David Bowie — Giving Space To Oddity

1

“I always had a repulsive need to be something more than human. I felt very puny as a human. I thought, “Fuck that. I want to be a superhuman.” David Bowie

Like so many kids in their early teens, I felt out of place and at odds with myself when I grew up: I lacked the masculinity expected of me from my environment, being a skinny sensitive introverted boy who liked to play “house” with my stepsisters — making doll’s dresses and staging mock weddings.

I made a beautiful bride.

At the time, unlike the other boys, I also showed no signs of reaching puberty and resorted to using a black marker pen to draw chest hair on my chest… and everywhere else my “shame” had to be covered.

My self-expression led to ridicule and apart from spending time with the few friends I had, I mostly kept myself to myself.

It was September 1987. I was 12 years old and growing up in Pretoria — a highly conservative and religious city, in South Africa. My step parents restricted my “television time” to 2 hours a week and classical music was the only music I was allowed to listen to. They “meant well”.

That spring, hidden in a box and covered with dust, I found a cassette tape of Elvis Presley’s 1968 Las Vegas comeback concert. When I heard the King’s music for the first time, Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock, Wooden Heart, Teddy Bear, Are You Lonesome Tonight… a hunger, which I wasn’t even aware of, stirred inside me. I wanted to know more about this man! This music! And the outrage it caused.

Two problems: First, my stepdad’s stuff was out of bounds, so getting caught with the tape meant big trouble. Second, “Rock & Roll was the devil’s creation”, and listening to it was as good as bringing Satan himself into our home. (Goodness knows why my stepdad held onto that tape…)

My safe haven and key to escaping home life was our local library. I saved my pocket money and took a bus trip to the library every Saturday — at the great expense of 50 cents a trip. Fortunately, being an “academic”, my stepmom encouraged those library visits: “If the boy keeps himself busy with books, at least he is learning something and stays out of trouble.”

Little did she know. The library gave me access to an entire archive of books and vinyl records of the “devil’s music”. A whole new world opened up to me — not just Elvis but also Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ritchie Valens, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and many more.

Like the teenagers of the 1950’s, Rock & Roll revolutionised me albeit in 1987. And once my lust for 50s Rocks & Roll was exhausted, with a lot of catching up to do, I headed for the next three decades.

The Complete Encyclopaedia of Rock & Roll became an essential point of reference that introduced me to Brit Pop, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Simon & Garfunkel, Neil Young…  and David Bowie!

“The boy” found himself in the good company of  artists, poets, rebels, free-thinkers and creative geniuses.

A blessing.

When I saw the news of David Bowie’s passing, while running on a treadmill in Central London, 6am in the morning, I flush of sadness fell over me.

I remembered my younger self — a barefooted 12 year old boy completely overwhelmed by his isolation in an unkind environment — sitting on the library floor in his khaki shorts and yellow checked shirt, staring at a picture of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album cover: flash across his face, flaming red hair, pale skin, ruby lips, eye shadow and a humble subtle bow of his head: Undiscovered greatness.

He was sexy. Weird. Man-woman. Crazy. Clever. Poetic. Dark. Alien. Familiar. Exotic. Enigmatic. Mysterious. Angry. Kind. Provocative. Wicked. Amazing.

A man in lycra? Sequin? Glitter? Make up? Wigs? Extravagant and beautiful? Boys can do that?

“Thank God!” I thought. “There is hope for me. There are others like me. I can escape this place.”

Until yesterday, 11 January 2016, the day the world learned that the Star Man has returned to where he belongs, I did not realise the impact of that first image of David Bowie I laid eyes on, had on me. It was the first sign of a glimmer of hope.

That image opened the door for me to a journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance and self-expression that I hope never ends.

Of course, there is his music, his acting and his tremendous and impeccable sense of style. How could anyone ever ignore these Bowie trademarks? “Fame, makes a man take things over. Fame, lets him loose, hard to swallow…”

He will be remembered and admired for so many things and rightfully so. There is no measure to his monumental artistic accomplishments and contributions.

For me David Bowie was a lifeline — the man who gave space to oddity and who showed the world, in the multitude of all his exquisite manifestations, the importance and power of owning who you are.

“And the shame was on the other side. Oh we can beat them, forever and ever. Then we could be Heroes, just for one day…” Heroes, Dawid Bowie

AladdinSane

Aladdin Sane – David Bowie, 1973

 

Advertisements

The Watch You Gave Me Still Ticks Its Hours

1

February is LGBT History Month — giving us the opportunity to explore our past, share our stories and remind ourselves of the common threads that tie us together.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is one of those threads. It was our Holocaust. It crippled our community as it killed hundreds of thousands of gay men with one foul swoop.

Looking back, we can now say: “We survived and we overcame.

But did we really? In a time when HIV drugs are more effective, making the disease no longer a death sentence, the devastating impact it had during those early days is far too easily forgotten by a more liberated and younger LGBT generation… often careless in their ignorance.

So, if we are painfully honest about the challenges we still face as an LGBT community (no matter where we find ourselves in the world), then HIV/AIDS have not left our beds. It still lingers between the sheets.

I found this poem in a comment thread of an article in which survivors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s reflect on their lives. It beautifully illustrates the heartache and sense of loss felt by so many, but also shows how we still live in the loitering shadow of this disease.


The Watch You Gave Me Still Ticks Its Hours

— by Martin Hatchuel, 6 July 1996 —

The watch you gave me still ticks its hours
though your hours here on earth are done;
The silent hand that sweeps its face
marks time for us no more.

Your time, my dear and deep beloved one
Is over now at last.

The life you had will live in us
whose love still bears your name;
The silent tomb that holds your cross
holds just your earth’s remains.

Your spirit, my dear and deep beloved one
Is ever now at rest.

I’ll celebrate your life, my love
And mourn its brief refrain;
I’ll celebrate our love that’s lost
And mourn, and mourn again.

The time you gave still lives in me
though time has robbed us both;
The finite hours that made our love
are counted now and done.

Your time, my dear and deep beloved one
In me burns ever on.

The smiles you gave still light my days
though laughter’s hollow comfort now;
Your life and memory live in me
though death’s crop is gathered home.

Your love, my dear and deep beloved one
In me burns ever on.


Credits.
Images: FR Lubbe for Little Red Shoes
Text: Martin Hatchuel, 6 July 1996


Russian Oligarch Hosts Secret Anti-Gay Meeting In Vienna

“Humor brings insight and tolerance. Irony brings a deeper and less friendly understanding.”

~ Agnes Repplier ~

Earlier this year, at the Sochi Winter Olympics, in Russia, there was some poetic justice when the 5th and final snowflake-like Olympic Circle failed to open during the opening ceremony. For me and many of my LGBT friends it was a symbolic moment, highlighting the cry for help from the Russian LGBT community for international support against Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay propaganda law.

Since the introduction of this infamous anti-gay propaganda law in June 2013, the country has witnessed a sharp increase in the number of violent attacks (some resulting in torture and even death) on members of its LGBT community, while those protesting the legislation have found themselves often targeted by police brutality and arrest.

In the run up to the Winter Olympics, the LGBT activist group All Out called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to stop the Games from taking place in Sochi and to ensure that future Olympic host countries do not have similar discriminatory laws on their books.

All Out presented the IOC with a global petition signed by 322,000 members of the group and another 41,000 All Out members sent the IOC personal messages raising their concerns. Shortly after receiving the petition, the head of the IOC spoke out against Russia’s anti-gay law and assured the LGBT community that this new law will not impact fans and athletes attending the Games — which was not exactly the assurance All Out and the international LGBT community asked for.

Brian Ellner, a board member of Athlete Ally — a group working to end homophobia and transphobia in sports — commented at the time by saying: “Today’s IOC statements are troubling on many levels. First, despite continued ‘assurances’ from the Russians the IOC itself remains confused as to whether these anti-LGBT propaganda laws will be enforced against athletes and fans.”

He added that while the safety of athletes and fans was important “we are also seeking a clear condemnation of the propaganda laws from the IOC. After the games are long gone the Russian LGBT community will still be living under these cruel laws and it’s time for the IOC and the world to voice loud and clear condemnation as a matter of human rights and fundamental fairness.”

Olympic Circles Fail to Open at Sochi 2014. © Unknown

Olympic Circles Fail to Open at Sochi 2014. © Unknown

Responding to the petition and the IOC’s request for Russia to clarify its position in terms of implementing these laws, Dmitry Kozak, the Russian deputy prime minister who oversaw the Olympics said: “Please do not touch the kids,” echoing what Russian President Vladimir Putin simply said earlier: “Just leave kids alone, please”, implying that LGBT people are paedophiles.

We all know how that story ended… The Winter Olympics were hosted in Sochi regardless and the IOC has not yet clarified their position in terms of choosing future host countries having to no discriminatory laws including protecting all human rights…

As for Russia? Russian leaders maintain that the country is not homophobic, despite the fact that violence against Russian LGBT people are now at its worst with many seeking to leave the country in fear of their safety. They remain defiant, by claiming that their only goal with this draconian law is to safeguard youth, by prohibiting the airing of so-called ‘gay propaganda’ around minors…

History has taught us time and again that seemingly ‘innocent’ laws are usually just the beginning of backward political ideations hidden behind a diplomatic smokescreen sugar-coated hogwash… Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law is no exception.

Today, it transpired that despite Russia’s empty promises, this past weekend, a secret meeting was held in Vienna to discuss ways to rid Europe of the ‘satanic gay lobby’. The meeting was attended by a host of far-right MPs and ultra-conservative Eurasian ideologists and was held literally across the road from where the Life Ball — one of the biggest AIDS charity events in the world — was hosted inside Vienna City Hall the very same night.

This year, the winner of Eurovision 2014, Conchita Wurst stole the show at Life Ball when hoots of approval, applause and whistles greeted the Austrian bearded drag queen dressed in figure-hugging silver lame, as she belted out her winning torch song Rise Like a Phoenix.

I cannot help but to see the irony here: In the build-up to the Eurovision Song Contest’s Finale, activists from Eastern European countries, including Russia, Armenia and Belarus, have blasted Conchita as an example of the West’s ‘decadence’ and branded the Eurovision contest as a ‘hotbed of sodomy’.

After her Eurovision victory, when asked if she had anything to say to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Conchita said: “I don’t know if he is watching this now, but if so, I’ll say it: ‘We’re unstoppable.'”

Cochita Wurzt at Life Ball, 2014.  © Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images Europe

Cochita Wurzt at Life Ball, 2014. © Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images Europe

Yet, this weekend, while guests at the Life Ball celebrated life and raised money to support HIV/AIDS victims, on the other side of the street the Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeew and his Saint Basil the Great Charitable Foundation held an ominous meeting attended by nationalists and Christian fundamentalists from Russia and the West… I cannot imagine a greater contrast between two worlds. It’s like an invisible Berlin Wall divided the streets of Vienna.

The meeting was an invitation only and guests included the chief Russian ideologist of the Eurasian movement Alexander Dugin, the nationalist painter Ilja Glasunow, and MPs from far right parties including the Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache. A star guest was Alexander Dugin, a Russian political scientist and Eurasia ideologist who believes in Russian supremacy and authoritarianism, and wants to see a ‘conservative revolution’ across Europe.

According to Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, who confirmed the event took place from two independent sources, the meeting was hosted at Vienna’s Palais Liechtenstein under conditions of extreme secrecy.

The newspaper’s sources said that as well as discussing the ‘gay lobby’ the topic of fighting liberalism in Europe was also high on the agenda at the secret meeting. However, the official theme of the event was to mark the historic Vienna congress, which settled issues following the Napoleonic Wars and French revolutionary wars, 200 years ago.

Russian oligarchy, far-right politicians, secret meetings, the ‘gay lobby’ (what does that even mean?)… Do we have reason to be concerned?

Sadly, I think we do.

I for one don’t like scaremongering, but I also detest the inconvenience and irritation of ‘hindsight’.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if anything, the fact that the IOC allowed the Winter Olympics to continue in Sochi this year — despite Putin’s blatant homophobic and human rights abuses — carried startling (if not frightening) resemblances to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which took place amidst Hitler’s crackdown on the European Jewish community…

Back then, the world turned a blind eye and in the horrifying aftermath of the Holocaust said ‘We did not know.’

LGBT people are the only minority group in the world who find themselves in the awful juxtaposition that rights that are given to us with one hand are taken away by another… This leaves all of us in a treacherous position… one we may not want to think about, but nonetheless one we cannot ignore.

The only way we can prevent history from repeating itself is by reminding the world — those who still scoff at us and those who don’t want to believe us — how complacency, ignorance and inaction often (if not always) have dire consequences…

…something to think about as we gear up to celebrate Gay Pride this year…

LGBT Russian Youth After Being Attacked By Anti-Gay Militants  ©

LGBT Russian Youth After Being Attacked By Anti-Gay Militants ©

The Conchita Effect…

7

The only thing that probably rubbed off on me properly, since I moved to Britain ten years ago, is that I now also love the underdog. So when Austria’s gender-bending bearded drag artist, Conchita Wurst (aka Thomas Neuwirth) won the Eurovision Song Contest on 12 May, I was more than pleased. It’s always great when someone from our side wins.

Even more so after the uproar and division her entry to the semi-finals caused between Europe’s progressive liberal side and the traditional values and nationalist rhetoric of countries on the ‘other side of the fence’: Russia (who introduced a law last year prohibiting so-called gay propaganda), Armenia and Belarus blasted Conchita Wurst as an example of the West’s ‘decadence’ and branded the Eurovision contest as a ‘hotbed of sodomy’.

Some bigoted Armenian protestors launched a Facebook petition demanding Conchita’s removal from the contest. Activists in Belarus had even urged the country’s state television network to bypass the live broadcasting rules by editing Conchita’s performance out of its Eurovision transmission.

Conchita won nonetheless with her song Rise Like A Phoenix, which include the lyrics: Waking in the rubble, Walking over glass, Neighbours say we’re trouble, Well that time has passed… You were warned, Once I’m transformed, Once I’m reborn, I rise up to the sky, You threw me down but I’m gonna fly. Not the most poetic song (or singing voice… let’s be honest). Still, it sent a strong and clear message of hope to LGBT people and our supporters throughout Europe.

Later, when I asked a friend what he thought about her victory, he said: “Well, it’s okay. But I’m not interested in all the glitter and the ‘show’. What I want to know is: Will this start a conversation? Will her being on the stage and winning begin a conversation between a gay child and his or her parents?”

There was a smidgen of cynicism in what my friend said, but he had a point because Conchita Wurst represents social change. But how effective will she be? To answer my friend’s question, I reflect on my own coming out:

I grew up in South Africa during the stifling conservative and racist Apartheid era, in the 1980s. During this time, a phenomenal drag artist emerged, called Pieter Dirk Uys. He began his career as a serious playwright but switched to one-man cabaret-style shows at the height of the Apartheid era.

Pieter Dirk Uys as Evita Bezuidenhoud

Pieter Dirk Uys as Evita Bezuidenhoud

Pieter Dirk Uys’ alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout (also known as Tannie Evita) — a white Afrikaner socialite and self-proclaimed political activist — was highly controversial, to say the least. Not only because Uys was a man who dressed up as a woman (a no-go for the white, righteous-religious Afrikaners), but also because he used Evita Bezuidenhout to criticise and expose the absurdity of the South African government’s racial policies. With her satirical comedy and uncanny humour, Evita Bezuidenhout lampooned the South African regime and its leaders, as well as the sometimes hypocritical attitudes of white liberals.

She got people thinking. She got me thinking.

When Evita Bezuidenhout came on the scene, I was 11 years old. Already questioning my sexuality, Evita was a spark of hope at a time when I thought there was nobody else on this earth that was like me.

It was a very lonely place to be.

When I found a black and white caricature drawing of her in a Sunday newspaper, I stuck it on my bedroom wall, right next to my pillow where I could look at it every night before I went to sleep.

My aunt and uncle (who were my guardians) noticed the picture on my wall, but said nothing at first. However, when I started to mimic Evita Bezuidenhout, making no secret of my adoration for this flamboyant character, my uncle came to my room one evening and sat on the side of my bed…

Tell me about this picture,” he said.

It’s Evita Bezuidenhoud,” I answered, excited that he showed an interest in something I liked.

What do you like about her?

She’s funny…” I also wanted to tell him how outrageous I thought she was and that I admired Pieter Dirk Uys for being so brave, but my uncle interrupted me.

You know it’s not really a woman? It’s a man dressed up as a woman.

I know.

Don’t you think there is something wrong with that?

No. That’s part of what I like about it.

But you realise it’s not right. It’s not the type of thing men do.

I don’t see anything wrong it.

Well, be that as it may, your aunt and I would like you to take the picture down.

There was no way I was going to hide the picture of my heroine. In fact, I blatantly refused his request. As a result, my bedroom door got shut whenever we had guests at home, because “what will the people say?

Evita and the late president Nelson Mandela

Evita and the late president Nelson Mandela

Evita Bezuidenhout will always be a significant figure in my life. She played a big part in me coming out to myself. In a way she was the fairy godmother who prompted me to begin a conversation in my head with myself, which enabled me to acknowledge, for the first time, that ‘thing’ inside me that was yearning to come out — the ‘secret’ aching to be told.

Since Evita, it has taken me years to finally admit to the world that I am gay — 14 years to be precise (I came out when I was 25 years old). It was a painful and prolonged process, which started with a picture of a drag artist on my wall and that awkward conversation with my uncle.

I’m almost 40 years old, and that conversation is still ongoing… mostly in silence. But enough has been said (and kept quiet) for me to know that there is no acceptance to be found with him and my aunt… In their house my bedroom door will always be closed to stop the the world from seeing who I am… but that is their closet, not mine and I don’t have to live in it. I have also learned that in any conversation it’s best not to be fixed to an outcome, but instead to stand firm in the  truth of your own story.

Since her victory, the ‘Conchita Effect’ (as I like to call it) has been remarkable. She has not only raised the profile of LGBT people, but also lifted the lid on how archaic mainstream society’s perception of gender is. The day after she won, I remember seeing a few mainstream newspapers referring to her as transgender, when in fact “She” is actually a 25 year old boy, called Thomas Neuwirth. So the first lesson from Mizz Wurst was: as a drag artist, as soon as those luscious lashes are stuck on, we use female pronouns. But when they come off, we’re back to male pronouns…

Gender fluidity! Who had ever thought?

Truth be told, radical feminists claim that they’ve been trying to dismantle gender for the past 40-or-so years, but I’m yet to see evidence of their success… the gender box is still on almost every application or online registration form. Conchita knows no such box — and she won’t let radicals, Russians or right-wingers tell her who she is supposed to be… a bearded Beyoncé perhaps? Who cares.

Worrying whether she is ‘one of us’ will be a waste of time because, if anything, she is an ambassador for diversity. She is also a beacon of light, especially for LGBT people in countries where gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are disowned by their families, often to be beaten, humiliated, persecuted and locked away by society.

Conchita’s victory is far from novelty nonsense. In fact, I suspect since she’s graced our television screens quite a number of young teenagers have started a conversation in their own heads about how they identify with themselves… and that’s really all that counts, because the journey towards acceptance has to start somewhere.

Conchita Wurst as Tom Neuwirth

Conchita Wurst as Tom Neuwirth

It’s A Wonderful Life: Magnus Hirschfeld — Pioneer Gay Activist

“Courage and grace are a formidable mixture. The only place to see it is in the bullring.”

— Marlene Dietrich —

After the First World War, Berlin was the hotpot for free-thinkers, intellectuals, philosophers, poets and artists, in Europe. The city played host to a provocative cabaret scene and decadent smoky salons, Bauhaus design and architecture established itself as a global movement and the gender-bending actress and cabaret artist, Marlene Dietrich, was steadily rising to international fame. It is in this Berlin where the Jewish gay activist, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, devoted most of his life trying to prove the biological basis for homosexuality.

In 1897, Dr. Hirschfeld founded the Scientific Humanitarian Committee — a group of researchers who campaigned (on conservative and rational grounds) for Gay Rights and the repeal of Paragraph 175 — the section of the German penal code that had criminalized homosexuality since 1871.

Marlene  Dietrich in Seven Sinners

Marlene Dietrich in Seven Sinners

The Scientific Humanitarian Committee argued that Paragraph 175 encouraged blackmail and that it kept homosexuals on the fringes of society. They collected over 5,000 signatures, including Albert Einstein’s, with which they petitioned the German government in 1898 to abolish Paragraph 175. The petition was unsuccessful, however it continued to come before the Reichstag — German parliament — and eventually started to make progress in the 1920s, until the Nazi Party obliterated any hope for reform.

In 1919, Hirschfeld co-wrote and performed in the film Anders als die Andern (Different From the Others). The film had a specific Gay Rights law reform agenda. It also boasted one of the first gay characters ever written for cinema, played by actor Conrad Veidt. Veidt’s character is blackmailed by a lover. This eventually forces him to come out rather than to continue making the blackmail payments, but his career is destroyed and he is driven to suicide.

As a practicing physician, Hirschfeld believed that a better scientific understanding of homosexuality — that it occurs in nature, and is not a choice — would eliminate hostility toward homosexuals. As a researcher, Hirschfeld collected questionnaires from tens of thousands of people, which he published in the book Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes (The Homosexuality of Man and Woman), in 1914. He also built a unique library on same-sex love and eroticism.

Focussing his attentions on the gay, bisexual and transsexual community Hirschfeld opened the doors of his Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research or the Institute of Sexology) 6 July 1919, where the six beds on the top floor of the villa served as a safe haven for homosexuals. His clinic provided educational services and medical consultations with clinical staff that included one dermatologist, one gynaecologist, one endocrinologist and two psychiatrists.

The Institute, not far from the Reichstag building in Berlin, housed Dr. Hirschfeld’s immense archive and library on sexuality as well as the Museum of Sex — an educational resource for the public. As a result of his work at the Institute of Sexology he was both quoted and caricatured in the press as an enthusiastic expert on sexuality.

Berlin’s Lesbishe Frauen (1928), a Lesbian city guide to Berlin, by Ruth Margarete Roellig with a foreword by Dr. Hirschfeld.

Despite his prominence as a Gay Rights campaigner, Hirschfeld was above all a researcher who investigated and catalogued the many facets of human sexuality. He developed a system that categorised 64 possible types of sexual and social predispositions (known today as the “spectrum” theory of human sexuality), ranging from masculine heterosexual male to feminine homosexual male. He also coined the word ‘Transvestit’ (transvestite), which included people who today would be described as transgender or transsexual.

In fact, doctors at the Institute of Sexology performed the first sex-change operations in the world. They also exempted men from military service due to their sexual “predisposition,” officially changed the genders of “pseudo-hermaphrodites,” and consulted the court in cases of a wide range of “offences”, including those accused of having illegal gay sex.

Hirschfeld used the word “cure” in relation to homosexuality. However, the context in which he applied it was not to propagate reparative therapy for gay people, but rather to put patients in contact with “like-minded people of high standards.” In other words, homosexuals would be cured from their melancholies if they found themselves in an environment with supportive people who were not bigoted. He unashamedly believed that homosexuals weren’t “sick”, but that society was.

Initially, the gay community was sceptical of Dr. Hirschfeld’s “gay science.” Some thought that emphasizing their difference from straight people would cause the public to see gays as mentally disabled. Despite their initial resistance, it is believed that thousands of people visited the Institute before it was looted and destroyed by Nazi Brown Shirts, in 1933.

Today, 81 years ago, on 6 May 1933 — only three months after Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany — the Institute of Sexology was broken into, occupied and ransacked by Nazi Brown Shirts. Several days later, on 10 May, all the content from Hirschfeld’s archive and library was removed and taken to Berlin’s Bebelplatz Square. That night, along with 20,000 other books across Germany, they were publicly burned in a symbolic attack by Nazi officials on those who opposed their ideology… Amongst the texts thrown onto the fire was Heinrich Heine’s Almansor, in which he noted “where they burn books, in the end they will burn humans too.”

 

10 May 1933, Berlin's Bebelplatz Square

10 May 1933, Berlin’s Bebelplatz Square

At the time of the seizure of the Institute of Sexology and the book burning, Hirschfeld had already left Germany on a speaking tour that took him around the world. In San Francisco, he was hailed as “The Einstein of Sex” and in New York thousands attended his lectures. He learned about the destruction of his archive and library in news reports that were shown at cinemas.

In 1935, Hirschfield died in exile in Paris. Weeks after his death, the Nazis redrafted Paragraph 175 to prohibit all forms of male homosexual contact. Using these draconian laws, the Nazis continued their persecution of gay men during WWII. Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested because they were suspected of being homosexual, of whom some 50,000 were officially sentenced.

Most of these men served time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 were sent to Nazi concentration camps, where they were forced to wear a Pink Triangle. It is unclear how many gay men perished in the camps, but leading scholar Rüdiger Lautmann believes that the death rate of homosexuals in concentration camps may have been as high as 60 per cent, because they were treated in an unusually cruel and brutal manner by their captors.

Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, 14 May 1868 – 14 May 1935

Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld, 14 May 1868 – 14 May 1935

After the end of the war, Paragraph 175 was not repealed and many gay men remained in prison for years to come. Others enjoyed brief liberation, but were re-arrested and imprisoned based on evidence found of their homosexuality during the Nazi years.

The treatment of homosexuals in concentration camps went unrecognised by most countries. It was not until the 1980s that governments began to acknowledge these atrocities. In 1994, Paragraph 175 was eventually revoked in its entirety and it was not until 2002 that the German government apologized to the gay community for this dark period in its history. In 2005, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Holocaust which included the persecution of homosexuals.

The scholar and researcher Ralf Dose founded the Magnus Hirschfeld Society in 1982, in an effort to secure the legacy of Hirschfeld’s work. Whilst most of Hirschfeld’s archive and library were lost on 10 May 1933, Dose have managed to uncover some of his personal and professional belongings.

His work changed the conversation about homosexuality and helped pave the way for today’s transgender movement. Dr. Hirschfeld fought fiercely for equality and Gay Civil Rights decades before the Kingsley Report, Stonewall and Harvey Milk. His Scientific Humanitarian Committee was the world’ s first activist Gay Rights organization. Though he was often up against hostile social, political and cultural forces, he remained committed to the idea that all of humanity has a stake in sexual freedom — a message we’re still fighting for today.


Credits.
Images: No Copyright Owned – All from different online media sources
Text: FR Lubbe, Little Red Shoes