This week the German government announced it will be compensating men who faced investigation under the country’s notoriously anti-gay law, Paragraph 175. This is technically an extension of compensation, as in 2017 Germany approved a rehabilitation and compensation bill for those who had been jailed under the law.
It was 1935 when the Nazis revised Paragraph 175 to make a broad range of consensual conduct between men — any “lewd acts,” regardless of whether there was actual physical contact — illegal. Specifically, it read:
175. A male who commits lewd and lascivious acts with another male or permits himself to be so abused for lewd and lascivious acts, shall be punished by imprisonment. In a case of a participant under 21 years of age at the time of the commission of the act, the court may, in especially slight cases, refrain from punishment.
The punishment for such trespasses was imprisonment and “loss of civil rights.” As we know, more than 10,000 gay men found themselves in concentration camps (some due to little more than anonymous accusations), where most died. But even after those camps were liberated in 1945, under Paragraph 175 many gay men continued to serve time.
Between 1945–1969, when Paragraph 175 was amended to have an age of consent added, 100,000 men found themselves embroiled in legal proceedings due to the law, half of whom were convicted (according to Clayton J. Whisnant, who wrote Male Homosexuality in West Germany: Between Persecution and Freedom in 2012).
And it wasn’t until 1994 that Paragraph 175 was repealed, and the age of consent for gay acts was made equal to straight acts, which is 14 in Germany.
But on March 13, Wednesday, the Federal Ministry of Justice announced compensation for men investigated under Paragraph 175, following the war and before age of consent restrictions were added.
Previously, only men who had been convicted of consensual gay acts could be compensated.
This is a huge step forward for Germany’s LGBTQ population, because it recognizes that in addition to the tens of thousands of men who were convicted under Paragraph 175, many more had their lives negatively affected by investigations, detentions and prosecutions.
Whereas in 2017 the Ministry of Justice compensated gay men who were jailed under Paragraph 175 with €3,000 plus an additional €1,500 for every year they served time, this week they granted gay men investigated under the law with €500, plus an additional €1,500 if his profession, finances or health suffered.
A statement accompanying the decision has referred to this compensation not as “damages” but as the “symbolic recognition of impairments suffered.”
PinkNews has quoted Federal Minister Katarina Barley saying, “Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code punished people for loving people of the same sex. Paragraph 175 destroyed lives. It is important that we show solidarity and recognition. The persecution of homosexuals was grossly wrong from today’s perspective, and we must take responsibility for this.”
Despite Germany setting aside €30 million to cover the costs of Paragraph 175 compensation, only slightly more than 100 men applied for money, making total payouts total less than €500,000.
Were you aware of Paragraph 175 in Germany? Do you think other countries should start a conversation about similar compensation for gay men?
Featured image is a promo shot for the acclaimed documentary Paragraph 175, about the gay men persecuted by the Nazi regime