Gays Face Backlash in Germany


Conservatives campaign to stop gay sex education amid celebrations for a gay soccer player's coming out.


BERLIN, Germany — German athletes will sport rainbow-colored uniforms at the Winter Olympics in Sochi next month in a move widely interpreted as a protest against Russia’s crackdown against gay rights.

Although some see it as part of the country’s redoubled efforts to be perceived as a leader in gay rights following Moscow’s recent enactment of an anti-gay law, the recent coming-out of a gay German soccer player has drawn new attention to problems that still face gays and lesbians at home, which suggest the real picture is more complex.

T_hitzlspergerWhen former professional player Thomas Hitzelsperger announced that he was gay last week, he was almost universally celebrated in the German press.

But rumors persisted that his coach dissuaded him from making the announcement until he retired — while the European championships were underway — suggesting that German soccer fans, at least, haven’t fully accepted the idea of gay players.

“The rejoicing sounded suspiciously self-serving and smug,” Der Spiegel observed. “'We are so amazingly liberal that we can even get excited about a gay professional football player,' the message seemed to be.”

James Gardner, a gay American living in Berlin with his German husband, sees cynical politics in the new enthusiasm for gay rights.

“The whole issue of homosexuality is so politicized right now,” he says. "We have this Cold War happening on the gay front," he says, referring to the unspoken divides in Germany on homosexuality, "this Cold Gay War.”

Moves by the Catholic Church in the state of Baden-Würtenburg to ban sex-education classes from teaching students about homosexuality — even though there’s no sign the public school system will be teaching anything of the kind — suggest that in Germany, as in the US, ordinary people remain deeply divided over the issue, says Carolyn Gammon, a Canadian lesbian married to a German woman.

“I'd like to say that it's two steps forward, one step back,” she says. “But it's more like 1.1 steps forward, one step back.”

Recent polls suggest 65 percent of Germans favor full equality for homosexuals, according to Renate Rampf, spokeswoman for the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, the country's largest non-profit gay rights organization.

That means one in every three Germans believes gays and lesbians aren’t entitled to equal treatment, which leaves fertile ground for evangelical Christians and Catholics who vehemently oppose certain rights for homosexuals.

Merkel“Even Chancellor [Merkel] has said that she has a bad feeling when it comes to the issue of gays adopting children,” Rampf said in an email.

Germany recognized domestic partnerships for gays and lesbians in 2001. Three years later, gay and lesbian couples in legal partnerships were allowed to adopt children.

But some less contentious rights — such as tax equality for same-sex partnerships and heterosexual marriages — have been slow in coming. And numerous attempts to legalize gay marriage have failed to pass in successive parliaments led by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Union.

Gays and lesbians confront similar contradictions in daily life.

When Gardner was an openly gay student at an elite private school, he says, his peers accepted his sexuality.

But Gammon says even in her liberal Berlin neighborhood of Kreuzberg, “schwule” or “gay” is the most common insult in her son's schoolyard.

“Our child is now going through this system,” she says, “and he's never had a single thing that's gay-positive.”


  1. ppp says

    I believe the most problems are from people originated from East GERMANY where was under influenced of soviet union till 1989 when the wall was struck down. They are more orthodox, conservative, and xenophobic, like rest of post-soviet country.

  2. MaryM says

    Germany is certainly gay friendly but it is absolutely laughable to suggest that it is a world leader in gay rights.

    Gay people are barred from accessing the civil contract of marriage in Germany solely because they are gay.

    How can anyone believe that such legal discrimination is justifiable – apart from the mentally ill (and by mentally ill I mean religious obviously)

  3. Rad says

    What the Hell is going on in Europe? It’s like that side of the planet is just sliding back into the dark ages.

  4. ppp says

    @ RAD
    I saw the the reincarnation of East EU versus West EU. Perhaps, the Berlin wall will be reestablished.

  5. MaryM says

    Well Germany is still streets ahead of the USA when it comes to gay acceptance.

    US religious belief/mental illness is far stronger after all.

  6. mike/ says

    one of the things that happens when a major shift in a world view is about to happen is the people against the change ramp up their efforts. in the U.S. we have seen NOM, Bryan Fischer, et alia doing this over the last year. NOM seems to be slowing down, a bit. it will still take more time, more effort, and more exposure.

    people will see that their fears are unsubstantiated.

  7. Michaelandfred says

    Yes, this paints an entirely false picture of being gay in Germany. Backlash is a totally incorrect word. I lived in Germany for 20 years before my husband and I moved to miami a few years ago. We got our German civil union 13 years ago and it is “almost” on a parity with straight marriage but sadly the conservatives are far behind the population and keep getting pulled by the courts by bits and pieces. Full marriage can only be done legislatively, not like in the states by the courts or it would have happened already.

    But in 20 years I was never, not one single time the subject of abuse, physically or verbally, although we are most obviously a couple, usually walking hand in hand. I worked free lance and never in 20 years did I gave a problem stating my sexuality, something that came up in almost a daily basis. Being an American abroad the question of “why” is always one if the first. “Because my husband is German,” was always my answer.

    The mayor of Berlin is gay (or was.) and the leader of one if the major political parties who is also their foreign minister. While Germany is very religious, they do not mix their religion and politics. Every major German paper consistently writes pro LGBT reform pieces and trashes Merkel for being a coward.

    Fast forward to Miami, one of Americas Gay Mecca’s, where in the past few years I’ve had more homophobia thrown at me, us, in a week than I did in 20 years living abroad. Saying there is a backlash in Germany us like saying we have no progress here in the states because Fox News is reporting it so. It might not be progressing as fast as I’d like, but it’s a 1000% easier to live openly gay in Germany than in the US.

  8. Brian1 says

    What a silly article. As michaelandfred said backlash was just a completely over the top word for what the article actually depicted. Unfortunately it’s par for the course for Towleroad to wildly exaggerate things to get some extra clicks.

    So according to this article 2/3 of Germans support full gay equality, which is somehow a problem even though that is higher than in the US. A football star comes out as gay and is universally celebrated. They’ve had civil unions and gay adoption for over a decade nationwide, much better than the US record, although it doesn’t extend to marriage. I can’t see any backlash at all in the article except some American living in Germany says there’s a gay cold war there, which seems melodramatic in the context of the rest of the article, the minority Catholic church is anti-gay, which is hardly news anywhere in the world, and kids use the word gay inappropriately on the playground, again like their American counterparts.

  9. Simon says

    Is it because Germans and Europeans in general are more reserved? They don’t show their feeling in public. Like what Merkel said, she is just a little bit “uncomfortable”. When her gay foreign minister attended her party, she might be quite polite and welcoming.
    That is not necessarily a bad thing. On the other hand, she is still “uncomfortable” about the legalization of gay marriage.

  10. Javier says

    A warped article. Sure, there is work to be done in Germany, but the title and tone of the article makes it seem like Germany is much more homophobic than it is. Yellow journalism.

  11. Simon says

    The Speigel article title is “hidden homophobia”. The word “backlash” is a bit over the top. All it is saying is that the situation in Germany is a bit subtle which prevents gays and lesbians getting full equality.

  12. Chris says

    PPP is wrong. The East is less religious and less judgemental. The conservative politicians who block equality are almost all from the West.

  13. Simon says

    Anyway there may be light at the end of the tunnel. It seems Merkel has formed a new coalition government with the Social Democrats which supports gay marriage.

  14. Ben in Oakland says

    Michael and Fred, I also have a German husband, and we go to Germany every year. I have met with nothing but acceptance.

    Backlash? nah, just homobigots getting their lederhosen into eine kleine bunch.

  15. Rick says

    I will say again what I have said before. Those of you who think that support for “gay rights” equates to acceptance and embrace of homosexuality are mistaken.

    One can easily be in favor of someone not being denied the basic rights of citizenship due to their sexual orientation……and at the same time not like that individual or want to have anything to do with him socially.

    We can pass laws until the cows come home, but that will not change the culture….and the only thing that will is to reconcile male homosexuality and masculinity and make sexual and emotional intimacy between men acceptable…..and we are still a long way from accomplishing that… part because so many GAY men are so deeply threatened by the idea, seeing themselves as pseudo-women rather than as men…..

    And what I just said applies to Western Europe and North America as much as it applies anywhere….

  16. Darrell says

    Wow, “Gays Face Backlash in Germany” is a strong way to say, “Discrimination still persists in Germany (because no country is perfect as long as it has Evangelical Whackadoos)”.

  17. DSP says

    there’s a mistake in the text…needs to read “homosexual marriages” not ” heterosexual…” 😛

  18. TDSE says

    I lived and worked a year in Bayern a few years ago, easily the most conservative area in Germany. I worked for a family, got to know all of their friends and family, as well as made my own friends. On top of that, I played volleyball for our city. In other words, I was extremely integrated socially. Not once did I experience any form of homophobia, let alone any weirdness for being gay.

    Does Germany have some areas for improvement? Of course, just like anywhere in the world. But this entire article is laughable.

  19. anon says

    Elite opinion carries much more weight in Europe than here in the US. This means that laws tend to be ahead of public opinion.