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DANK Haus hosts 'Gay Berlin' forum with author
by Emily Reilly
2020-08-19

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Chicago's DANK Haus German American Cultural Center hosted a virtual discussion event with Dr. Robert Beachy, author of the Randy Shilts Award-winning book Gay Berlin: Birthplace of a Modern Identity, on Aug. 6.

The event began with Beachy describing his background in education and how he came to write the book, which focuses on late 19th- and 20th-century Pre-Weimar Berlin's impact on understanding sexuality.

Sarah Lime, who is currently with the center, gave a short presentation about Berlin's history as a cultural hotspot for gay subcultures between the world wars and how it's largely unknown in the grand scheme of history.

Lime opened up the floor for questions from listeners. The first came from a listener asking Beachy about why LGBTQ+ individuals were singled out during the Nazi regime. An anonymous listener immediately responded with "they were not" and began referencing books about the Nazi Party, including Hidden Hitler and The Pink Swastika, denying that LGBTQ+ individuals experienced persecution in that time period before Beachy had a chance to answer.

"His thesis that Hitler was homosexual was mostly discredited," Beachy responded. "He doesn't have any real evidence that proves that; it was all conjecture or tissue of potential hints. The second book you referred to is authored by a very homophobic, evangelical man named Scott Lively, who's also responsible for introducing draconian, anti-gay legislation in Africa."

The discourse went back and forth between Beachy and the listener, which became heated as they debated over Lively's beliefs.

Lime steered the discussion to a new question from a different listener, Emily Lime ( Sarah's sister ), who asked about the engagement of ancient art throughout Germany in addition to texts in the late 19th century.

"There's something referred to as 'the tyranny of Greece' to talk about the German almost obsession or infatuation with the ancient world, especially ancient Greece but, to some extent, Rome," said Beachy. "It's impossible to overlook the influence that plays that role."

Another listener, Katie, asked about what brought Beachy to South Korea's Yonsei University as a professor. Beachy said that he was simply offered the position but was also intrigued by contrasts and parallels of German and Korean history.

Among the discourse following this were questions about comparing LGBTQ+ culture in Germany to the United States, the importance of history before the Stonewall Riots and why Berlin was a hub for the LGBTQ+ community.

"At least through the 19th century, there was a positivist fate that it was possible to actually learn concrete facts about the way people organized themselves and the way cultures functioned," said Beachy. "I'm not arguing that this is necessarily a good thing but I think that approach influenced and informed the earliest sexologists and prompted them to look at what was considered 'deviant behavior' and study it. What they produced was taken seriously and was openly published."

The event ended with a discussion about the impact of newspaper culture in Berlin and its association with different classes. Beachy compared the impact of historian/sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld in 1930s Germany to that of scientist/sexologist Alfred Kinsey in the 1960s United States, and discussed police engagement in the LGBTQ+ community in the early 20th century in Berlin.


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