Without a doubt one highlight of my trip to Europe was meeting Volker Beck, current spokesperson for Germany’s Green Party. While in Berlin, I had the honor to attend a dinner and discussion with him and a group of my colleagues.
Volker Beck is an openly gay member of German Parliament and has been working for LGBT rights since the 1980’s. His accomplishments over the past 30 years have been many. While he is most known for his work with the European LGBT community, he is also highly involved with various programs providing compensation and remembrance to Nazi victims.
Beck gave us a brief history of his political career which began in 1985 when he joined the Green Party. It was soon after, in the early nineties, that he began spearheading major projects in Germany. Between 1994 and 1998 he played a critical role in ensuring a monthly pension for Jewish Holocaust victims, in lobbying for construction of holocaust memorials recognizing distinct victim groups, and in revoking criminal sodomy provision Paragraph 175.
The removal of Paragraph 175 in 1994 marks a pivotal time for Germany’s tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community. The paragraph, created in 1871, was infamous and had undergone several amendments as Germany fell under the rule of different regimes. There is even a powerful documentary about the paragraph and how it was brutally enforced during the Nazi era.
During the broader period of 1991 to 2004, Beck was also spokesman for the Lesbian & Gay Association of Germany. In the later of these years, Beck was responsible for bringing LGBT issues to the attention of Parliament. In 2001 he drafted, and successfully passed, the Civil Partnership Act expanding the rights of same-sex couples to include nationally recognized registered partnerships. As I mentioned in a previous post, the partnership rights have since been expanded upon several times. The court-won rights expansions can largely be attributed to the Equal Treatment Act of 2006, also sponsored by none other than Volker Beck.
In 2003, Beck was involved in obtaining funding for the Memorial for Persecuted Homosexuals, aspects of which remain controversial. I saw the monument when I was in Berlin and I, too, had some issues with it. It was across the street from the Memorial to Murdered Jews of Europe and was therefore, in a way, separating being Jewish and being gay. As someone who is both, the disconnect was a bit troubling. Additionally, the placard explaining the memorial (pictured below) was far away. Regardless, I am thrilled that it exists at all.
In addition to Beck’s admirable dedication and achievements within Germany, he never stops promoting LGBT rights as an international concern. In 2006, he travelled to Moscow to participate in their first pride parade where he intended to give a TV interview but was unfortunately interrupted by a group of anti-gay youth who assaulted him. The attack did not slow down his activism, however, and he has continued his fight for a broader sense of equality.
When I attempted to steer our dinner discussion towards the current LGBT tax issues in Germany he briefly confirmed that equal tax treatment is expected to be acheived in the near future but quickly brought the conversation back to international LGBT issues. Beck relentlessly continues to encourage a global discussion. Here, he discusses LGBT issues within the context of Uganda, Brazil, the UN and even Dan Savage.
Volker Beck is a great inspiration to me and I admire his drive for international progress, particularly, when so many advancements have already been made in his own country. He encourages me to remain aware of things like the anti-gay violence taking place in South Africa where just last week a 19-year old lesbian was murdered. Beck’s dedication is a timely reminder to those of us in Washington where same-sex marriage has just been legalized. A battle may have been won, but the war continues. Imagine what the world could be if more people were as dedicated as he is.