Gay politicians in Germany quitting the closet
August 02, 2004
BERLIN — Has homosexuality become fashionable in German politics? Perhaps
not quite, but a recent clutch of movers and shakers "coming out"
points to something afoot in the halls of power.
Klaus Jetz, spokesman for
the German Federation of Gays and Lesbians
Guido Westerwelle, the head of the liberal Free Democratic Party
(FDP), caused a splash this summer when he appeared at a tony
reception with his companion Michael Mronz, head of a regional
The couple has since been photographed regularly, and they even
attended conservative leader Angela Merkel's 50th birthday party
together last month.
Although the 42-year-old Westerwelle's sexual orientation had
long been an open secret among the chattering classes in Berlin,
his decision to go public with his partner would indicate he thinks
the political gamble is now less risky.
Westerwelle, who has nevertheless declined comment on Mronz, is
gunning for the post of foreign minister if the FDP and Merkel's
Christian Democrats (CDU) manage to unseat the center-left
coalition of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in 2006.
By laying his cards on the table now, he avoids making his
sexuality an issue during the campaign and could even begin tapping
new reservoirs of political support.
Westerwelle can look to the recent examples of gay trailblazers
from across the political spectrum.
The mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit of Schroeder's Social
Democrats, stole the fire of his potential critics when he was
running for office in 2001 with the now immortal line: "I'm gay and
it's just as good that way". The crowd roared.
In the conservative camp, Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust was
reelected in a landslide in February after his "coming-out".
And among the Greens, junior partners in the national coalition
government, deputy Volker Beck has made no secret of his sexuality
either, giving TV interviews on the issues of the day with a video
of "Spartacus", a gay cult classic, occupying pride of place on the
bookcase in his office.
Beck is the only prominent gay politician on the national stage
who has turned his private preference into public policy, by
leading the charge for state-sanctioned partnerships for same-sex
The measure became law in 2001 against the fierce opposition of
"Candidates who are at peace with themselves are always more
likely to win than to lose," said the director of the independent
polling institute Emnid, Klaus-Peter Schoeppner.
A politician declaring his homosexuality "has absolutely no
influence on what people think of his work," said the director of
the Forsa polling group, Manfred Guellner.
Tolerance, however, has its limits. Nine percent of women say
that a candidate's homosexuality could influence their voting
decisions, and the figure is twice as high among men, according to
Among conservatives, a full 45 percent say that the sexual
orientation of a person running for office could affect their vote.
The rate was just one percent among members of the Greens party.
To varying degrees, homosexual politicians have abandoned their
earlier bashfulness about joining the gay pride parades held in
dozens of German cities every summer.
Even the Roman Catholic pilgrimage town Altoetting in Bavaria
saw its own parade this year, complete with a contingent from the
Greens and a handful of counterprotesters.
"If you want to win an election you cannot allow discrimination
against gays. That includes the conservatives," the spokesman for
the German Federation of Gays and Lesbians, Klaus Jetz, told AFP.
Although homosexuality was not officially decriminalized until
1994, "gays started to be truly accepted after the Social Democrats
and Greens came to power" in 1998, Jetz said.
"Before, we did not even have a voice in the public debate," he
Today, the Federation receives public funds and is a partner in
the construction of a national memorial for gay victims of the
Nazis. – Sapa-AFP
German FDP head confirms homosexuality, calls for gay rights [26/07/2004]