Shining a light on the variety of queer lifestyles
Stiftung Stonewall has been supporting projects and issues relating to LGBTQ people for more than 30 years. It was founded in 1989 in Basel by a group of gay men.
On 28 June 1969, police stormed the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street in New York. For the first time, homo and transsexual people struck back against this arbitrary discrimination. The protests that followed were the start of the modern homosexual movement and the Gay Pride marches. Twenty years later, a group of gay men in Basel set up a foundation that they named after the iconic New York bar and which, according to their guiding principles, works towards a social climate ‘in which people can live their lives with equal rights and self-determination, regardless of their sexual and gender identity’. For more than 30 years now, Stiftung Stonewall in German-speaking Switzerland has supported projects relating to culture, science, education and social policy, such as the Pink Apple Festival in Zurich and educational work in schools. With its Stonewall Award, it also recognises projects and people that work towards the protection and visibility of gay men and lesbians in Switzerland.
Making homosexuality visible
Stonewall began with a financial surplus. ‘In 1989, the Männergeschichten exhibition took place in Basel, which for the first time addressed the topic of the lives of gay men,’ says Cordula Niklaus, current president of the Board of Trustees. ‘After the exhibition, the organisers had a good CHF 100,000 to spare, which they ultimately transferred to a foundation.’ The idea of the founders, which included Claude Janiak, later member of the National Council and Council of States for canton Basel-Landschaft, was to use the money from the exhibition as seed capital to fund projects relating to homosexuality. ‘At that time, there were no other organisations or institutions campaigning for the rights of homosexual and trans people,’ explains Niklaus. The lesbian organisation Schweiz LOS was also founded in late 1989, and its counterpart Pink Cross, the national umbrella organisation for gay and bisexual men, has existed since 1993. At first there were few places where homosexuals could meet openly. Stiftung Stonewall wanted to make these ‘other’ lifestyles visible in Switzerland. The brochure released on the foundation’s 30th anniversary contains the following lines on its beginnings: ‘We had to create protected spaces behind darkened windows and walls to avoid physical assault. We used to hide ourselves so that we would not need to hide for a few hours. That time is over. We want to see and be seen.’
Podium in the Helferei Zurich, from right to left, former and current foundation board members Marianne Dahinden, Claude Janiak, Oliver Fritz and Cordula Niklaus.
Ernst Osterberg, gay activist, at the exhibition on the occasion of the 30th anniversary.
Accepted by the populace
A lot has changed in society since then. Today Switzerland boasts numerous organisations and associations that campaign for LGBTQ issues, such as Pink Cross, LOS, Transgender Network Switzerland, Dachverband Regenbogenfamilien (an umbrella organisation for ‘rainbow’ families) and InterAction, the Swiss association for intersex people. The topic has also come up in the business world. Since 2019, the LGBTI label has been awarded to companies and organisations that make efforts towards achieving diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This label was launched by WyberNet, the network for lesbian women in professional and leading roles, and Network, the network for gay professionals in specialist and management positions. Recently, the clear approval of the anti-discrimination law and the ‘Ehe für alle’ [marriage for all] campaign demonstrated that queer lifestyles are accepted by the majority of the population, according to Niklaus. ‘We ask ourselves every so often whether the foundation is still actually needed in its current form, as a bridge-builder’; particularly as it relies on private patrons. The budget is correspondingly modest: Stonewall allocates funding to the tune of CHF 8,000 to CHF 10,000 per year.
Demand still exists
Originally the foundation was dedicated to the rights of homosexual men. It was not until a few years after its foundation that lesbian women joined its Board of Trustees. The current board took over in 2015. Alongside its president Cordula Niklaus are members Sofia Hilgevoord, Pierre André Rosselet and Oliver Fritz. Niklaus adds: ‘We took office about seven years ago in view of the foundation’s 30th anniversary in 2019. We wanted to use this event to present ourselves to the public once again.’ Since then three years have passed, although quietly, due to the coronavirus pandemic. But there is still demand for funding: for instance, Stonewall is currently supporting the performances of a queer musician and an advisory service for queer young people in eastern Switzerland.