chapter
Germany
Pages 27

German gay men and women experienced, on the one hand, one of the worst persecutions in history, and on the other hand, one of the most liberated periods in the history of gay life. When men-loving Frederick the Great came to the Prussian throne in 1740, sex between two men was still officially punished by the death penalty. The first written testimony of such a punishment is dated from 1704, when two men who confessed their sexual offense were executed. Prussia changed this law before the turn of the eighteenth century and demanded imprisonment, physical punishment, and exile for any homosexual activities. The newly installed paragraph in German law books received the infamous number 175 and achieved legal force for the entire German nation in 1871. The fight against laws that legalized discrimination against gays was manifold. The Wissenschaftlichehumanitäres Komitee (WhK, Scientific-Humanitarian Committee), founded in 1897 by physicist and scholar of sexual science Magnus Hirschfeld (18681935), was the first political organization that fought for equal rights for gay men and women and an alteration of the paragraph 175. Between 1897 and 1907, the WhK proposed five petitions to alter paragraph 175, so that it was reworded to apply only in three situations: cases of nonconsensual sex between persons of the same sex, homosexual contact with minors under the age of sixteen, and same-sex sexual contacts in public space. The Reichstag (legislature) denied all these petitions, even though some of them were signed by famous and influential persons like August Bebel, leader of the Social Democratic Party. In addition to contemporary theories on homosexuality, the WhK published in its Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen (Annual Journal for Intermediate Stages) one of the first debates with the developing field of psychoanalysis.