Coming Out Collectively: Stern, 1978

Craig Griffiths is a Senior Lecturer in Modern History at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is a co-founder and co-convenor of the Seminar Series in the History of Sexuality at the Institute of Historical Research, London. His book, The Ambivalence of Gay Liberation: Male Homosexual Politics in 1970s West Germany, was published with Oxford University Press in February 2021. During June 2021, chapter one can be downloaded open-access; copies can be bought at 30% off using code AAFLYG6.

‘We are gay’. With these words, 682 men revealed their homosexuality to the estimated 18 million readers of Stern in October 1978, in the gay movement’s most visible public action of the decade. That there was not a single lesbian among them is symptomatic of the largely separate paths taken by gay male and lesbian activism in the 1970s, although the Stern front cover special does also reveal the threads of inspiration that connected various social movements. This queer intervention in the West German public sphere would scarcely have been imaginable without the foundations paved by feminists in 1971, when 374 women declared on the front cover of the same magazine that they had had an abortion. 

The media

By 1978, the gay movement had reached a certain traction in the mainstream media, the result not least of years of tenacious activism, following the liberalisation of Paragraph 175 in 1969. Indeed, that long-awaited reform to the law penalising male homosexuality had been met with another front cover special, this time in Der Spiegel. Until 1969, the Federal Republic had enforced the 1935 Nazi version of Paragraph 175, leading to more than 25,000 convictions in the 1960s alone.[1]

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