Queer people

Defending the progress made

A great deal has changed for the better for queer people in Germany in recent decades. At the same time, they continue to be victims of targeted physical and psychological violence. The figures for hate crime directed against them are rising. All democrats should defend their human rights.
Christopher Street Day in Mainz in July 2023. picture-alliance/dpa/Helmut Fricke Christopher Street Day in Mainz in July 2023.

Queer political progress in recent decades has been a success story in Germany. The rights and recognition of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans*, intersex and other queer people (LGBTIQ*) have been significantly promoted, not least by civil society and the civil-rights movement. Consensual same-sex acts have not been criminalised in Germany since 1994. In 2001, registered civil partnerships were introduced for same-sex couples – a significant step towards the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2017. Last year, on Remembrance Day for the Victims of National Socialism, the German Bundestag commemorated the queer victims of that criminal regime for the first time with a memorial service.

The Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD) is the country’s largest queer political advocacy group and has been active for almost 35 years. Today, in the media and at our information stands, we often hear people ask why we are still needed. “Surely at some point,” they say, “enough is enough”.

That seems a harmless attitude, but it is not without its problems. First of all, it can reinforce social indifference towards ongoing and currently worsening problems: people in Germany are verbally and physically attacked on a daily basis by strangers giving violent expression to their hatred of ­LGBTIQ* people. Second, it can promote a social backlash, which we are currently observing: acceptance of sexual and gender diversity is decreasing in the country for the first time in decades. Also significant are the recent electoral successes of the AfD, a political party that has repeatedly positioned itself with anti-queer and far-right language.

The progress made towards equality for queer life must not be taken for granted; malevolent political forces could reverse it. Recently, for example, the right-wing government in Italy retroactively revoked the parental rights of lesbian mothers. Developments like that frighten queer people and their allies. There are queer people in all parts of society in every country, whatever the political repression that prevails there.

The social backlash goes hand in hand with a massive increase in hate in the digital world. People who have experienced discrimination are particularly often a target. In a recent study, 28 % of respondents with a homosexual orientation stated that they had been exposed to hate online. Among those with a bisexual orientation, the figure was even higher at 36 %. That hatred leads to a withdrawal from democratic discourse. More than half of those interviewed said they were less likely to express their own political opinion online due to fear. And 82 % feared that online hate jeopardises diversity on the internet (Kompetenznetzwerk Hass im Netz 2023).

Where hate spreads unhindered in the digital world, it also encourages violence on the street: words become deeds. The official figures for anti-queer hate crime in Germany have been rising for years. In 2022, the Federal Ministry of the Interior recorded more than 1000 cases of hate crime relating to sexual orientation and more than 400 cases relating to gender diversity. In public places especially, on the street or on local public transport, queer people experience violence in the form of insults, spitting, punches or kicks. A considerable number of cases – an estimated 80 to 90 % – go unreported.

Many queer people do not press charges because they fear further discrimination by the police or have already been subjected to it in the past. Other reasons, such as shame or an insecure residence status, may also play a role. There are still major gaps in research in Germany on the extent, manifestations and background of LGBTIQ* hate crime.

Misanthropic attitudes

The violence is not only directed at queer people themselves but also at people who are perceived by the perpetrators to be ­LGBTIQ*. In many cases the acts that are committed appear to be spontaneous – which means that hostility to queer people is still deeply rooted in society. LGBTIQ*-hostile violence stems from hatred. Many perpetrators see themselves as executors of what they imagine to be the national will. They regard LGBTIQ* people as inferior. They want to drive queer life out of the public realm into obscurity. Furthermore, queerphobia is almost always interwoven with other misanthropic attitudes.

Manifest queerphobia leads to a society in which people are wary of being or looking “different”. According to the LGBTI Survey by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 61 % of respondents said they always or often avoid even simple displays of affection in public – holding hands with their partner, for example (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights 2020).

Queer young people in particular find themselves in a vulnerable situation. They are struggling to grow up and discover their identity in a society that still assumes heterosexuality and binary models of gender to be the norm. As a result, there are generally a number of years between a person’s inner coming out, i.e., the admission of queerness to themselves, and external coming out – coming out to other people.

For many queer young people, uncertainty about a sexual or gender orientation that is initially perceived as inappropriate gives rise to stress, deprivation and fear – for example, the fear of never being able to have a happy relationship or a family of their own. It can be assumed that they are also more frequently victims of domestic violence. Many feel under pressure to conceal or suppress their identity. This can have psychological or psychosomatic consequences. A supportive environment is therefore important (Deutsches Jugendinstitut 2015).

Protection from conversion practices

Conversion practices also contribute to this psychological pressure, although they are prohibited – with exceptions – in Germany. Such treatments are carried out under the false assumption that a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation can be changed or suppressed from the outside. This contradicts scientific findings and WHO guidelines.

A recent nationwide online survey revealed some alarming figures. Fifty-two percent of queer respondents stated that they had been frequently or repeatedly advised to date someone of the opposite sex in order to suppress or change their sexual orientation. Fifty percent were frequently or repeatedly advised to take part in “typically male” activities such as football or “typically female” activities such as shopping. So, protection from conversion practices remains a major challenge and there is still a considerable need to raise public awareness.

It is crucially important that we, as civil society, should not rest on our laurels. We need to mobilise all democrats to defend the human rights of queer people. In particular, this means supporting democratic parties in elections.

Equal rights for so-called minorities – including queer people – are at the heart of democracy. Ultimately, everyone benefits from that. To paraphrase the German author and journalist Carolin Emcke: Plurality in a society does not mean the loss of personal (or collective) freedom; on the contrary, it guarantees it.

Links

Kompetenznetzwerk gegen Hass im Netz (competence network against online hate), 2023: Lauter Hass – leiser Rückzug. Wie Hass im Netz den demokratischen Diskurs bedroht. (Loud hatred – silent retreat. How hate on the internet threatens democratic discourse. Only in German.)
https://kompetenznetzwerk-hass-im-netz.de/wp-content/uploads/2024/02/Kurzinformation-Studie_Lauter-Hass-leiser-Rueckzug.pdf

European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2020: EU-LGBTI II. A long way to go for LGBTI equality.
https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/fra-2020-lgbti-equality-1_en.pdf

Mosaik Deutschland e. V., Amt für Chancengleichheit der Stadt Heidelberg (Mosaik Germany e. V., Office for Equal Opportunities Heidelberg), 2023: Unheilbar queer? – Erfahrungen mit queerfeindlichen Haltungen in Deutschland. (Incurably queer? – Experiences with anti-queer attitudes in Germany. Only in German.)
https://www.liebesleben.de/fachkraefte/studien-standard-qualitaetssicherung/queer-in-deutschland-wissen-und-erfahrungen-zu-konversionsbehandlungen/

Kerstin Thost is press spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD).
presse@lsvd.de

Related Articles