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July 1997

Come Out for Christopher Street Day: A march, and more, for Munich's gay pride weeks

Gay and Lesbian life in Munich

Mia san mia, mia san queer" (we are who we are, we are queer) — pointedly in Bavarian dialect — is the slogan of Munich's fifth-annual Christopher Street Day activities. Kicking off with a "Coming Out Night" on June 27, Munich's gay pride celebration is a two-week pageant of entertainment and gay-awareness events. On July 12, a "Pride Parade" demonstration begins at noon on Odeonsplatz, featuring 50 gay and lesbian groups from southern Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The march will wind through downtown and arrive at Marienplatz two hours later, where Mayor Christian Ude will speak from the balcony of the Rathaus (city hall) and officially open the street party. For the last 30 years, at similar gay pride events around the world, homosexuals have taken to the streets each summer to demonstrate for their rights. In their early years, marches were mostly political, but today's parades have increasingly become flamboyant, colorful celebrations of the homosexual lifestyle. STONEWALL (HIS)STORY It all began with an incident in New York City on June 28, 1969. Police officers stormed the gay bar Stonewall Inn, located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. After checking IDs, the police told customers to leave the premises. Most of them gathered outside, angry about the treatment; their resentment grew, and they began throwing rocks and taunting the police. The skirmish escalated on both sides, growing into three days of rioting and protest marches for the rights of homosexuals. Christopher Street Day (CSD) is celebrated as the catalyst for a vocal gay and lesbian movement that now has millions of participants and supporters worldwide. Also in 1969, Germany repealed the law making homosexual contact between consenting adults illegal, more than 100 years after Karl Heinrich Ulrich's demand for legalization of homosexuality at the German Lawyers' Congress in Munich in 1867. At the time, homosexuality was a punishable offense under law. Although the bill caused a tumult at the gathering, it was turned down decisively. Nevertheless, gays in conservative Bavaria have long been the target of their antagonists' public posturing. Striving to capitalize on the city's "clean" image, right-wing politicians have tried to garner popularity among conservative voters by ostracizing homosexuals. In the early '90s, public fear of AIDS prompted right-wing members of the Christian Social Union, such asPeter Gauweiler, district administrator, to call for the sequestering of HIV-positive residents into separate neighborhoods. His successor, Hans-Peter Uhl, later declared that the distribution of condoms at gay bars and clubs (part of a "safer sex" campaign) was immoral. At the same time, some members of Munich's police force were not above bullying tactics; incidents of verbal or physical gay-bashing happened regularly. In an effort to move toward understanding, representatives of the police and local gay establishments recently initiated an antiviolence program to exchange views and find ways to reduce the long-standing friction between them. GAY DAYS Munich's gay movement began in the early '80s, remembers Thomas Niederbühl, Germany's first openly homosexual city councilor. On Christopher Street Day, about 30 people would gather at Sendlinger Tor carrying banners calling for the rights of homosexuals. Due to general changes in society's attitude and the efforts of numerous support groups, the self-confidence of gays and lesbians has risen enormously. More and more Munich men and women openly profess their homosexuality, laying the groundwork for greater acceptance. Voted into office a year ago, Niederbühl represents Munich's Rosa Liste (Pink Party); he also writes a column for the local gay city-magazine, Our Munich. The Rosa Liste and Our Munich are the principle organizers of the Christopher Street Day festivities. THINK PINK The Rosa Seiten (pink pages), a yellow-page-like directory, lists gay-friendly businesses, while Female News publishes events of interest to lesbians. A gay radio station, 92,4 MHz Radio Uferlos ("unlimited") broadcasts on Friday evenings, and the counseling and cultural center SUB (Schwules Kultur- und (Kommunikationszentrum) keeps an ear open to men's concerns. LeTra (Lesbentelefon) offers lesbians phone consultation and a place to get advice on problems. Munich's liberal side shows through in its abundance of bars and restaurants catering to a gay clientele, with new businesses popping up almost daily. Nearly 50 venues are located between Sendlinger Tor and the Deutsches Museum, with the gay quarter's hub near Gärtnerplatz. Venues around town include Cafe Glück on Palmstraße with its extravagant flair and Club Morizz on Klenzestraße, called by its admirers one of the most attractive bars in the world. Favored street cafes include Nil on Hans-Sachs-Straße and Villanis in the Asampassage. For a more refined atmosphere, the Bongo Bar in Kunstpark Ost offers live shows with an international cabaret program, and disco lovers can check out the nightclub New York. Women get together at "Club Q" night at Incognito in Kunstpark Ost (on July 11, comedienne Janice Perry performs in English for women only), newly-opened Sappho on Corneliusstraße and Michele on Reichenbachstraße to name a few. On Müllerstraße, the men's bar Bau is holding a birthday bash to mark its second anniversary on July 5. Bau is also the force behind the Christopher Street Day "Magic Bar Tour" beginning July 10. For DM 30, nightclubbers and barhoppers get reduced food and drink prices, and special offers at 30 participating establishments. The proceeds will help finance the work of Munich's AIDS organization (AIDS-Hilfe) and the Rosa Liste. Beer gardens are a universally popular part of living in or visiting Munich, and meeting places for the gay community are the Chinesischer Turm, the Biergarten am Flaucher and the Taxisgarten in Neuhausen. At each location, between 10 and 20 tables are populated by gay or lesbian groups. Gay pride demonstrations reflect an increased tolerance afforded gay culture by heterosexuals; at the same time gays demand not just tolerance, but acceptance. It's hard to ignore the marchers' colors, their costumes or their numbers. Indeed, the more the merrier: whether participants are feminine men and masculine women, or vice versa, whether supporters, friends or relatives, the bigger, more flamboyant and wackier the pride parade is, the more the "straights" lining the streets will have to look at, and to think about. The Christopher Street Day program is available at Our Munich, (tel. 74 66 46 60), at the Munich Information tourist office on Marienplatz, and at numerous gay bars and restaurants. During gay pride weeks, tourists can receive a free city-information packet by calling 74 66 55 60.

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