Queer Family Tea … One of the world’s first pro-gay films restored

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Queer Family Tea

Manchester grassroots organisation Queer Family Tea announces relaunch event. 

On 28 October, Queer Family Tea (QFT), a volunteer-led organisation that provides a sober space for LGBTQIA+ individuals in Greater Manchester, will be hosting an event to celebrate the relaunch of the organisation’s in-person engagements.

QFT meets once a week to engage in diverse and engaging programming like cooking classes, as well as hosting regular cabaret events with guest performers and entertainers. All members of the LGBTQIA+ community and their allies are welcomed and encouraged to attend. 

The relaunch event, a cabaret night, will feature multiple local entertainers, including comedians and poets. The event will be hosted at the historic Victoria Baths and will kick off at 5.00pm with a tour of the building and a homemade meal in the cafe. At 7.30pm, the cabaret will begin in the old swimming pool at the Baths, and guests can expect music, spoken word, drag kings and queens, dance, and comedy. The event will be a sober space and guests are asked to respect that. 

QFT’s founder, Karl Olsen, said: “We are so excited to be back in-person again for our events. The Manchester community deserves a safe, sober space for queer individuals of all kinds to gather and interact. After a difficult year apart, we are so grateful to be able to gather with each other again and celebrate the Manchester LGBTQIA+ community that is so special.” 

Accessibility and inclusivity are vital to the organisation’s mission as well. The venue is accessible via wheelchair ramp and will include accessible restrooms as well. QFT will be resuming its weekly events and programming following the relaunch, with pay-as-you-can meals weekly, beginning at 7.00pm every Thursday, and often featuring free programming, such as arts, performance, and much more.

Out In The City members will be attending. If you would like to join us, please contact us here.

Lost during Nazi rule in Germany, one of the world’s first pro-gay films has finally been restored for modern viewers

A still from Magnus Hirschfeld’s “Laws of Love.”

In the early days of cinema, a German sexologist made one of the world’s first pro-gay films. Lost to history after the Nazis rose to power, Gesetze der Liebe (Laws of Love) has been found, restored and released to the acclaim it deserves – nearly a century after it was made.

Gesetze der Liebe was released in 1927 by the renowned German scientist and sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld. Although the film was never shown in its entirety in Hirschfeld’s hometown of Berlin at the time of its initial release, the film received a belated premiere in the German capital this summer to an audience of about 50 people after the city permitted open-air cinemas. The film, painstakingly restored to Hirschfeld’s original vision by the Munich Film Museum, is scheduled for eventual release on DVD this year.

Hirschfeld was an important scientist and activist who was a pioneer in the field of sexual science. In 1897, Hirschfeld founded the Scientific-Humanitarian Committee (SHC), which deployed scientific theories of human sexuality to advocate for the recognition of LGBT+ people, and campaigned against their legal persecution. By some definitions, the SHC was the world’s first LGBT+ rights organisation. 

A couple of decades later, in 1919, Hirschfeld created his Berlin-based Institute of Sexual Science (ISS), which soon became known around the world for its groundbreaking research on gender and sexuality; its medical team performed some of the world’s first gender-affirming surgeries. Hirschfeld’s influence came to an abrupt end as Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany. In 1933, students in support of the Nazis set fire to the institute as part of a “celebration” of Hitler’s hundredth day as chancellor—a rally that destroyed, among many other “un-German” books, the archives of thousands of case studies and photographs documenting LGBT+ lives. Hirschfeld, who was not only homosexual but Jewish, moved to France that year. He died of a heart attack two years later in 1935, as Hitler’s Third Reich became increasingly authoritarian. Amidst all this, Gesetze der Liebe went missing.

One of the few images from the Institute of Sexual Science (ISS) that was not destroyed.

Running 100 minutes, Gesetze der Liebe is structured as a series of lectures from Hirschfeld explaining sex and the reproductive system in the natural world. It’s considered to be an example of the “enlightenment film” trend that was popular throughout Weimar-era Germany. These enlightenment films aimed to educate audiences about topics such as drug and alcohol use, sex work, abortion, sexually transmitted infections and, in the case of Gesetze der Liebe, sexuality.

For Hirschfeld, the film was also an opportunity to draw attention to anti-gay laws in Germany at the time. In particular, he targeted Paragraph 175, a statute prohibiting sex between men (women were not mentioned) that was introduced in 1871 and was used to convict around 140,000 men until it was repealed in 1994. In its long history, the statute was at times poorly enforced and at times strictly enforced. The Nazis took a particular interest in it when they came to power in 1933. In 1935, after the institute had been destroyed and Hirschfeld had left the country, the Ministry of Justice amended the statute to make it even more strict, so that even words and gestures between men that could be construed as sexual were against the law; the Nazis also increased penalties for violating Paragraph 175.

In his day, Hirschfeld was “very aware” of the way film could be used to inform audiences and influence public opinion.

Gesetze der Liebe is divided into five chapters, of which the first three appear to be fairly innocuous explanations of mating behaviours in different plant, insect and animal species—explanations that might not look out of place in a school biology lecture. In the first chapter, “Searching for and Finding the Sexes,” viewers witness the courtship patterns of various frogs, crickets, birds, fish and snakes, including the day-long copulations of European adders. The second chapter, “To the Light of the World,” follows the creation of life from fertilisation to birth, demonstrating the diverse ways reproduction takes place, from bees and other insects fertilising flowers to eggs laid underwater by fish and amphibians to the more familiar mammalian reproduction in animals such as the common house cat. The third chapter, “Mother’s Love,” tells viewers about the maternal instinct of different species, such as birds tending to their nests and the watchful eye of a kangaroo looking after her joey, before arriving at the role of a mother’s love in humans. 

Many of the scenes in these chapters were captured by Hirschfeld and his colleagues at the ISS. This footage provides viewers with an extremely intimate and scientific view into these diverse expressions of sexuality in nature. The chapters are interspersed with scenes of Hirschfeld himself as he lectures about the content of the film, frequently drawing attention to the fact that non-heteronormative behaviour is common throughout the natural world.

The final two sections discuss Hirschfeld’s more controversial theories of sexuality. In the penultimate section, he details his theory of “intermediate sexes,” meaning that not only are there men and women, but also men who have “female traits” and women who have “male traits.” One example he employs from the “animal world” is the hermaphroditic slug, which has both male and female reproductive organs. 

This view is not quite the spectrum of sexuality we think of today, but rather was looking at what the body, rather than a person’s identity, suggests about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Hirschfeld’s view, though out of date now, was advanced for the time. This is a similar line of thinking that, for example, led the American Psychiatric Association to list homosexuality as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), leading to harmful attempts to “cure” homosexuality; the definition was removed from the DSM in 1973.

The fifth and final section of Gesetze der Liebe is dedicated to homosexuality, and is actually an abridged and restructured version of a feature-length film Hirschfeld had co-written with Richard Oswald (who was also its director and producer) about eight years earlier. Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others), released in 1919, is considered to be the first pro-gay film in the world.

Likely running between 60 and 80 minutes when it was originally released, Anders als die Andern is a drama about a concert violinist who falls in love with his male student. Soon, their budding romance is disrupted by the prejudices of family members and a male sex worker who blackmails the musician. The central message of the film is the ways that Paragraph 175—and the stigma and prejudice it bred about homosexuality—destroyed the lives of gay and bisexual men in Germany at the time.

Authorities immediately censored the parts of Gesetze der Liebe on “sexual intermediacy” and homosexuality. However, Hirschfeld continued to try to get around the laws. The prohibition against “homosexual propaganda” only applied to moving images, so Hirschfeld hosted viewings of the first three uncensored chapters of the film, followed by a lecture with slides of stills from the more controversial final two chapters. Hirschfeld’s new part film / part lecture presentation was a huge success. The sexologist repeated these presentations weekly in a major Berlin cinema that seated a couple of thousand people, and even travelled beyond the capital to present the film in Hamburg. 

After Nazi supporters committed arson against Hirschfeld’s institute in 1933, it was believed that both the feature-length version of Anders als die Andern and the entirety of Gesetze der Liebe had been lost forever. However, the abridged and restructured version of Hirschfeld and Oswald’s 1919 drama was preserved in a Russian archive and resurfaced decades after the war.

The first four reels of Gesetze der Liebe were discovered in the German Federal Archive. Now, about a century after this saga began, both films will finally be released for a general audience. The Munich Film Museum will release both Gesetze der Liebe (Laws of Love) and Anders als die Andern (Different From The Others), along with Geschlecht in Fesseln (Sex in Chains), a film from 1928 that also addresses themes of homosexuality, on DVD.

About a century after the release of these films, similar arguments about “homosexual propaganda” are being used to suppress the expression and organising of LGBT+ people in several European countries. In the past few years, dozens of towns in Poland have declared themselves “LGBT-free zones” with support of the federal government, and this summer, Hungary’s parliament passed a law banning LGBT+ content in schools. Approximately 100 years later, the same argumentation is now guiding the Hungarian parliament, like in Germany in 1921. It’s a repetition of the past.

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