By Beril Mese
Today, during the second day of class, we went as a group to Lambda Berlin, the home to Queer @ School, which focuses on educating students in schools and universities and empowering student bodies in their representation of queer students.
Lambda is an international organization that supports and advocates for LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex) communities. Diana Rücklicht, who has worked for Lambda and Queer @ School for eight years, talked to us about their work in Berlin, which led to a great conversation about how issues regarding sexuality are common in USA and Germany and how the socopolitical power dynamics change through time.
When we found the building where they have just recently moved (a former youth center which is now a queer youth center, as Diana told us), Diana and Sannick warmly welcomed us into the group meeting room and treated us with pretzels, cookies, chocolate, tea and coffee. The first thing I noticed was the black and white portraits of beautiful young people holding signs that read, “Schwule? (Gay?),” “Lesbisch? (Lesbian?),” “Bi?,” and “Egal! (Doesn’t Matter!)” There were also loads of brochures/pamphlets/etc. for helping queer youth come to terms with their sexuality, including resources and tips about safe sex.
While we waited for their colleagues Lena and Corny, Lambda volunteers, and the rest of the class to arrive, I had a chance to see a lovely sign in the restroom that reads, “We are so queer that we shit rainbows!” This year, I’m going to make the theme for my toilet “shitting rainbows.”
Lena and Corny also joined us in the talk, and we all introduced ourselves by name and our gender pronoun preferences. Sannick was the first person I met who uses “they” for their pronoun, as they didn’t identify either by she or he. We had a brief discussion about how language limits genders and forces people into a choice to which they might not necessarily belong. In Turkish, we do not have gender pronouns; the only pronoun used is “o,” which sounds pretty progressive even though Turkey is definitely not a progressive culture for liberating people from their gendered categorizations.
Then, Heidi explained the purpose of our class, and how she searched different organizations and groups in Berlin working on race, gender and sexuality. Queer @ School definitely seemed happy to talk to us, as this is exactly what they were doing. Queer @ School is a project Diana and Sannick have been working on for the past few years, communicating with schools around Berlin and leading workshops and educational sessions with students. They said that at first it was difficult to acquire schools and promote their work, but that today there are many schools that contact them and ask them to conduct workshops. Their volunteers talk to and counsel students with sexualities that don’t fit the norm.
We learned from Diana that Lambda hosts different groups of youth in meetings for activities and discussions. There are gay-specific groups, lesbian-specific groups, and mixed and open groups that meet. Based on their discussions, Lambda takes important points and shape their work accordingly. Their main aim is to create a safe space for queer youth and to fully support them in their process of self-identification and also their interaction with the heterosexual world. Even though Germany is a relatively open-minded and progressive country, I was surprised to learn that in some states and districts, there are a considerable amount of citizens standing against equality and working to repel government decisions on LGBTQ rights. For example, we learned that a southern German state has decided to include sexual diversity in school curriculums and it almost got repelled by a citizen petition. What I usually experience in countries where I live is that citizens petitions against really bad ideas of governments, and those ideas usually end up passing as laws, increasing the oppressions of marginalized groups.
Politically, Lambda is also working on increasing transgender and intersexual people’s presence in LGBTQ events and demonstrations. The rest of our discussion, then, was about how the internet is affecting the power dynamics by creating anonymous spaces that increase the tendency of aggression and violence, leaving activists vulnerable as it simultaneously allows them to reach out to more people who need to get together in order to stand in solidarity. This is a common problem/development everywhere. We also discussed how the subtlety of homophobia is changing and getting in and out of surface with time. The more extreme and physical violence gets, the stronger victims stand together and fight against it audibly (and hopefully, non-violently).
This made me think of the 1990s in Germany, as the aggression and racism towards immigrants, Jewish, and Afro-German people became very physical and threatening, thus bringing all the oppressed minorities together to stand strong and fight harder. Along these lines, Cassandra Ellerbe-Dück’s focus on a need for safe spaces for marginalized communities also makes sense here in order to create an environment where people can talk and feel a sense of belonging, as well as strengthen their solidarity without the “dominating gaze of majority groups.”
After our discussion, we went on a tour of the Lambda office and got cool posters and stickers, which made my day. The stickers with the LGBT, bi-sexual and pan-sexual colours are now in residence on my laptop computer, and the poster with the signs I mentioned above (with “Homophobia and Transphobia? Not with us!” written in German) shall hang on my wall in Colorado.
Beril Mese is starting her senior year at Colorado College this fall as a Music major. Her plan for life is to explore different cultures and its different aspects such as their music, social changes, and philosophies, etc. This means that she will be a very broke person.