Knabenliebe: Youth Protection and the Decriminalization of Male Homosexuality in Weimar Germany

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:10 PM
Washington Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Javier Samper Vendrell, Grinnell College
This paper explores the scandalous trial of the pedagogue Gustav Wyneken and its coverage in Weimar’s homosexual periodicals. Was Wyneken’s penchant for boys a sign of his homosexuality or of something else altogether? Should homosexual men defend him and risk being accused of the same crime, or should they deny that they share the same desire? This case and other reports on “homosexual” murderers covered in the mainstream press changed homosexuals’ feelings towards intergenerational love during the Weimar Republic. Ending the association between homosexuality and the abuse of youths proved crucial for the decriminalization of male same-sex acts. There had been many attempts to reform the German Criminal Code since the 1890s, but every single strategy to abolish Paragraph 175 had failed. When debating this possibility again in 1929, legislators were confronted with the issue of youth protection. What if youths could be indeed seduced into homosexuality? Legislators came to a compromise: they decriminalized same-sex acts between adult men but raised the age of consent for male same-sex acts. The League for Human Rights, Germany’s first homosexual mass organization, celebrated this decision as its own success. Its strong position on youth protection matched its respectable agenda and provided good arguments for decriminalization. Despite the League’s emphasis on propriety and youth protection, the link between homosexuality and the seduction of youths did not disappear.
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