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May 5, 2014

Homophobic or Hysterical?

Nils Havemann has recently participated in a round table discussion in Stuttgart with former German international Thomas Hitzlsperger, who made the headlines at the beginning of the year with his coming-out as homosexual. Four months later, he reflects on what the countless reactions to this coming-out actually say about German society.

In early January 2014 you could easily get the impression that German football – in fact, the entire German public opinion – had only one topic. Thomas Hitzlsperger rather carefully orchestrated coming out in DIE ZEIT, which also had a considerable echo in England or France, sparkled a big debate on how ‘homophobic’ German football and German society as a whole really were.

Thomas Hitzlsperger at the recent roundtable in Stuttgart.

The first thing you could learn from the heated discussions all across the media spectrum and social networks was that it is indeed possible to be accused of homophobia even if you paid full and sincere respect to Hitzlsperger – which is not very difficult, as the former VfB Stuttgart captain is an intelligent, eloquent and sympathetic gentleman – and his decision to publicly announce his homosexuality. The online editorial staff of the daily Die Welt discovered ‘homophobic’ tendencies even in two journalistic flagships of ‘political correctness’, the taz and Die Zeit itself.

Moreover, it came as no surprise that Hitzlsperger’s coming-out was a wonderful opportunity for many commentators to indulge in the usual bashing of German football officials, which actually reached a new peak. Die Zeit, itself viewed with suspicion by Die Welt (see above), criticised the half-heartedness of the German Football Association (DFB) in its struggle against homophobia though its president Wolfgang Niersbach had clearly been among the very first to affirm his respect and support for Hitzlsperger.

The tone of the discussions gave the impression that homosexuals are a discriminated fringe group in Germany. This is surprising, as German society is in its vast majority not ‘homophobic’ at all. The Federal Republic abolished the criminal prosecution of homosexuality in 1969, and like elsewhere in the liberal democracies of Europe, the 1970s and 1980s saw the number of prominent coming outs increasing continuously. Needless to say that at first they triggered a sniff in very conservative and, of course, clerical circles, but today homosexuality is widely accepted in Germany. It has even become a kind of non-topic. The fact that the German foreign minister of the second Merkel government (Guido Westerwelle) was homosexual did not raise any eye-brows; for thirteen years now the country’s capital has been governed by a homosexual mayor (Klaus Wowereit); one of the country’s most popular entertainers (Harpe Kerkeling) and its longest-standing female TV police inspector (Ulrike Folkerts) are also among the number of well-known homosexuals.

But why, then, did it take so much time before a famous German football player came out? Without any doubt (and as the FREE project’s work package on feminisation tends to confirm), football is a domain where traditional ideals of masculinity are still dominant. And stadiums are places where people release aggressions against other groups, often in hyperbolic manner. Take these two facts together and you understand why amongst spectators of big football events tasteless jokes or dumb insults against homosexuals are still to be heard.

And yet, in today’s overheated, often hysterical media landscape, what social group, what minority, what celebrity is not offended, derided or mocked at the first occasion? Even those media who in the debate on homosexuality are singing the beautiful song of social harmony and tolerance are very eager to take part in publicly lynching the sexual practices of prominent sportsmen. How much scorn Lothar Matthäus had to bear because of his predilection for rather young women? How many amused comments were given on Boris Becker’s ‘broom closet romp’? How many vitriolic jokes were made on Franz Beckenbauer who on his old days procreated a child allegedly on a Christmas party? Why did hardly anyone protest against these personal attacks? Do German journalists think that homosexuals are more sensitive to verbal cruelties than any other social group and therefore have to be put in a very special comfort zone? Isn’t this the real discrimination? To think that homosexuals are wimps who need more than anyone else protection against the otherwise widespread habit of insulting and offending people in public?

What the artificial outrage about the alleged ‘homophobia’ in German football and society revealed was not only sheer hypocrisy in large parts of the media, but also the fact that homosexuals are indeed not a discriminated minority in Germany. The huge echo to Hitzlsperger’s coming out could rather be seen as part of a well-managed press campaign which has been aiming for several years at obtaining the same rights and welfare state privileges for homosexuals that traditional heterosexual long-term relationships enjoy. It is of course absolutely legitimate in a democracy to fight for such interests, but it is not legitimate (and at the end of the day, counter-productive) to use and abuse cheap accusations like ‘homophobia’ or ‘intolerance’ against other groups who either reject these claims or consider other problems and interests as more important. Considering the aggressiveness of these debates, it is sometimes necessary to remind everybody that tolerance is not a one-way street and that each group may be expected to be tolerant to different opinions and lifestyles.

Nils Havemann

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