Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

First the Wall Now the Closet

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

First the Wall Now the Closet

Article excerpt

Berlin's new mayor becomes a reluctant role model for openly gay people everywhere

Klaus Wowereit, the new acting mayor of Berlin, Germany's capital city, is at least six feet tall, and, at age 47, has full dark hair, a tan, and a well-pressed appearance. He plays golf, is an expert on wines, and likes theater and the opera, which he occasionally attends with his longtime male partner, whose identity he shields from the public.

But Wowereit has found it increasingly difficult to keep his private life to himself ever since June 10, when he spoke his now-famous words: "I am gay, and that's a good thing." His announcement, which brought a long ovation, was followed by his nomination for mayor from Berlin's Social Democratic Party (SPD). Later that week an ongoing financial scandal brought down the city's conservative government, and Wowereit was made acting mayor. He is now favored to win a full term in September.

The mayor is not exactly pleased that media coverage focuses on his being gay. His reputation, he says, has been as a cultural and financial expert. "But in an open media society you have to deal with the fact that politicians are asked about their private lives," he tells The Advocate. "How far you go making your private life public is something everyone has to decide for himself or herself."

That Wowereit is gay was not as shocking to most Berliners as was his decision to acknowledge his sexual orientation. Most Germans do not regard it as their business or right to know such things. Perhaps for that reason, Wowereit--like his counterpart, Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe--says he prefers to be seen as a politician who happens to be gay rather than a gay politician. He has said that though he has never been a gay activist, he has "practiced politics as a gay person."

Instead of discussing his private life in the press, he often confronts the media with its own hype. Asked on a popular talk show whether, in a cosmopolitan city like Berlin, being gay is really an important topic, he replied, "This was the reason you invited me here, wasn't it?"

In a sense, however, it was the media that helped him go public in the first place: Rumors have it that a German tabloid planned to write a gay expose featuring Wowereit, who at the time was speaker for the SPD in the Berlin legislature, and that was what prompted him to make his announcement in June.

Since then the reluctant role model has already had an impact on attitudes toward gay men and lesbians in Berlin, where gay rights has been the subject of an ongoing debate between conservative and left-wing parties. …

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