Any resistance to homosexuality is necessarily homophobic

Historical homosexuality: do you have to "talk about it"?

In 2005, May 17th was first named IDAHO Day by an international association of lesbian and gay initiatives - short for International Day Against Homophobia - called out. The day is celebrated in more than 130 countries and, in the course of its short existence, has undergone some extensions in the course of queer differentiation into more and more individual identities. First the group of transsexuals, bisexuals and finally intersexuals.

May 17th marks a historic change in the ICD, the WHO classification system for diseases. On May 17, 1990, homosexuality was removed from this code as a disease. May 17th is a reminder especially in Germany - but also beyond that, because it became a symbol of the persecution of homosexuals during the Nazi era - of Section 175 of the German criminal law, which until its complete abolition in 1994 between Men were prosecuted. Although a symbol of persecution, it was also celebrated as a "gay holiday" in the gay subculture of major German cities.

Homophobia as political capital

The term homophobia was largely coined in the 1960s by the American psychologist George Weinberg and, according to Wikipedia, describes "a social aversion or hostility directed against lesbians and gays" that cannot be equated with medically diagnosed phobias. Rather, it is a social phenomenon that leads to the exclusion and devaluation of lesbians and gays, but also of trans * people and intersex people. The spectrum of homophobic attacks ranges from threats to life and limb from state institutions or violence in a private environment to verbal insults and personal rejection.

The term homophobia, which was originally shaped by social science and applied to individuals, has increasingly developed into a fighting term in recent years, with which political difference is described. Legal equality measures and the introduction of anti-discrimination laws became the litmus test for liberal democracies. In the immediate present, however, political resistance to legal and social equality and recognition has increased again in many countries. Political capital can be made again from anti-homosexual politics and homophobic resentment. In the fight against this policy, IDAHOT-Day is an international symbol of visibility and diversity, but also of resistance against homophobic political propaganda and against homophobic violence in everyday life.

Historical homosexuality

As part of the day of action, there will be a concert by the composer Vilma von Webenau, which raised the question from some quarters why it was interesting that the composer was possibly a lesbian and what did that have to do with her work? - "Do you really have to talk about it?" I was asked. Yes, you have to.

If you want to take lesbians and gays seriously today, you have to take their story seriously and understand it as a natural part of history. Why does the ORF III story uncle Karl Hohenlohe have to smile in a documentary about the Belvedere Palace and its builder Prince Eugen that he does not want to go into the rumors about the love life of the "eternal bachelor". For many it is apparently still an impossible idea that one of the most important generals in Austrian history could have loved men - an assumption that is not based on rumors but on historical sources. Why does Prince Eugen's possible homosexuality have to be the cause of a casual joke?

The unknown composer

Little is known so far about the life of Webenau. Born in 1875 into a noble, musical family, she performed as a piano virtuoso in her youth, but then turned to composition. She became Arnold Schönberg's first private student, studied composition with him and was later performed in concerts organized by her teacher with works by his students. She had a close friendship with the composer Mathilde Kralik von Meyrswalden, Meyrswalden referred to her as her "companion", a very open and careful formulation that allows for many interpretations. Meyrswalden, who later also lived in relationships with women, was, like Webenaus, certainly aware of the criminal prosecution of homosexuality. In any case, they knew the "command to remain silent", because the public perception of a desire that was despised by broad sections of society and disqualified as "abnormal" could easily lead to social marginalization.

Lilly Lieser, for example, stands for the social sanctioning of female homosexuality in Viennese fin de siècle society. Coming from a wealthy Jewish family, Lieser was a close friend of Alma Mahler for a number of years, on whose mediation she supported Arnold Schönberg as a patron for a few years. The two women traveled together and sometimes enjoyed glamorous life at Lieser's expense - until the day when Mahler discovered her friend's secret. Mahler immediately broke with her, a gesture with which Lieser was suddenly deprived of an important part of her social life. After stopping her sponsorship for Schönberg, Lieser disappears from history until she was deprived of rights and robbed by the Nazis as a Jew in 1938 and murdered in Riga in 1942.

Webenau's life is also becoming increasingly lost in the darkness of history. Does the lack of any sources suggest a self-chosen withdrawal from the music scene from the late 1920s? Was she frustrated by the competition in a male-dominated music world and withdrew from the musical public? Because her extensive legacy of more than 100 works in the music collection of the Austrian National Library suggests that she continued to compose. In the post-war years she is said to have lived in poor conditions in a cabinet in the 21st district. Only the date of her death on October 9, 1953 is clearly documented again.

Difficult relationship

Is it still considered "disrespectful" to speak about the possible homosexuality of a historical person? This also negates a significant part of the personality of a historical person. Many, so my impression, find it easier to take note of the "being-like" of their living homo-, bi-, trans- or intersexual fellow human beings as part of their identity than the "outing" perception of the homosexuality of historical personalities. Talking about it is interpreted as inadmissible stigmatization and research is marginalized. (Andreas Brunner, May 17, 2018)

Andreas Brunner is co-director of QWIEN, co-founder of the Rainbow Parade and has been researching the history of gays and lesbians in Vienna for more than twenty years. As an Austria guide specializing in queer city walks, he is also the author of gay travel guides and numerous articles on the history of (homo) sexuality.

Event notice


  • Irene Suchy: Lilly Lieser - An Overlooked One. A co-producer of Schönberg’s music history. In: Österreichische Musikzeitschrift, 2008, No. 10, pp. 6-16.
  • Susanne Wosnitzka: "Common need strengthens the will" - networks of women musicians in Vienna, in: Annkatrin Babbe and Volker Timmermann (eds.): Musicians and their networks in the 19th century. Series of publications by the Sophie Drinker Institute, ed. by Freia Hoffmann, Vol. 12. Oldenburg 2016, pp. 131–148.