Paragraph 175 is a documentary film researched and tenderly presented by Klaus Müller and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. It chronicles the experiences of the 100,000 men as well as the women who were persecuted under this criminal code. This was the third film in the Fears of Difference: Diversity of the Holocaust Experience Film Series.
Tamara Zwick, Ph.D. an Assistant Professor of European History at the University of South Florida provided the historical context in which to view the film. Paragraph 175 was the anti-sodomy ordinance with origins dating back to 1871, the year of German unification. In Berlin, the ordinance was not enforced as the liberal climate was welcoming of gays and lesbians. Berlin was considered the Gay Eden.
As political and economic instability increased in the Republic, the enforcement of heterosexual norms increased through enforcement of the code and through the protonatalist movement women's behavior was tightly regulated. Women would find it harder to have abortions and contraception and would be given prizes for procreating.
Mental Health Counselor, William Spell’s comments are below.
Audience questions and comments included the following:
One audience member was curious about the reception Dr. Zwick’s students give to the film when she screens it in class. She uses it to introduce failures in humane treatment in historical periods and some students are hostile and don’t see the importance of using such a film in an instructional context. Mr. Spell added that the film allows viewers to join with the tellers in finding solace in community.
Another audience member brought up the recent documentary Outrage illustrating the viciousness of closeted homosexuals. Mr. Spell noted that 13 states continue to have Sodomy laws. And Florida is the only state that does not allow gays to adopt. More and more states are outlawing gay marriage and the continuation of hate crimes such as the one committed against Ryan Skipper in Winter Haven, FL constitute negative trends in becoming a more inclusive nation. Yet, other audience members noted that there is a balance. With young people’s attitudes reflecting more acceptance of sexual difference and the increase in anti-discrimination laws, progress is happening.
One audience member asked about the meaning of the film for the gay movement. The audience discussed this question in regard to how education helps change attitudes. One response is to keep Foucault’s explanation in mind that educational institutions defined and made certain sexualities normative in order to pathologize some. Education should teach us to open our minds and hearts to the multiplicity within ourselves.
Tamara Zwick, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of European History at the University of South Florida where she offers courses in European and German social and cultural history, gender history, and Holocaust historiography. Her major research focuses largely on the intersections of kinship, gender, and class in northern Germany. She is currently at work on a manuscript titled Writing Between the Lines: Women, Kinship, and Bürgertum in Early Nineteenth-Century Hamburg. She has previously published articles on memory at the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and on bourgeois culture as a written practice.
William Spell received his B.A. in Sociology and Religion from the University of Florida. He received his Masters of Arts in Mental Health Counseling, (M.A.) from Rollins College and currently is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Private Practice in Winter Park, FL. From 1992-2004 William worked as a School-Based Family Counselor for the Citizen's Commission for Children, Orange County, FL. He considers his recent and ongoing study of psychoanalytic theory and practice to be an opportunity for enhancing personal and professional growth. Currently he is a member of the International Association of Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, a Member of Florida Organization for Relational Studies (FORS), and a Corresponding Member of Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society. He is an Allied Professional Member of the American Psychological Association's Division of Psychoanalysis (39) and serves on the Committee on Sexualities and Gender Identities which sponsors program development at Division meetings.
Photo courtesy of Schwules Museum, Berlin