He could also have said, “I'm gay and I don't have to justify myself for that,” says Klaus Wowereit, former mayor of Berlin, looking back.
But exactly 20 years ago, on June 10, 2001, he put it this way: “I'm gay and that's a good thing.” And this self-confident, defiant sentence went around the world.
Not only Sandra Maischberger and Reinhold Beckmann called the next day, but also Latin American radio stations.
Even the New York Times reported.
Klaus Wowereit remembers the day before the anniversary of his coming-out at a panel discussion broadcast via live stream in the Willy-Brandt-Haus. And he remembers the circumstances at that time: The Berlin SPD had left the coalition with the CDU, the CDU mayor Eberhard Diepgen was to be voted out by a vote of no confidence, Wowereit succeeded him with the votes of the Greens and the then PDS. That alone was a “taboo break par excellence”, according to Wowereit - and then he was also gay.
Most people around him knew that and he had raised it shortly beforehand at a parliamentary group meeting, the first media reports.
Inquiries from tabloids worried Wowereit, who is now 67 years old.
Would you try to put him in a dirty corner in the upcoming election campaign?
“That put me under positive pressure, so to speak.” This is how the official coming-out took place at the special party conference at which he was supposed to be nominated.
"From the gut"
He hadn't come up with the exact words, “it was more gut instinct”, says Wowereit, who later described the sentence as the most important of his life. The party colleagues applauded enthusiastically - and voted for him unanimously. For the first time, a top German politician had made his homosexuality public. He paved the way for the outings of politicians like Guido Westerwelle (FDP) and Ole von Beust (CDU) or Barbara Hendricks and Kevin Kühnert (both SPD), who will also be in the Willy Brandt House on Wednesday.
The fact that his sexual orientation was not really secret even before June 10, 2001 was typical of the time, according to Wowereit. He attended events with his partner Jörn Kubicki. "Anyone who wanted to, could know." The motto was, however, that you can be homosexual, but you don't have to address it publicly. The former Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks calls the way in which homosexuality was dealt with at the time “lost”. Wowereit also opposed this way of thinking with his "and that's a good thing".
20 years later, some people apparently still think this way: On Twitter, someone commented on the event in the Willy Brandt House with the words that sexuality is a private matter and has nothing to do with politics. “That's why there are so many homestories from heterosexuals with kids and teens,” says Wowereit. "Let's not kid ourselves: People are also interested in the private life of politicians."
In addition, something can only change through the public. This can also be seen in the fact that homosexuality is still a taboo subject in professional football or in the boardrooms of Dax companies. 20 years ago, however, he did not only move something in politics. Parents of gay sons and lesbian daughters wrote to him at the time: If he could be the gay mayor of Berlin, they could feel very different about their child. “That was really close to my heart,” says Wowereit.