Self-defense against hate: queer people learn to defend themselves

They are beaten, kicked, spat on and worse: the recorded number of attacks on homosexual and transgender people in Berlin is increasing.

Self-defense against hate: queer people learn to defend themselves

They are beaten, kicked, spat on and worse: the recorded number of attacks on homosexual and transgender people in Berlin is increasing. There are offers for those affected to protect themselves.

A hard hit to the boxing pad, followed by a loud "Stop!" scream. In the "Schwuz" club in Berlin-Neukölln, there is a self-defence course for queer people. The course is called "Queerschutz Now". People often self-identify as queer if they are not straight or if their gender identity differs from the gender they were assigned at birth.

When Hannah kisses her friend, she doesn't always feel safe. "I've been spat on before," she says. "I've often been accosted on the street, but it never got extreme. But I like to be prepared." Other participants have had even more drastic experiences of physical and psychological violence. "Queer people in particular are attacked more often simply because they are different," says Nadine Wöthe. "At least differently than the dominant society would like them to be," adds Valerie Banik. The two are the trainers who lead the course and have many years of experience in the field themselves.

According to Banik, queer people need their own self-defense courses in order to be able to develop better than in mainstream courses. "My ability to learn improves when I feel safe. If I think about what people think of me all the time, it doesn't work." Wöthe confirms that many queer people feel uncomfortable in classically mixed courses. "I'm often asked in queer clubs whether there are any offers like that. That's why we wanted to do this course."

According to the Senate Department for Justice, Diversity and Anti-Discrimination, in 2021 there were 456 registered homophobic or transphobic crimes in Berlin. That is the highest value that has ever been recorded - in 2020 there were 377 crimes, in 2019 there were 358. Also because these numbers are increasing, the Berlin police have two contacts for crimes against queer people.

"The police only recorded a fraction," says Bastian Finke. He is the project leader of "Maneo", an anti-violence project for gay and bisexual men in Berlin. Up to 90 percent of crimes remained unreported. "Many people don't dare to file a complaint. For example, because they haven't learned to defend themselves or because traumatic memories come up." It's about criminal offenses such as property damage, forced marriage and sexual, psychological and physical violence, for which "Maneo" advises. Finke sees another problem in the fact that police officers are often not trained to deal with the issue sensitively and to ask about the motives of the perpetrators. This makes it difficult to classify it as a hate crime, which the state security agency takes care of. "Berlin is already very well positioned there."

Nevertheless, self-defense courses are important to defend yourself physically and mentally. "That helps to recognize one's own limits, but also to form solidarity with one another," says Finke. In addition to "Queerschutz Now", there are other projects in Berlin that offer self-defense courses - including "Gaysha" in Kreuzberg, "Queerspiele" in Friedrichshain or "Vorspiel" in Schöneberg. Nevertheless, according to trainer Wöthe, there are too few offers for the needs. She sees one reason in the lack of funding from government agencies.

The district office of Neukölln supports the project "Queerschutz Now", the initiative goes back to several associations. Events are in the queer club "Schwuz" in Neukölln or in the queer youth club "Q*ube", because there should also be courses for young people under the age of 17. "We want to pick everyone up in their realities of life," says Banik. That's why there are offers for young people, women and people with a migration background - all with a queer focus. Above all, the courses teach you one strategy: What can I do to protect myself?

According to Valerie Banik, it's less about learning specific grips or techniques and more about raising awareness. Nadine Wöthe adds: "We cannot promise that such situations will not happen again after the course. But we can give people options for dealing with these situations."