The Persecution and Discrimination against Homosexuality in Rhineland-Palatinate, 1946-1973


Beginning in spring 2014, the IfZ worked together with the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation on a research project, commissioned by the state government of Rhineland-Palatinate, on persecution and discrimination against homosexuality in Rhineland-Palatinate. The project was successfully completed in autumn 2016. Michael Schwartz was the operative and academic head of the project, and coordinated and supervised the work of two external researchers (Günter Grau and Kirsten Plötz) who also participated. The study focused on developments in the course of the first two post-war decades in the state, while also taking into account the situation in the region during the Nazi era as well as later developments in the 1970s.

The results of the study, published as a 380-page research report, showed that homosexual life in Rhineland-Palatinate during the 1950s and 1960s were marked by legal prosecution and diverse forms of discrimination. 2,880 men and young people were sentenced to imprisonment in the state between 1948 and 1969 in accordance with Sections 175 and 175a of the German Penal Code (Strafgesetzbuch – StGB) in the version of 1935; a total of 5,939 suspects were investigated by police between 1953 and 1968 alone. The punishments were exacerbated by additional humiliations, moral degradations, and severe professional disadvantages.

Following on the history of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals in the region, this study provides the first reliable overview of the criminal prosecution of homosexual men in a sizable German state over the first two decades of the Federal Republic of Germany. The project’s final report not only describes the practice of persecution with examples of those who were affected, but also the political and social context – from the failed efforts of civil society to do away with the Penal Code sections on homosexuality, the high court decisions of the 1950s that demonstrated continuity with the Nazi era, the debates around 1960 over repressive legal reforms meant to safeguard “morality” – to the social changes of the 1960s, which would lead to liberal legal reform in 1969.

The project also focused on the wide range of social discrimination against homosexual people and lifestyles – not only with regard to men but also women, who were not only targets of discrimination due to their homosexual identity but were also confronted with restrictive social roles and a variety of legal disadvantages as women (for example with regard to marriage and family law). Thus research on the life situations of lesbian women would appear to be particularly groundbreaking. Conversely, the study also at times discovered the self-confident exercise of freedoms despite all risks involved, even to the inclusion of socially tolerated partnerships, whose homosexual nature was not however permitted to become explicit. It was also evident, however, that the people’s courage to be visible as individuals or as a group in Rhineland-Palatinate would only begin to rise and have an a changing effect on society following decriminalization in 1969, as the state did not have a sizable homosexual “scene” with a self-confident history of semi-openness.

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