homophile magazines, this article examines how gay men in West Germany conceived of democratisation, asking what expectations they held for the new republic, how their views shifted as it proved hostile to queer citizens, and what this history means for the broader understanding of democratisation in the postwar world.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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1 Lorenz, Gottfried and Bollmann, Ulf, ‘Die Rechtsprechung nach §§175 und 175a StGB in der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg im Spiegel der Haupt- und Vorverfahrensregister der Staatsanwaltschaft der Jahre 1948 bis 1969’, in Finzsch, Norbert and Velke, Marcus, eds., Queer | Gender | Historiographie: Aktuelle Tendenzen und Projekte (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2016), 253–4Google ScholarPubMed.

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4 Just as I use ‘queer’ as an umbrella term for different groups of gender and sexual nonconforming individuals, I use ‘gay’ as a convenient shorthand for men who identified as being physically, sexually, or romantically attracted to other men. Craig Griffiths, ‘Between Triumph and Myth: Gay Heroes and Navigating the Schwule Erfolgsgeschichte’, Heroes. Helden. Héros (2014), 58.

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21 Anonymous, A Woman in Berlin: Eight Weeks in the Conquered City: A Diary (New York: Picador, 2017), 244.

22 Akantha, ‘Berlin tanzt!’, Der Kreis: ein Monatsschrift, 17, 9 (1949), 8–10, 22.

23 ‘Dokumente des Unrechts’, Der Kreis, 19, 1 (1951), 3.

24 L.G.H., ‘Die Freiheit läßt auf sich warten’, Der Kreis, 16, 10 (1948), 2.

25 Petition from S.K., 10 Jan. 1955, Bundesarchiv-Koblenz (BArch-Koblenz), B 141/4075, 5.

26 Ewald Tscheck, ‘Die Männerbundidee in der deutschen Romantik’, Der Kreis, 14, 3 (1946), 3. For more on Tscheck, who may have even joined the Nazi Storm Troopers in the 1920s, see Beachy, Gay Berlin, 229–230.

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34 IFLO, ‘Wir und der demokratische Staat’, Die Insel, 2 (Mar. 1952), 4.

36 Ibid., 4–5. This rhetoric mirrors some earlier thought, especially that of Kurt Hiller, who notably argued for the ‘right to one's own body’; see Hiller, Kurt, Das Recht über sich selbst: Eine strafrechtsphilosophische Studie (Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1908)Google Scholar.

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59 David Minto has recently argued that the evolution of such legal strategies was a transatlantic phenomenon; David Minto, ‘Perversion by Penumbras: Wolfenden, Griswold, and the Transatlantic Trajectory of Sexual Privacy’, The American Historical Review, 123, 4 (1 Oct. 2018), 1093–121.

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71 For more on the 1969 reform of §175, see Robert G. Moeller, ‘Private Acts, Public Anxieties, and the Fight to Decriminalize Male Homosexuality in West Germany’, Feminist Studies, 36, 3 (2010), 528–52; Whisnant, Male Homosexuality, 166–203.

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