In general, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) did not treat its gay and lesbian citizens very favorably. Although the legal situation was more liberal than in the Federal Republic (West Germany) and other Western European countries, most homosexual East Germans lived in a state of invisibility at best, or suffered direct homophobia at worst, often at the hands of the government. In the mid-1980s, the public and government stance toward homosexuality liberalized slightly, leading to small improvements in the lives of gay East Germans. However, gay East Germans never experienced many of the same freedoms or opportunities that their West German, other Western European, or American counterparts enjoyed. Gay East Germans occupied a difficult position within the socialist ideology of the GDR. In theory, each East German was equal, enjoying universal rights and opportunities, and living free from discrimination. At the same time, however, the smallest building block of the society was the heterosexual, reproductive, married couple: a model into which same-sex desiring people could not fit. This doctrine of supposed equality probably contributed to the fact that homosexuality was decriminalized earlier in the GDR than in the Federal Republic, but it was also used by the SED (Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands: the ruling, dictatorial party) as an excuse not to engage further with the specific needs of gay citizens until the mid-1980s. The GDR saw some limited gay activism in the 1970s in the form of the Homosexuelle Interessengemeinschaft Berlin (HIB); however, the group’s activities never really extended outside of East Berlin and did not lead to significant political or social change. More impactful activism occurred in the 1980s under the aegis of the Protestant Church as the only organization in the GDR that operated largely outside of state control. The SED eventually yielded to some of the demands of gay activists—by sanctioning publications and meeting spaces, for example—but did so primarily to draw gay activists out of the protection of Church structures and in order to be able to monitor and control them more easily. There are few East German literary or artistic works that engage with homosexuality, although a number of relevant literary works were published in the 1980s. These contributed to a fledgling discourse around homosexuality, shifting the issue from a taboo topic to one more acceptable for discussion in the public sphere. However, when East German audiences viewed Heiner Carow’s Coming Out in 1989—the first and only East German feature film to depict homosexual relationships—many claimed that it was their first exposure to homosexuality. And, since the GDR ceased to exist as a state fairly abruptly in 1990, one will never know how the trajectory of gay rights activism may have continued.
The Canadian LGBT movement has had enormous success in gaining political and legal recognition for sexual minorities—as much as any of its sister movements in other countries. This is especially remarkable because the sexual repressiveness of the Canadian social and political climate remained largely in place until the 1990s. And although activist groups across the country have had challenges in marshalling resources, mobilizing beyond the regional level, and overcoming internal inequities, advocacy pressure has been effective enough to produce a political sea change with few precedents in other issue areas. Starting in the 1990s, Canada experienced a country-wide “takeoff” in the formal recognition of sexual diversity, most dramatically in the legal status given to same-sex relationships. Even if a vocal minority of the general public opposed such moves, the acceptance of sexual minorities as legitimate members of the Canadian mosaic has become politically normalized. Sexual diversity is far from being fully accepted, and those communities traditionally under-represented in the LGBT movement still face marginalization in a period of growing socioeconomic inequality. But the movement has made impressive gains, aided by social and institutional factors that have allowed activist leverage when the political winds blew in their favor. This success, however, presents new challenges, creating complacency within and beyond LGBT circles and increasing the difficulty of mobilizing people and resources. The decline of religiously conservative opposition to the public recognition of sexual diversity in Canada has also created room for the movement to become more fragmented than it has been in the past. And yet there is still much need for advocacy. Socially conservative politicians are still pandering to public anxiety about recognizing sexual diversity. Activist attention is still needed in areas such as schooling, policing, social service provision, and immigration. Trans people, “two-spirited” Indigenous people, and sexual minorities within Canada’s large ethnocultural and religious minorities are often on the margins of their own communities, the broader society, and the LGBT movement itself. From the early 1970s through the mid-2000s, the Canadian movement’s trajectory was similar to activism elsewhere. A “liberationist” period generated a long-lasting strand of radicalism alongside a slowly growing current focused on seeking rights through mainstream political channels (Adam, 1987, 1999). The analysis to follow first points to distinctive elements of the Canadian social and political context and then traces the evolution of what would become the LGBT movement from these early stages and into a period of legal and political “takeoff.” It points to strong commonalities in movement agendas, even across imposing regional lines, but also recognizes the challenges of mounting coherent movement responses to remaining inequities in a political environment so marked by activist success.