Klaus Wowereit steps down as Berlin’s mayor

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Klaus Wowereit | 2006 | Getty | 14479

After a long career in Berlin politics, Klaus Wowereit stepped down as Mayor of Berlin on 11 December 2014.

Wowereit first entered mayoral office after being elected the district mayor for Berlin-Tempelhof when he was 30, becoming the youngest politician ever elected to the city legislature. In 2001, following the collapse of the Berliner State Bank, Mayor Eberhard Diepgen stepped down. “Wowi” as he’s affectionately known, had worked his way high enough in the ranks to win the Social Democratic Party (SPD)’s nomination.

Wowereit came out as gay in his 2001 mayoral campaign, when he was told that tabloid newspapers were about to out him. “I am gay and that is a good thing,” Wowereit said as he publicly came out. He was cheered by party members at the announcement. “… and that is a good thing” became a catchphrase associated with “Wowi”. In 2010, Wowereit told Time Magazine that his coming out strengthened his campaign. At the time of his resignation, he was the only openly gay mayor leading a major European city.

His final day in Berlin’s Rote Rathaus (Red City Hall) were marked with well-wishes and flowers from his colleagues. As he left, he said “Tschüss!” and someone answered “See you soon!” to which the outgoing mayor only responded with a “nö” in true Berliner form.

Wowereit is a life-long Berliner and lives with his partner of 21 years, neurosurgeon Jörn Kubicki.

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Stephen Spender

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Stephen Spender | Location: Berlin | 1934 | Unknown photographer | National Portrait Gallery, London | 14478

Sir Stephen Harold Spender CBE was born on 28 February 1909 and died on 16 July 1995. During his life he became one of the most celebrated poets of his generation. His sexuality remains obscured by a cloud.

Wikipedia notes that in his formative years

his closest friend and the man who had the biggest influence on him was W. H. Auden, who introduced him to Christopher Isherwood.

In 1929 he moved to Hamburg. Isherwood invited him to visit Berlin.

Also in 1929 he began writing his novel “The Temple” about a young man who travels to Germany and finds a culture at once more open than England’s — particularly about relationships between men. “The Temple” was not published until 1988.

In 1933, Spender fell in love with Tony Hyndman, and after a short affair with a woman, Spender and Hyndman lived together between 1935 and 1936. Then Spender married Agnes Maria “Inez” Pearn, his first wife. However he continued to have affairs with men.

Hence the speculation and debate over his sexuality, which remains clouded to this day.

During World War II, Spender was in the UK, playing an active part in the war against Germany: then he was appointed to the Allied Control Commission, restoring civil authority in Germany.

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The Mary Travers libel case

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Mary Travers | Somerville Press | 14477

It is only loosely gay history, but the Irish Times reminds us of the fascinating Mary Travers libel case that engulfed Oscar Wilde’s parents when he was a 10 year old boy.

On December 12th, 1864, the Mary Travers libel trial opened in Dublin. This case, which The Irish Times called extraordinary, soon mesmerised Irelandwith accusations of sexual assault and hints of illicit affairs. It all began when Travers, an angry young woman, sued Jane Wilde, mother of 10-year-old Oscar, for libel because of an intemperate letter that Wilde had written. On May 6th that year she had sent it to Dr Robert Travers, assistant keeper of manuscripts at Marsh’s Library in Dublin, complaining about his daughter Mary’s behaviour.

Mrs Wilde’s letter claimed that Travers was well known at Bray “where she consorts with all the low newspaper boys in the place” and Travers was now trying to blackmail Mr and Mrs Wilde.

The case at the Four Courts lasted a week. Nationalist MP Isaac Butt was counsel for Mary Travers and all of the Irish media were in rapt attendance, as Jane Wilde was a much-loved figure.

The case quickly got juicy when Butt raised an alleged assault by William Wilde, in his surgery, on Travers – William Wilde and Travers had been lovers – with Jane’s compliance! – and that the letter came in the angry aftermath of the ending of the affair.

Travers took the stand on December 14th but contradicticting herself, turned the tide of public sympathy against her, and the Wilde’s counsel alleging Travers was a laundanu addict, and revealing the letters demanding money from William Wilde.

On December 19th the jury took only 80 minutes to find in Travers’s favour – but awarded her a paltry farthing damages.

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Magnus Hirschfeld

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Magnus Hirschfeld | Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld | 14475

Magnus Hirschfeld was born on 14 May 1868. He was a German physician and sexologist who founded the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft which many regard as the very first gay rights campaigning organisation.

He moved to Berlin in 1896, when he published his first pamphlet, and founded the IFS in 1897. His nickname on the Berlin gay scene was Aunt Magnesia.

The group was formed to undertake research to defend the rights of homosexuals and to repeal Paragraph 175 of 1871 which had criminalized homosexuality. They argued that the law encouraged blackmail. Hirschfeld believed that a better scientific understanding of homosexuality would eliminate hostility toward homosexuals. The group’s petition to overturn Paragraph 175 managed to gather over 5,000 signatures from prominent Germans. Unfortunately success in the German Parliament did not come for many years. There were attempts to change the law in 1921, 1925 and 1929 but all failed.

His views were that homosexuals were like disabled people and that male homosexuals were by nature effeminate. These views eventually caused the organisation to split, and some members left to form the ‘Bund für männliche Kultur’ (Union for Male Culture) which argued that male-male love is a simple aspect of virile manliness rather than a special condition. The Bund did not survive long.

Bundesstiftung Magnus Hirschfeld notes that:

Between 1899 and 1923 Hirschfeld and his staff compiled a 20,000-page anthology. The “Yearbooks For Sexual Intermediaries” were intended to show that between the “full man” and the “full woman” there are an infinite number of gradations and combinations. Hermaphrodites, transvestites, homosexuals are the necessary natural link between the two poles of man and woman. The homosexual is a kind of “third sex”.

On 6 July 1919 he opened his new Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Research), which housed his archives and library on sexuality, provided educational services and medical consultations – and included a Museum of Sex.

The Institut für Sexualwissenschaft | Archive for Sexology | 14476

In 1921 Hirschfeld organised the First Congress for Sexual Reform, which led to the formation of the World League for Sexual Reform. He co-wrote and acted in the 1919 film Anders als die Andern (“Different From the Others”), a film which made the case for decriminalisation, which starred Conrad Veidt as one of the first homosexual characters ever written for cinema. The authorities banned the film in 1920 but by then many gay and lesbian people had seen the film and described the experience as “liberating”.

The Nazis attacked Hirschfeld’s Institute on 6 May 1933, and burned many of its books as well as its archives.

Hirschfeld died on 14 May 1935 in Nice, France.

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The London Gay Centre, Cowcross Street

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67-69 Cowcross Street | 2014 | Google Street View | 14474

The London Gay Centre at 67-69 Cowcross Street, London was established by the Greater London Council in 1984-5 with a grant of around £750,000. Plans were for facilities including club/performance space, cooking and dining space, a bookshop, a daycare, a lounge and meeting room, a media resource center, offices and other meeting spaces. London was trying to emulate Birmingham, which had opened a Gay Centre in 1976.

Many LGBT organisations of the time were allowed to use the centre for postal purposes.

As a non-commercial gay venue there were problems with volunteers, political infighting and general mismanagement due to staff turnover. When the GLC was abolished in 1986 ownership of the building was transferred to the London Residuary Body. The centre continued in operation for five years but mounting losses, including a robbery, resulted in its closure and subsequent sale. The building is now the headquarters of the charity AddAction.

Vice: The London Lesbian and Gay Centre remembered after 30 years

Updated 27 August 2016 – link added.


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Jeremy Thorpe dies

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Jeremy Thorpe (left) arriving at the Old Bailey in 1979 for his trial | Press Association | 14473

Former Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe has died after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. He was 85.

Jeremy Thorpe was elected leader of the Liberals in 1967, but his political career ended when his life was engulfed in scandal and he faced trial on charges of conspiracy and incitement to murder.

He resigned as Liberal Party leader in 1976 after allegations of an affair with a former male model, Norman Scott, at a time when male homosexual acts were illegal. Along with three other men, he was later charged with conspiracy to murder Mr Scott, but all the men walked free from court after a 31-day trial, in 1979.

Former Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell said: “Jeremy Thorpe’s enforced resignation as leader of the Liberal Party and his subsequent departure from Parliament should not obscure the fact that in his day he was an outstanding parliamentarian with a coruscating wit, and a brilliant campaigner on the stump whose interest and warmth made him a firm favourite with the public.”

Lord Steel of Aikwood, who succeeded Mr Thorpe as party leader, said he had a “genuine sympathy for the underprivileged”, both in his constituency and in Africa, where he campaigned against apartheid.

John Jeremy Thorpe was born in Surrey on 29 April 1929 into a Conservative family – both his father and grandfather were Tory MPs. One of his ancestors was Mr Speaker Thorpe of Edward II’s Parliament, who was beheaded by a mob in 1461. He received some of his education in America. He read law at Trinity College, Oxford where he became chairman of the Liberal Club and then the Oxford Union. On entering politics he was a pioneering campaigner for human rights, attacking South Africa’s policy of apartheid and the post-colonial excesses in South East Asia.

Gay History: The trial of Jeremy Thorpe

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Indiana’s gay history being collected

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Indystar reports on a number of projects which are collecting local gay history for future availability. One of the collections documenting gay life is that of Michael Bohr, who began collecting artifacts two decades ago after the death of an acquaintance whose numerous photos of gay events from the 1970s — picnics, parties, meetings — were tossed into the trash by the dead man’s disapproving parents.

Bohr started gathering material in 1995 and now has 8,000 items, such as photos, videos of drag shows, hundreds of T-shirts from gay festivals and out-of-print gay publications, including a 1966 copy of what is believed to be Indianapolis’ earliest gay journal, “The Screamer.”

Bohr’s collection, named the Chris Gonzales Library & Archives after an activist who died of AIDS in 1994, is a labor of love and depends on free rent. Today it is housed in the basement of a building at 429 E. Vermont St. where the advocacy group Indy Pride is based. (The collection is open to the public on weekends)….

Two decades ago Bohr… told The Indianapolis Star that the gay community was responsible for preserving their own culture. “No one else is going to keep our history for us,” he said.

Now, that’s no longer true. Recently the historical society approached Bohr about acquiring parts of his archive and keeping it in its secure, state-of-the-art facility. Bohr said no. He worries the pendulum may swing.

“Things are going well for the gay rights movement,” he said, “but history has its ups and downs. The political climate could change suddenly. (The historical society) depends on fundraising and so is susceptible to outside pressure. If the (historic society) had the archive, and the gay material became politically embarrassing, they could say, ‘Let’s bury it in the basement.’ Maybe that’s me being old and cynical, but it’s happened before.”

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