Intimate Secretes: Stasi Observation of Gay and Lesbian Activism in the GDR Recorded in the Stasi File of Eduard “Eddy” Stapel, 1982–89

Friday, January 5, 2018: 11:10 AM
Washington Room 3 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Scott Harrison, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
In 1982 the East German state security apparatus, the infamous Stasi, began not-so-secretly tracking the daily activities of gay rights activist and Protestant pastor, Eduard ‘Eddi’ Stapel. The goals of the so-called ‘Stapel Operation’ as reported by the tens of agents who handled the case were to gather information on Stapel—East Germany’s most prominent gay rights advocate—and to sabotage the GDR’s gay and lesbian movements from within. What the Stasi and the SED learned, however, was that accomplishing those tasks would be difficult if not impossible. In this paper, I use 4,000 pages of Stapel’s Stasi files as evidence, entrusted to me by Stapel himself (and never before viewed by the public) to argue that the relationship between the Stasi and the East German body politic was a ‘gray zone’ of complicated behaviors—such as popular duplicity, co-dependence, and official ineptitude. Such intricate human interactions cannot be understood using the simplistic explanatory model of the ‘ever-powerful’ state and ‘ever-expansive’ secret police network crushing the political will of its subjects. Rather, gay and lesbian activists purposefully misinformed the Stasi to their own benefit, and gay Stasi agents’ allegiances were torn between their duty to report on their peers and their desires to push the state from within to publicly acknowledge the existence of its gay and lesbian citizenry. In other, it is through analyzing Stapel’s Stasi files that we can destabilize relatively one-dimensional conceptual binaries that have stood at the heart of East German historiography since the opening of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It is by tracking the gaps in SED and Stasi power that I queer the East German ‘Stasi myth’ and more accurately characterize the socialist regime as eine Diktatur mit Löchern—a dictatorship with holes.
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