Gays, lesbians making strides despite wide discrimination

by Rebecca Teale

Gays and lesbians of Austria face severe legal discrimination, a University of Chicago researcher said in a speech Tuesday.
Matti Bunzel, who is pursuing a doctorate in anthropology and history, shared insights from a project he is working on relating to the struggle of Vienna’s gay community to gain acceptance. While Austrian citizens are slowly starting to accept gays in a social setting, he said other discrimination thrives.
“In Vienna, there is prejudice and a great degree of legal discrimination,” Bunzel said. “There’s a general feeling that gays are inferior or even dangerous.”
A gay man can be prosecuted for having sex with a boy under 18 years old, but it is legal for heterosexual contact with girls under 18. Women can have contact with girls or boys under 18 and not face prosecution.
“Many people might be unaware of it, but it is very important that the other citizens find out about legal discrimination,” Bunzel told 25 faculty and students who attended the Ford Hall lecture.
But the Austrian gay and lesbian community is making strides in other areas.
Using slides to emphasize his points, Bunzel detailed the experiences of lesbians and gays in Vienna during and after the 1996 gay-pride event “Rainbow Parade,” a first-ever for Austria’s gay community.
Before the event the sense of community was absent, he said. The community has since gathered for several other events.
Bunzel said Austria’s “historically sexist, conservative” government is the root of discrimination against homosexuals.
But Bunzel emphasized that Austria’s gay and lesbians remain loyal to the country that he says persecutes them. As part of the Rainbow Parade, gay couples participated in a traditional “Vienna waltz,” which Bunzel said held particular patriotic significance.
“I found it interesting that the gay and lesbian community has included national identity as a part of their homosexual identity,” said Alison Guenther-Pal, a graduate student of German, Scandinavian and Dutch.
Bunzel said there are distinct parallels between the United States and Vienna. The headway Austrians have made overcoming social prejudices can serve as motivation in America, he said.
While in Minnesota, Bunzel is interviewing for an assistant professorship at the University in Dutch, Scandinavian and German.
Assistant professor of Anthropology Daphne Berdahl, who worked with Bunzel in Chicago and helped organize Monday’s lecture, gave her endorsement following the 20-minute speech.
“He’d be a great asset to the U,” she said. “He’d help in a variety of different areas.”
Bunzel is currently working on a book that chronicles gay and lesbian life in Vienna.