Homosexual and LGBTQI movements in Europe

The history of the homosexual movements, LGBT and then LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bis, trans, queer and intersex), can only be understood in the light of the forms of persecution and oppression against people who have emotional and sexual relations with other people of their sex and/or do not conform to the social expectations of their gender.

Their emergence dates back to the first half of the nineteenth century. At the beginning of the 21st century, the demands of the LGBTQI movement were increasingly taken into account, particularly because of the anti-discrimination measures that are at the basis of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000).

Nineteenth century

In the nineteenth century, the first thinkers of homosexual emancipation laid the foundations of a militant movement demanding the abandonment of the penalization, pathologization and social rejection of all non-heterosexual sexuality. In 1836, the Swiss Heinrich Hössli (1784-1864) published in German the first essay calling for the recognition of rights for the followers of what he called male love affairs.

Almost three decades later, the German jurist Karl-Heinrich Ulrichs (1825-1895) wrote between 1864 and 1879 twelve volumes from his “Research on the enigma of love between men” (Forschungen über das Räthsel der mannmännlichen Liebe). He also published a manifesto for the creation of a federation of Uranists (1865), a term that designates men who love men. He was involved in the fight for the repeal of § 175 of the German Penal Code, which condemned “unnatural relations between men”, and publicly declared himself a Uranist in 1869 at the Congress of German Jurists. He died in exile, in Italy, before the birth of the emancipation movement that he had so fervently called for.

It was in 1897 that the first homosexual emancipation movement emerged in Berlin, around the physician Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935), co-founder of the Wissenschaftlich-humanitäre Komitee (WhK – Scientific Humanitarian Committee). The latter’s actions were numerous: petition in favor of the repeal of § 175, publication of books and brochures on homosexuality, publication of a review (Jahrbuch für sexuelle Zwischenstufen – Annals of Intermediate Sexualities), distribution of an educational film on the ravages caused by homophobia (Anders als die anderen – Different from the Others, 1919).

Following this, branches of the Committee were created in several cities in Germany and in neighboring countries (Austria, Netherlands, Sweden, etc.) whose laws condemned homosexuality. Following a split within the WhK, other militant homosexual organizations were formed, such as the Community of Specials (Gemeinschaft der Eigenen) of the German Adolf Brand (1874-1945), which advocated naturism among other things.

20th century

The Union of Human Rights (Bund für Menschenrechte), founded in 1922 by Friedrich Radszuweit (1876-1932), was the first to open up to lesbians. Although their relationships were not condemned by law, some of them expressed their desire to join militant organizations that would make them visible within the first homosexual movement.

At the same time and under the impetus of Hirschfeld, the World League for Sexual Reform was founded in 1921, with reformist doctors and representatives from twenty-five countries, sixteen of which were European, proof of the internationalization of the question. In the face of widespread homophobia, it calls for “a rational attitude […] on the part of States […] towards homosexuals, men and women” and the recognition that sexual relations between consenting adults belong to the realm of private life. The rise of the extreme right has put a stop to the movement.

The violent Nazi repression led to the dissolution of the League in 1933 and the exile of its members, which was the premise for the end of the first homosexual movement and the deportation of homosexuals to war-torn Europe. Only the Circle (der Kreis), established in Zurich and founded in 1932 by Karl Meier (1897-1974), survived. Its liaison bulletin, distributed from Switzerland, was the only regular homosexual publication until the aftermath of the conflict.

In spite of the conservatism that reigned after the war, “clubs” were discreetly reborn, promoting homosexual sociability through readings, lectures, excursions, and even masked balls. In 1951, the International Committee for Sexual Equality (ICSE) was founded in Amsterdam, demanding rights for homosexuals.

In France, André Baudry (born in 1922) created in 1954 the homophile association Arcadie, a mythological reference to this land where love reigned. The eponymous magazine was a growing success despite the Mirguet amendment (1960), according to which homosexuality was a “social scourge”, just like alcoholism. In the United Kingdom, the Homosexual Law Reform Society worked from 1960 onwards for the decriminalization of homosexuality (obtained for England and Wales in 1967).

May 1968 brought a new breath and allowed the birth of revolutionary homosexual groups, inspired by the American Gay Liberation Front (GLF). A movement of the same name was thus founded in 1971 in London. The same year, the HAW (Homosexual Aktion Westberlin) was created in Germany, and in Paris the FHAR (Homosexual Revolutionary Action Front). These groups, fighting against heterosexism, claimed that “fags” and “dykes” (terms that they reappropriate) should take over the public space and fight for new rights. During this decade, marches commemorating the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York (1969) multiplied throughout Europe (London, Paris, Antwerp, Bremen, Berlin, etc.) and offered unprecedented visibility to homosexual movements.

The 1980s

The 1980s were marked by the adoption of the rainbow flag and the LGBT acronym, by the professionalization of gay and lesbian activism, and by the presence of openly homosexual candidates in elections: in France, in 1981, Maurice Cherdo, candidate of the Collectif homosexuel de l’Ouest parisien (Homosexual Collective of Western Paris), failed in the legislative elections, while the German Albert Eckert (born in 1960) became a member of the Alternative list in 1989. The devastation caused by the HIV/AIDS epidemic prompted the creation of organizations to raise awareness and fight against the scourge (Terrence Higgins Trust in the United Kingdom in 1982, Deutsche Aids Hilfe in 1983, and in France Aides in 1984 and Act’Up in 1989). Faced with these mobilizations, the European Parliament invited its member states, from 1989 onwards, to decriminalize homosexual relations, recognize the unions of same-sex couples and, in 1993, the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses. From then on, a convergence of the struggles of sexual minorities was affirmed, accompanied by the progressive constitution of trans’ and intersex movements, which is reflected in the new acronym LGBTQI.

21st century

It is the responsibility of the Association Beaumont Continental (ABC, 1975) to fight against the pathologization of transsexuals, which was achieved in France in 2010. For its part, the OII (International Organization of the Intersex), opposed to the sexual bicatégorisation, demands the end of the assignment of sex and the genital mutilations which accompany it.

At the beginning of the 21st century, in application of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, member states became more attentive to the demands of the LGBTQI movement. The Charter prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and protects transgender people from discrimination on the basis of “sex”, in accordance with the case law of the European Court of Justice. Outside the European Union, the demands are little heard, even repressed, as evidenced by the provisions condemning “homosexual propaganda” in Russia since 2013 and the persecution of homosexuals in Chechnya, denounced in 2017 by several European chancelleries.

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