With violent gay-bashing on the rise in Germany - such as the beating of four men and one transsexual last month in Berlin - Germany's Green Party has accused the country's family minister of ignoring the dire needs of homosexual youths. The Greens' youth spokesman, Kai Gehring, called for a federal plan of action to foster the group's special needs and to combat homophobia nationwide.
Gehring told Deutsche Welle that the government in Berlin, and in particular Christian Democrat Family Minister Kristina Schroeder, "ignore and neglect the interests of gay and lesbian youths." He said he found "her lack of interest in five to ten percent of youths unacceptable."
Violence still widespread
Gehring had sent an inquiry to Schroeder's ministry demanding that it explain its position on the difficulties facing homosexual youths. He was dismayed at the response he received, which he says demonstrated, in part, an ignorance of the difficulties of young gay life. These include psychological struggles and lack of social acceptance, as well as poor physical health, bullying and high suicide rates.
The ministry's response denied any knowledge of suicide statistics for homosexual youths, which Gehring called "implausible" as the document itself made multiple references to a 1999 study that placed suicide attempts among homosexuals at 18 percent - four times the rate of heterosexual youths.
Schroeder, who was not available for comment, did show some awareness of young gays' struggles in her response, said Gehring, but no intention of doing anything about them.
Gehring called Schroeder's stance "utterly shameful, because we know that 'gay pig' remains one of the most popular insults on school playgrounds, that bullying and violence are still widespread."
Young gay immigrants particularly at risk
Gehring has demanded that the government put into effect prevention strategies to lower the incidence of gay bashing and suicide among young homosexuals, and that it expand its National Integration Plan to fight homophobia within Germany's immigrant populations - where traditional gender roles often make life particularly hard for those who do not fit the norms.
According to one study, funded by Schroeder's ministry itself, young gay migrants are more likely to suffer poor physical health.
Gehring on Monday repeated the Green Party's six-year-old demand for an official study on the situations of gay youths, whom Gehring says are continually left unmentioned in the government's other youth studies.
He says that, to win the fight against homophobia, the government must provide an example – and fund programs to promote tolerance. The Green Party's youth spokesman is disappointed that Germany's federal and state governments have not taken a clearer stance on homophobia.
"There's a widespread need for action to support youth who are coming out of the closet," he added. "Recklessly shrugging them off does not help."
Germany better than most countries, however
Germany provides rights and protections for gays that most countries in the world do not – for example, recent anti-homophobic discrimination legislation and the 2001 establishment of same-sex registered partnerships.
Yet Klaus Jetz, Managing Director of the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, warns that the country is still no gay paradise. Violent attacks on gays, he says, are on the rise, especially in the country's gay capitals of Berlin and Cologne.
Jetz puts forth that gays and lesbians will still face violence until homosexuality becomes visible and acceptable in all levels of society. This, he told Deutsche Welle, must begin in schools, where he wants to see homosexuality a topic of discussion "not just in sexual education classes or biology classes" but "in literature classes, in history classes, in language classes, politics and all over."
Jetz also believes that the government plays a determining role in the treatment and self-worth of homosexuals. He wants to see anti-homophobia work added to Germany's anti-discrimination initiative currently known as the National Plan of Action to Combat Racism, Xenophobia and resulting Intolerance.
"If you speak about an action plan against racism and xenophobia, this has to include of course, as well, the aspect of homophobic attitude and homophobic violence in Germany," Jetz explained.
Jetz also would like to see equal rights for gays codified in the constitution, as a signal of strength to gay youths.
Still a long way to go
Jetz says that, while youths in big cities already enjoy some special counseling services, there is no infrastructure to provide support for gay youth in Germany's countryside. He and Gehring both advocate for family and youth services to be sensitized to the special needs of young people coming to grips with an identity that doesn't fit the norm.
Gehring, meanwhile, hopes that someday in Germany, being different will become the norm, that "every young man and every young woman will grow up self-determined, that they can be different without fear, and that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth can be as accepted as their friends of the same age, and enjoy the same privileges."
He said Germany was still far from reaching that goal. "It's worth fighting for in the coming years," he added, vowing to continue appealing to the federal government for action.
Author: David Levitz
Editor: Rob Turner