Shining a light on the variety of queer lifestyles

Self-determined

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. 

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