An American in BerlinG -1-H-29-Sweet (OA) 91-02 (E) 5.2t  

An American in Berlin
The following is part of a conversation with Professor Dennis Sweet, Associate Professor of German at Bates Maine, USA.

Published in Die Andere Welt, Feb 1991

C.M-S.: What are you doing in Berlin ?
Prof. D.S: The law in the GDR was much more progressive than in the FRG - for example in connection with the question of terminating a pregnancy and the equal treatment of homosexuals, I wanted to check the situation out - to establish whether it was in the nature of socialism or a question of personalities. With the changes which have taken place I've had to alter my concept. I'm now busy making a film on the transitional period in which I've landed. It deals with what was achieved under socialism, the present-day problems, and the development of the contradictions which arose in the GDR. For instance the progressive laws on homosexuality, but being spied on by the Stasi (State Security), groups attached to the church as, well as groups friendly towards the SED, and benevolently regarded by the SED.

I want to establish the basis of the impulses which were sent by scientific experts in sexuality. There was a series of scientific conferences - the first in Leipzig (1985), then in Karl-Marx-Stadt (1988) and the last in Jena. Is it possible that the scientific experts in this field brought pressure on the party and state? Were tolerance and integration only questions of science? In the film I will try to find answers - mostly through interviews with participants.

C.M-S.: What do you regard as progressive in GDR laws?
Prof. D.S: The abolition of the equivalents of Paragraph 175. Also, for a moment, it looked as though a homo-marriage, similar to the Danish model would be introduced. But it didn't come to that. The de-criminalisation of homosexuality was largely achieved in 1988/89. (This refers to the age of consent. LEGALLY over 18 homosexual relations were decriminalised in 1969. DAW) Paedosexuality is another question all over the world.

The law was logical and sensible, but for me the question is how far the public was influenced by this. The Germans lived· through 12 years of Hitler's fascism. That has left its mark on many - including in their attitudes to homosexuality. But how can this be changed ? The situation is different here from in the west. There homosexuals take to the streets in enormous numbers. This began in the USA and spread until in the '70's - with the Gay-Power-Movement, a sort of mass movement existed which time and again brought homosexuals into the public consciousness. On the other hand there was the situation with the explanation and logical argumentation by scientists. Did it have an influence on public consciousness ? I don't know.

In 1973 during the World Youth festival in Berlin, gays tried to draw attention to themselves and their problems. They were brutally up by members of the Free German Youth. During the 1970's people who tried to organise groups were unsuccessful; the groups were banned. Only at the beginning of the 1980's was it possible for the first groups - within the church and in Leipzig - to establish themselves and be tolerated. The Stasi did nothing to stop it. At the same time the Stasi received reports about it, letters were opened, telephones tapped, and Stasi informers infiltrated into the groups - even into the bed of one of the founder members!

Particularly after the 2nd scientific conference, the state and government were more at ease (with the topic) and came to the conclusion that a close scrutiny was no longer necessary. At the first conference the list of participants and all the speeches had to be submitted previously to the Stasi. But at the 2nd. in 1988, this was no longer the case; it was freely accessible to all since it was held in a theatre in the town. Gays and lesbians could speak up for themselves.

A kind of media campaign began which in practice culminated with Carow's film "Coming Out" (...) A political movement did not come into existence - a political organisation formed in Leipzig, the Schwulenverband in Deutschland (SVD = "Gay Association in Germany". Men only.), but it is not a mass organisation. The SVD has only a very small membership. Whether it will provide a political impulse I can't say. Although I have not checked out all my contacts, especially with lesbians - I was shocked about the lack of cooperation between gays and lesbians.

(...) Through a group in Jena and Uschi Sillge (Sonntags-Club, Berlin) I know that they have made great efforts in this direction. We went thro' such a stage in the USA, but it is long gone. [Gays and lesbians have learned in the meantime that ] (...) co-operation, at least in political questions, is essential. That's why parity was built into my film from the beginning. A film only about men would not be interesting to an American public, and not taken seriously. That's why the attitude of Eduard Stapel (SVD, Leipzig) is completely incomprehensible to me. I see co-operation as absolutely essential. Why should there be an association only for gay men?

Colin de la Motte-Sherman

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