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A gay golden age in East Germany reveals that Soviet politics were more dynamic than we admit—and that gay rights has less to do with democracy than we tend to assume. Samuel Clowes Huneke. Image: Wikimedia. The order made East Germany one of the first countries to allow gay men into its military, an achievement that the United States took twenty-three years to match. And if that were not striking enough, the policy was part of a larger suite of pro-gay reforms that the East German dictatorship promulgated between and But gay liberation is not as dependent on either as we think.
The rhetoric of the modern LGBTQ movement has tended to assume that gay rights are a natural extension of the promise of democracy. In his second inaugural address, Barack Obama cited the U. When we imagine what a liberated queer minority looks like, the gulags and breadlines with which we associate twentieth-century communism do not spring to mind. Should we ruminate on it at all, we are likely to believe that gay liberation is not only a natural outgrowth of democracy, but also a fundamentally capitalist enterprise.
As recently as early April, the Sultan of Brunei made international news for authorizing the stoning to death of gay people. So how on Earth could a communist dictatorship have issued an order that not only legalized homosexuality in its military, but also enjoined its soldiers to take an active part in ridding the country of homophobic prejudice?
The short answer is that gay liberation is not as dependent upon capitalist democracy as we have tended to assume. The strange case of East Germany illustrates just how incomplete our view of gay liberation really is.
This story begins with two men in their early twenties, Peter Rausch and Michael Eggert, who met in an East Berlin public bath in the early s. It was a serendipitous meeting. Eggert had recently met with West German gay activists who had ventured behind the Berlin Wall. They had shared their aspirations with the young Eggert, who in turn began discussing them with Rausch.