Everyday isn’t Christopher Street Day | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 25.06.2002
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Everyday isn’t Christopher Street Day

CSD may have attracted thousands to its glitzy celebrations this year, but homosexual reality is far from colourful. Young gays and lesbians in Germany still face social discrimination, says a recent study.


This isn't only what homosexuality is about

Pink wigs, feather boas, fake lashes, leather pants and glitter on naked skin – Berlin was transformed into a garish spectacle of body-worshippers, drag queens, and homosexuals cheering and swaying to the music on Christopher Street Day on Saturday.

But away from the excessive partying and uninhibited display of gay pride at homosexual festivities, young gays and lesbians in Germany often face discriminatory attitudes and deeply-entrenched prejudices. This has been reinforced by a recent study published by the Lower Saxony Ministry for Women, Work and Social Affairs.

Loneliness and fear of rejection overshadow "coming-out" phase

The study concludes that most homosexual youth suffer from loneliness and severe identity problems in the crucial "coming-out" phase between the ages of 14 and 17, when consciousness about one’s homosexuality sets in. The discovery of one’s homosexuality involves the the same kind of insecurity and fear as was the case 30 years ago, the study reports.

As both homosexual girls and boys find it difficult to openly admit their sexuality and find their way in life during this period, experimenting with sex and love relationships begins on average at the age of 19,3 – 2,5 years later than among heterosexual youth.

The study points that a lack of acceptance of homosexuality in society is the main reason why almost half the gays and lesbians interviewed between the ages of 15 and 25 are afraid to reveal their true sexual orientation to their fathers.

Among those who do disclose their homosexuality, over a quarter were never accepted by their fathers.

Targets of ridicule and jokes

The survey also found that homosexual students are often the target of mean jokes, clichés and disrespectful comments in school.

More than half the youth questioned in the Lower Saxony study admitted to being ridiculed by their peers and abandoned by friends. About 11 percent said that they had experienced one or more instances of sexual violence.

The most frequent problems listed by those questioned included partnership and love problems, loneliness, worries about AIDS, getting to know other homosexuals, dissatisfaction with their sex lives and coming out to their families.

Homosexuality not dealt with in schools

Klaus Jetz, the press spokesperson of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany (LSVD) told DW-WORLD that much more needs to be done in German schools to bring about more tolerance for homosexual students. "Homosexuality is not given the same importance as heterosexuality in biology and sex education class in schools", he alleges.

Heiko Kleyböcker, the Head of the Youth Network Lambda Berlin - which offers counselling and a hotline service for young gays, lesbians and bisexuals - agrees.

"Several teachers, especially the male ones are reluctant to address the topic of homosexuality in the classroom, for fear of being labelled a 'gay'", he told DW-WORLD.

Berlin introduced new legislation on May 1 this year, which mandates that homosexuality as heterosexuality should be dealt with in the same way in sex education classes. However, few schools follow the new rules, he says.

Older homosexuals feel discriminated too

Klaus Jetz says that it’s not just young gays and lesbians that face discrimination, but also older ones.

"The youth cult is very dominant in the homosexual scene", he says. The display of predominantly young, naked and well-toned skin at the Christopher Street Day parades are proof of that.

Much of the gay and lesbian infrastructure in big cities tends to cater to young homosexuals. As a result older homosexuals feel isolated, he says.

Media tends to send out the wrong message

A further problem, says Heiko Kleyböcker, is the way the media tends to seize upon images of young outrageously dressed and garishly made-up gays in drag strutting at parades and parties.

By constantly flashing these colourful images at the world at the mere mention of homosexuality, the media ends up distorting the image of gays and lesbians, most of whom look, dress and act like any other heterosexual person. They also cater to wide-spread societal clichés about homosexuality.

At the same time, Kleyböcker says that the images are important to show homosexuality in all its variety. "It's important that the general public see how free a man can feel in women's clothes. But I agree that there shouldn't be just a overdose of such pictures, rather a balance".

Some progress in homosexual rights, more to go

Germany has come a long way since the time when homosexuals were persecuted and jailed by the National Socialists during the Nazi reign.

Gay campaigners rejoiced when on August 1, 2001, Germany joined the ranks of countries such as Holland and Sweden when it passed a law approving same-sex marriages.

Germany’s version of gay marriage gives homosexual couples the same inheritance and tenants’ rights as heterosexual couples. It also gives a foreign spouse in a same-sex marriage the right to gain German citizenship.

Klaus Jetz of the LSVD calls the gay marriage law a "milestone", but says that much more legislation is needed to complete the process of equal legal rights for gays and lesbians.

More is needed particularly in the fields of taxation and adoption rights. Attempts to give same-sex partners the same tax and welfare benefits enjoyed by straight couples were struck down in the upper house of German parliament last year. And unlike gay couples in neighbouring Holland, German homosexual couples do not have the right to adopt children.

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