Out on the Right: On Being Gay, Conservative and Catholic
Jens Spahn is a conservative parliamentarian. He is also gay. In a SPIEGEL interview, the 32-year-old describes how this has informed his political career and assesses how far Germany has come on civil rights for gays and lesbians.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Spahn, two years ago we asked you for the first time if you would be willing to grant us an interview about your life as a gay member of parliament in a conservative political party. What made you hesitate so long?
Spahn: Because my gayness has nothing to do with how I define myself as a politician. I don’t focus on gay issues at the expense of other political issues. Instead, as a health expert, I strive to solve today’s problems. I wouldn’t want my way of living and loving to play a larger role than the substance of my work.
SPIEGEL: What changed your mind about talking with us?
Spahn: I want to send a signal. There are many gays among Germany’s conservatives who are discontented with their party. Nevertheless, this will be my first and last interview about my homosexuality.
SPIEGEL: You have been a member of parliament for 10 years. Have you often been asked by colleagues whether you have a female partner in your life?
Spahn: Anyone who asked was given the honest answer that I have a male partner. I’ve never made a secret of my homosexuality.
SPIEGEL: Did the issue play a role when you first sought your district’s nomination to run for a seat in the Bundestag 11 years ago?
Spahn: When it comes to the internal nomination procedures of a political party, people always look for areas where a candidate might be vulnerable. My sexual orientation and my age — I was only 21 back then — certainly didn’t please everyone at the time. A number of individuals tried to make my homosexuality a topic of debate. I admittedly found that rather upsetting.
SPIEGEL: What kinds of attempts were made?
Spahn: In some cases, party members expressed concern. They asked: “How can we win a strongly Catholic electoral district with someone like him?”
SPIEGEL: At the time, did you ever consider approaching the lectern back then and saying: “I’m gay”?
Spahn: No! It has nothing to do with my politics and my political convictions. Consequently, I didn’t want to make a display of it — especially not in my nomination speech. Today, however, the aforementioned statement wouldn’t deter anyone anymore in my home region of Münsterland in western Germany, where gays even receive highly coveted top positions in local carnival and rifle associations.