By Samuel Clowes Huneke
Along with race and gender, sexual identity has become one of the great vectors of modern politics. The manifestation of sexuality as a political identity is one of the most remarkable developments in the history of contemporary politics and society. In no country has sexuality, homosexuality in particular, become such a ubiquitous presence in politics, society, and memory as in Germany. Though known for its vibrant gay scene today, Germany in the past seventy years saw three of the most brutally homophobic regimes in modern history. My dissertation, tentatively entitled “Gay Berlin and the Age of Identity: Politics and Society in the Cold War Metropolis,” aims to chart the path that gay identity took in Germany, and Berlin specifically, from 1945 to the present. It aims to expose the vital role of the gay community in shaping postwar German society and its continuing relevance to German culture and identity.
Hoover has a number of useful collections for my topic. In particular, the archive houses files from the Allied Occupation Authority in Germany from 1945 until East and West Germany became formally independent in 1949. These files open a window into the decisions surrounding the repeal of Nazi-era laws. Although the Nazi version of §175, Germany’s anti-sodomy statute, became one of the more contentious relics of the Hitler regime to survive long into postwar period, Hoover records reveal that Allied authorities appear to have not even considered including it among the statutes repealed during occupation.
Likewise, Hoover’s German Subject collection contains numerous records from the student protest movements of the 1960s, the protest movements that led to the fall of the East German regime in 1989, and the free East German elections of 1990. Again, in some cases, the silences in these files spoke most strongly. Pamphlet after pamphlet, treatise after treatise from 1960s student organizations denounced what the youth of the day perceived to be the authoritarian legacy of Nazism that still oppressed their country along with a host of other social and political ills, yet virtually nowhere was there mention of the legal persecution still faced by gay men in the form of §175, which was only reformed in 1969. Indeed, it was partly in reaction against the negligent apathy of the student protests that the German gay rights movement of the 1970s drew its energy. Hoover’s ample materials from the 1990 East German election showcased an election fought in large part over the role of gender in society. And although most leftist and alternative parties included planks in their official platforms calling for equality of gay men and lesbians, only the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS)—the successor party of the Socialist Unity Party (SED) that had ruled East Germany—that turned gay rights into a campaign issue.
The materials I discovered here at Hoover have provided fascinating context for my dissertation, and provided me with a host of new questions as I embark on a research year in Germany. The staff, in particular Jean McElwee Cannon, were immensely helpful in pointing me towards useful collections. It was an honor to serve as a Silas Palmer Fellowship, and I look forward to my next trip to the Hoover Archives.