Germany To Erase Convictions of Gay Men While Russian Authorities Are Arresting and Killing Them

In late March, Germany’s Cabinet approved a bill that would erase the post-war convictions of over 60,000 men that were convicted of homosexuality and sent to prison or concentration camps under Nazi-era anti-gay laws.

“We can never completely erase the travesty of justice, but we want to rehabilitate the

victims … They were prosecuted, punished, and ostracized by the German state just

because of their love for men, because of their sexual identity.”

-       Justice Minister Heiko Maas

Article 175 made “sexual acts contrary to nature … be it between people of the male gender or between people and animals” illegal in 1871, but was strongly enforced under the Nazis and its strictness was maintained especially in West Germany. Homosexual men were also convicted in East Germany which held a weaker version of Article 175. Sex between women was not explicitly stated to be illegal. Thousands of convictions occurred between 1949 until 1969 when homosexuality was decriminalized, but the legislation wasn’t taken off the books completely until 1994. In 2000, Germany’s Parliament approved a resolution regretting that Article 175 was still in place after World War II, yet in 2002, it erased convictions of gay men under Nazi rule, but not those convicted post-war.

In addition to clearing their names, the bill approved by Chancellor Angela Markel’s Cabinet will individually compensate the roughly 5,000 men still alive who were convicted under Article 175. It will give 3,000€ (~$3,200) for each conviction plus 1,500€ (~$1,590) for each year of jail time. The government will also give an annual grant of 500,000€ (~$530,000) to the Magnus Hirschfeld Foundation which is named after a pioneering German sex researcher and gay rights activist of the post-World War I era. The bill will be automatic and will not require an application, but it will exclude men who were convicted of homosexual acts with children and those that involved violence or threats. The bill still has to be voted on by Parliament, but it is expected to pass. 

   Friedrich Schmehlin, a victim of Article 175. He was just a teen when he was convicted in 1957. (Photo: NBC OUT)

   Friedrich Schmehlin, a victim of Article 175. He was just a teen when he was convicted in 1957. (Photo: NBC OUT)

This comes on the heels of Britain approving the “Turning Law” last October which pardoned thousands of gay and bisexual men who were convicted of homosexuality until it was decriminalized in 1967. Alan Turning was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man. He was stripped of his job and chemically castrated. He committed suicide two years later at the age of 41.

It seems as though the world is taking huge leaps forward as a few other countries like Canada and New Zealand are also considering pardons for men convicted under now-abolished laws against gay sex, but it is also taking steps back as gay men in Russia have allegedly been arrested and some have reportedly been killed. The Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported earlier this week that authorities in Chechnya have stated men have been detained “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.” There have reportedly been over 100 men detained and at least three killed. Chechnya is a Russian – mostly Muslim and super conservative – republic near the Mideast that does not approve of gay people. The arrests allegedly started after a gay rights group in Moscow applied for pride parade permits (which received a huge “no”) and included areas near Chechnya. Ever since, authorities have become stricter with gay men. Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Chechnya’s leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, reportedly stated that these allegations are false since according to the New York Times he stated, “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don't exit in the republic.”