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German LGBTQ actors come out to demand recognition

Philipp Jedicke
February 5, 2021

Under the #actout initiative, 185 German actors and actresses with diverse sexualities came out this week in a campaign calling for more visibility on the stage and screen.

cover of Süddeutsche Zeietung Magazin  with many small photos of people
Stars of German stage and screen call for greater diversity in film, TV and theaterImage: sz-magazin.sueddeutsche.de

The latest cover of Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin, a weekly supplement to Germany's daily newspaper of the same name, is a tribute to the legendary 1971 Stern magazine cover on which 374 women, celebrities and non-celebrities proclaimed that they had had abortions.

Back then, the signatories were taking a stance against the controversial article 218 of the German Penal Code, which at the time still made abortion a punishable offense, almost without exception. The action not only caused an enormous stir nationwide — it ultimately triggered change.  

The latest montage of public figures to come out en masse in the magazine was published on Friday under the headline "We are already here" and the hashtag #actout. 

The 185 lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, non-binary and trans actors are demanding more recognition in theater, film and television. With their joint public coming out and manifesto, they are standing up for more public visibility for diverse gender identities and sexual orientations on German stages and screens. 

How do you prove you're gay?

Incentive for change

In the group coming-out, six of the initiators speak about their experiences in the film, TV and theater industries. Many of their statements might not be surprising; yet they are no less shocking. 

They speak about the few role models they had as young people, or how often they were asked during their careers to "play as if they were heterosexual." Agents advise actors not to make their sexual orientation public, or not to bring their respective partners along to red carpet events so they are still considered for straight roles. 

Their experiences reinforce the ongoing difficulty for people in the spotlight to stand by their sexuality if it strays from the so-called mainstream. 

a woman in a white dress holds a rainbow fan
Celebrating at Berlin's annual Gay Pride parade: Many Germans, however, have been pressured to repress their sexuality Image: Reuters/A. Schmidt

More diverse cultural narratives 

Diversity has long been a social reality in Germany, however, this fact is still not reflected enough in the nation's cultural narratives and stories, says the manifesto. "Our industry should stand for togetherness and reflect society in all of its diversity," it reads.

Under similar pressure, cultural institutions in the US like the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that oversees the Oscars has promised to promote greater diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity when honoring the film industry. 

A number of high profile German cultural institutions have come out in support of the initiative, including the Berlinale.

The #actout statement outlines the opportunities for more diverse ensembles and narratives in the culture industries, for re-imagined camera angles for sex or kissing scenes, or woman being cast for male roles in period pieces  — an echo of the so-called color-blind casting, which brings more racial diversity to shows, such as the Bridgerton streaming series, for example. 

The manifesto ends with the words: "We are looking forward to all the new stories we’ll be able to tell and the characters we can portray. The world is changing and we are all playing a part in it."