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Germany

Gay and lesbian soccer fans fight for acceptance

There are more than 20 gay and lesbian soccer fan clubs in Germany promoting tolerance and acceptance. Berlin's Hertha-Junxx were at the forefront.

Gay and lesbian fan banner (picture: dpa)

Fußball Homosexualität

At around the age of 10, Werner Pohlenz had the feeling that something wasn't right with him. He had read about how boys could go through a phase of developing same-sex attractions, but for him, that phase didn't seem as if it would ever end. He was falling in love with male classmates, but didn't want to admit it to himself.

The game of hide and seek he was playing took its toll. His grades dropped, and he increasingly isolated himself. "Since the age of 17, I've been openly gay," says Pohlenz, a German TV news anchor. "But going to a soccer game was unthinkable for me." He watched the games on television but didn't want to play himself, turned off by the rough and tumble nature of the sport.

It took the Hertha-Junxx, Germany 's first gay-lesbian soccer fan club, to change his mind. The idea for the club dates back to 2001, when the subject was broached in Internet forums and a Berlin-based gay and lesbian magazine. Berlin's main football club, Hertha, said it would cooperate and supported the fan club in its official magazine. With time, more and more members joined the Hertha-Junxx.

"We're getting the issue out into the open," says Pohlenz. "And we're showing that the lives of homosexuals can be as normal as that of a heterosexual. This work towards achieving acceptance is very important to us."

Anonymous interview

Werner Pohlenz and Gerd Eiserbeck (picture: Ronny Blaschke)

Pohlenz (left) and Eiserbeck are both Hertha-Junxx supporters

The topic of homosexuality in soccer is currently back in the public spotlight in Germany, in part because of an interview in a youth magazine where a gay professional soccer player anonymously described how he must hide his sexuality.

"I don't know how long I'll be able to cope with the pressure of being a heterosexual poster boy and possibly being outed," he told the magazine. In the interview, he confirmed the rumors that he must show up at public events with a female companion, and that there are other gay soccer players in the Bundesliga. He said he hopes his interview will trigger a wave of outings.

"The whole interview is interesting to read, but it leaves us none the wiser," says Dirk Brüllau, spokesman for the Queer Football Fanclubs (QFF), an umbrella organization for gay and lesbian soccer fan clubs in Europe. "The statements were generalized and didn't surprise anyone," he says, adding that it was interesting to note the public reaction to the interview.

Germany's mass circulation daily Bild covered it on its front page and only hours later, blogs, radio stations and newspapers picked up the issue. Once again, the focus was on searching for that mysterious soccer player who gave the interview. Fan clubs, whose members would be able to openly talk about the issue, were only rarely of any interest to the media.

A political forum

Gerd Eiserbeck thinks that's a pity. As a young man, he struggled with insecurity for a long time. On the soccer field he tried to play the role of the aggressive macho man so that no one would suspect anything. Eiserbeck is policeman, and was outed on the job – against his will. But his boss at the time simply said that anyone that had a problem with homosexuals should just shut up. And his football buddies also helped him gain self confidence. At every home game, he unfurls a 12-meter long banner with the team logo, the rainbow colors and the words: "Soccer is everything – also gay!"

Werner Pohlenz and Gerd Eiserbeck (picture: Arno Burgi)

Gay soccer fans - and players - are slowly gaining acceptance

For Pohlenz and Eiserbeck, the Hertha-Junxx provide a place to meet friends, but also serves as a political forum. The club is now a well-established institution – even politicians show up to win over new groups of voters. "For a long time, Hertha didn't have a good reputation due to its fans," says Eiserbeck. "With a gay and lesbian fan club, Hertha is able to present itself as tolerant."

A model for the fandom

The Hertha-Junxx visit street parties, are guests at discussion roundtables and call for tolerance. Former Hertha pro Malik Fathi once came to a Christmas party, talked to the fans and signed autographs. He did, however, make sure to stress that he himself was heterosexual.

Hertha-Junxx have become a model for other groups. Today, there are more than 20 gay and lesbian soccer fan clubs in Germany – Queerpass in St. Pauli, the Rainbow-Borussen in Dortmund and Andersrum Rut-Wiess in Cologne. Pohlenz is often asked why there's even a need for gay and lesbian fan clubs. "Now and then, a private place is important for the community – a place where you're undisturbed and free to laugh at your own jokes," he says.

In the upper echelons of many other clubs, however, there's less support for such initiatives. In parts of Eastern Europe, they're unthinkable. In Germany, no team has more than one gay and lesbian fan club; in eastern Germany, there aren't any.

Once, at a fan club soccer tournament, the Hertha Junxx were even told that "gays don't know how to play," recalls Eiserbeck. Some 100 teams competed in the tournament – and the Hertha Junxx ended up close to the top.

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