Sociohistorical project
Harald from Germany
Harald, Berlin
58 years old
Category 1: Personal background

Would you briefly introduce yourself?

My name is Harald Petzold, I am 58 years old and a school teacher of music, German and political education. I am biologically male and gay in terms of my sexual orientation. (But I no longer attach any importance to this type of classification, especially the male gender ascription. In my opinion, these are all instruments for classifying people, dividing them, assigning them access to resources, etc. I reject that. Everyone is human, no matter what, how, where; the central category for me is to act humanely. According to Rosa Luxemburg: "Being human is the main thing.")

Would you briefly outline your family and geographic background? (Parental home, religion, place of origin / place of growing up)

I come from a family home with mother and father, I have three siblings and four half-siblings. I have never been religiously and I see myself as an atheist. My place of birth is Heringsdorf on Usedom. Due to changes in my parents' career, however, I grew up in Cottbus and Dresden. Later I studied in Potsdam and came to the region where I live today: Falkensee in Havelland, west of Berlin.

Category 2: Coming Out

Would you explain the social situation of LGBT + people in the context of your adulthood?

As I grew up, it was nearly impossible for LGBT*IQ people to openly live out their sexual identity or orientation. Therefore, there were no opportunities for orientation or role models for adolescents, especially no positive ones. So for a long time as a teenager I had no word or explanation for what I was feeling. I did notice that I react excited or felt attracted to boys. But I wasn't aware that this was homosexuality. Later, as a young adult, I saw how adults or peers talked disparagingly about homosexuals or how the handle with homosexuals were discriminatory and got an idea of what was going on with myself or what could be 'expected' for me. At that time, it was clear to me: you will never say anything about it to anyone and would rather live asexually than be considered homosexual. I kept up that more or less successfully until the summer of 1989. Only a few very close friends knew my 'secret' and fortunately kept it to themselves. Especially after we had to experience how a fellow student, whose homosexuality had become known, suddenly didn't 'pass' a single test (or, to put it clearly, was not allowed to pass) and was deregistered from the University of Education.
How was your personal realization process in regard to your sexuality?

During my time in the army between 1980 and 1983 I finally realized that I "love men". I fell heavily in love with one of my age mates and it became increasingly difficult to suppress this feeling and the desire that came with it. But on the other hand it was too dangerous. In the NVA (the National People's Army of the GDR) it would inevitably have at least led to an extreme ostracism, if not worse. I definitely did not want to share the gauntlet of friends or officers whose homosexuality became known. So for the moment I `hid´ myself further.

In autumn 1985 I had sex with a man for the first time during a youth tourist trip abroad (Jugendtourist - the travel agency of the youth organization FDJ of the GDR). It happened completely unexpectedly and spontaneously and from that moment on I was 100 percent sure: I want that and that's me. Shortly afterwards the above-mentioned 'setback': a fellow student whose homosexuality had become known suddenly - although he had actually not been a bad student until then - no longer passed any of his oral exams. And nothing and no one could help him. Also because nobody dared to give the probably real reason: that a gay man was not allowed to be a teacher according to the understanding then valid at the pedagogical university. I didn't dare either. And first of all 'hid' me again.

Of course, in the meantime I had noticed that I wasn't the only gay at the university. But especially the majority of the teachers who we suspected or knew to be gay were not 'encouragement' to me. Most of them were so deformed in their personalities by the circumstances - especially professional neglect or disadvantage - that they were either completely unavoidable or they drank or they were caricatures of themselves or appeared to be such.

In the summer of 1989 I met young people who were openly gay for the first time at an international summer camp of the FDJ (Free German Youth - Youth Organization of the GDR) and was electrified by the fact that I no longer wanted to hide. After that everything went pretty quickly: in May I had already seen an information stand from the LS group Courage at the FDJ's national youth festival and heard that there was a group of gay men in Potsdam in the Friedenskirche and later in the Herbert Ritter Kulturhaus in Babelsberg who met regularly and organized dance evenings. At the end of August, in the midst of the turbulence of the mass exodus from the GDR, I got to know young members of this group personally at the Heiligen See in Potsdam and from that moment on there was no longer any stop for me. I wanted to live the way I was and I wanted it to be respected. Since then I have been in HIP - the homosexual integration project Potsdam - and immediately after the fall of the Wall I was one of the co-founders of this project as an association and the Aids-Hilfe Potsdam.

Did the topic of coming out internally play a huge role in your adulthood? How exactly?

As described above, during my school days - what I would call the essential time of my growing up - I had no word or no explanation for my feelings. And it wasn't that I was completely indifferent to girls. Of course, like all other classmates / boys my age, I wanted to have a girlfriend with whom one could be with or "show off". On the other hand, I only ever felt the famous 'butterflies in my stomach' with boys or classmates, which increasingly worried me because it provoked physical reactions in me that I sometimes could not control or master and that made me uncomfortable - because fearful - in the respective situation. I was usually only happy in my dreams. Later then I realized that all of this could be part of an inner coming out.

How was your external coming out (family, friends, professional environment)?

My external coming out then went pretty quickly, as already indicated above: in the late summer of 1989 I got to know young members of the Potsdam lesbian and gay group HIP and from that moment on I went to their meetings regularly. Then came the film "Coming out": I had been to the student army reserve service with Matthias Freihoff, one of the main actors. Not just that I was secretly in love with him. He was also a huge role model for me, especially when it came to being open and yet not intrusive about being gay. For me this film came at the absolutely right moment and for me it is still one of the best films that I know. In December - shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall - I went to the West with a group of HIP members at the invitation of the Bonn Lesbian and Gay Center - we got to know a lively and open lesbian and gay lifestyle and subculture. After my return I wrote a reader's letter about it for the Märkische Volksstimme, under which my real name was - and from then on the last ones knew it too. For the state elections in 1990 I ran for the PDS / Left List as an openly gay man with a poster "I want to live the way I am" and against the adoption of Section 175 of the Criminal Code, which threatens us all again. My professional and political environment reacted almost exclusively positively, although looking back today I think that for some of them the opportunism of the time of the fall of the wall also played a role. Everything was suddenly open in the truest sense of the word.

How did the internal as well as the external coming out influenced your life?

Both phases have influenced my life in such a way that since then I have always been actively committed to ensuring that no one has to explain, feel ashamed or even feel bad about her* feelings, her* gender or sexual identity or orientation, that everyone can live and can love as she* wants.

Category 3: Studies / Job

Did moving out of your parents' house represent a turning point in your personal development in relation to your homosexuality? If yes, how?

No. First of all, not because this "move" was "forced" by the army service and had nothing to do with me being gay. I just didn't come back afterwards because the 'world' outside of my parents' house was much more exciting. In addition, my mother died unexpectedly in the summer of 1983. This made my parents' house strange to me. I didn't have such an intense emotional relationship with my father, and when he remarried I felt less responsibility towards him. Besides, he never understood why I would rather play music than drive home on the weekend.

And secondly, I had "moved out" before I was sure I was gay. As a result, this process had nothing to do with my development in relation to my homosexuality.

Did your sexual orientation have an impact on your choice of study / profession?

No. I think not. The choice of my profession has above all to do with my love for music and with the fact that I am firmly convinced that only people who live this love can pass it on. Incidentally, this also applies to politics and my subsequent qualification as a teacher for political education.

How did you deal with your sexuality in your professional life? What is your experience?

I've always been so open about it that everyone* could know, but no one who* didn't care had to know. Otherwise, my students always knew that they could talk to me about it, ask me about it or inquire about what was going on where and how. They knew that I am not embarrassed. That it is not contagious or that you would 'get' it with a handshake or touch. That someone is happy to be gay. That you can say "lesbian", "gay", "bi" or "trans*" in my lessons and talk openly about it without having to whisper or be ashamed of it. But that I don't leave any 'sayings' or insults unchallenged. You could and can always see me in the front row when it was or is a matter of demonstrating in the streets and showing your face for the rights of LGBT*IQ. As a result, I couldn't and still cannot be blackmailed, not be intimidated or discriminated. Because of that I was and am authentic, I think. And that's something that adolescents care about.

Have these experiences changed in the course of your professional life?

No. And I wouldn't accept it (anymore).

Category 4: Changes in society

Have you ever felt discriminated by the state in your private life because of your sexuality? (For example, regarding marriage rights, lack of adoption rights, etc.)? Have you ever experienced direct discrimination by the state on the basis of your sexuality (e.g. prohibition of aid from state institutions or in state institutions, etc.)

Yes. On the one hand, I felt that paragraph 175 was forced to be overturned by the Unification Treaty as a personal 'colonization'. And therefore I fought politically very actively for its abolition and the introduction of a ban on discrimination based on sexual identity in the state constitution of Brandenburg.

On the other hand, I found the exclusion of LGBT*IQ from numerous civil rights - not only to marriage, but ultimately the overall condition focused on this - outrageous, discriminatory and personally hurtful, especially the argumentation of the inequality of equals, those of the Opponents of 'marriage for all' are still carried like a monstrance to this day.

I only experienced direct discrimination based on my sexual identity in the refusal to donate blood.

What were social milestones for you in your personal development regarding your sexual orientation?

The adoption of the Brandenburg State Constitution in 1992, the final abolition of Paragraph 175 in 1994 and finally the laws on the opening of marriage for all and the rehabilitation of all gay men convicted under Paragraph 175 from 2017. In between there were of course a lot more hopeful Intermediate steps. But those were and are the moments when I still feel as if I could walk on water.

Has the social change towards homosexuality / queerness had any personal effects on you or the way people and colleagues dealt with you in private and your professional life?

For sure. The fact that my headmistress recently jubilantly congratulated me on my marriage would have been unthinkable when I started teaching.

How specifically did you as a politician (formerly at federal and now at state level) contribute to the legal and social equal treatment of LGBTQI * people in Germany?

As an individual* politician, I would be lost without the many who have put pressure on for years, persisted in their demands and arguments, patiently explained over and over again and campaigned for a change in the social climate, the zeitgeist and the legal framework ... I would be in a losing position. In this respect, I have only been able to contribute as much personally and specifically as we could contribute together with these people. That's why I think political CSDs are so important, as well as the often ridiculed symbolic actions, such as the hoisting of the rainbow flag in front of town halls and the public showing of faces by queer politicians. Political success can only be achieved through solidarity, respect, equality and partnership between our diversity. Individual politicians can then also contribute to this. Conversely, in my opinion, it does not work in an open society, even if individual politicians* sometimes think that they have personally... Sure, they have to raise their hands in the end - without that, our parliamentary system does not work either. But it is only printed on a piece of paper or, at best, a law or statutory regulation is created. However, everyday life, the social climate and the zeitgeist are important, all of which have to change. And you can't change this alone.

Category 5: Conclusion

Do you have any tips for queer young people in context of your personal life story?

Yes, of course: don't wait so long to dare to do what I've been waiting for. Do not be deterred from living the way you want to live. Get support if you feel like you can't do it alone. And above all: stay vigilant. What has been achieved was and is not a gift, it has to be fought for and secured again and again. Celebrate your party, but don't forget to fight. Because there is still so much to do when I think, for example, of the living situation of trans*, queer refugees or queers in other countries around the world. Unfortunately, stupidity and injustice do not die out.

Interviewed by Alexander Charkov
September 2020