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Germany

Gay in the AfD: Talking with LGBT supporters of Germany's populist party

How do LGBT interests mesh with those of a party that opposes gay marriage and adoption for gay couples? DW spoke with two openly gay politicians about why they joined the AfD, and why one ultimately decided to leave.

"Gays and lesbians are just as important to Germany as any other loving person with a connection to family, home and nation," states the preamble to the guiding principles of the "Alternative Homosexuals."

The group, formerly known as "Homosexuals in the AfD," is a group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) supporters of the populist, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD).

But why are people in the LGBT community drawn to the AfD? Particularly when the party directly opposes gay marriage, heavily advocates for the "classical family model," and opposes expanding laws to allow same-sex couples to adopt children?

Last year, the party even proposed a new sexual education curriculum that would significantly reduce the amount of information students receive on homosexuality.

For Alexander Tassis, the AfD's stances on education certainly aren't wrong, in fact, he also wants to stop what he calls "early sexualization" and "gender madness." He also denies that the party is moving towards the right.

"It's becoming more and more the party that I wanted," Tassis told DW.

'We're not seeking equality'

Tassis, the 46-year-old son of a Greek migrant worker, currently heads the "Alternative Homosexuals." He's a member of the state parliament in Bremen and has been a card-carrying AfD member since 2013.

When asked about the AfD's views on gay marriage, he mentions that legal unions, or "registered life partnerships" as they are termed in Germany, give gay couples around 90 percent of the same benefits as heterosexual marriage.

Alexander Tassis AfD Politiker (Privat)

AfD politician Alexander Tassis heads the "Alternative Homosexuals"

But even if the benefits are nearly on par, 90 percent still means partnerships aren't equal.

"We're not seeking equality," he said. "It doesn't have to be the same."

He also agrees with the AfD's emphasis on "classical families." However, he and other members of the "Alternative Homosexuals" differ from the AfD's stance on adoption. Currently, same-sex partners in Germany cannot adopt children as a couple. The group believes that families should provide children with "modern values," including "reliability and responsibility for each other and for society."

"Homosexual partnerships completely share these values," it states in the "Alternative Homosexuals" guiding principles.

Tassis also pointed out that one of the most prominent members of the AfD, Alice Weidel, is a lesbian who lives with her partner and their child. He said that gay and lesbian party members were "fully integrated" in the AfD and were welcomed by the party's leadership.

Leaving the AfD

Mirko Welsch, former spokesman of the "Homosexuals in the AfD," has a different impression of the party's attitude towards the LGBT community.

"The AfD has developed in such a way that we now see a sort of incitement against different groups of minorities," Welsch told DW. He added that the AfD sometimes argued that homosexuals "are a threat to the family - which is completely incorrect."

Welsch is an openly gay man who was elected to the district council in Saarbrücken-Dudweiler in the small, western state of Saarland in 2014. Like Tassis, he came to the party in its early days, concerned about immigration and the eurocrisis.

Last week, Welsch formally left the AfD, saying he "could no longer take" the divisive comments of Thuringia state party leader Björn Höcke and didn't agree with the shift in the Saarland branch of the party.

With the state's elections coming up on March 26, he said he could no longer cast his vote for the AfD.

Watch video 01:06

Meeting a young, gay Geert Wilders voter

The struggle for clear support

The phenomenon of LGBT support for populist and even far-right parties is by no means new. Anti-Muslim populist Geert Wilders won support from the LGBT community by playing up fears about safety and acceptance from Muslim immigrants.

Both Welsch and Tassis noted that these were also primary concerns for why they support (or supported) the AfD.

In the guiding principles of the "Alternative Homosexuals," the group views the movement against "Islamic orthodoxy" as necessary for "survival."

"A stop on immigration for people who are not familiar with [German] culture also increases the acceptance of social subgroups," the document reads.

Wilders had long positioned his anti-Muslim platform as a way to protect LGBT rights. The tactic was utilized by Donald Trump during his presidential campaign, as well as by France's Marine Le Pen, to justify their opposition to Muslim immigrants.

But that hasn't been the case in Germany. Quite the opposite - many of the party's prominent politicians, like Höcke, post homophobic images on Facebook. The party's co-leader, Frauke Petry, has even said she worries about the normalization of gay couples in German media.

"There are dumb comments in every party," Tassis said in the party's defense.

Tassis said he was working to get the same kind of direct support that Wilders gave to the LGBT community and to address the homophobic statements of his fellow party members - but said it would take time.

Welsch, for his part, thinks that if the AfD openly supports gay rights, then it will only be a pretext "and not from the bottom of their hearts."

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