Monday, October 5, 2009

who, me? homophobic?

I met a couple of Americans for drinks the other night, and our conversation took me back to one of my initial impressions of Austria. I used to think that this country was socially conservative, and politically progressive. Now I'm not sure about the progressive part. For example, the government provides very generous childcare subsidies and maternity leave programs, which makes it easier to be a moms. But this could also be seen as an inducement to women to become housewives instead of artists, bankers or brain surgeons.

Another example: Not only do many Austrians have no grasp of political correctness--lots of them think it's okay to refer to black people as "negers"--they're also a little shaky on the subject of hate crimes. If there are any actual laws here against discrimination because of race or sexual preference, those laws are toothless.

Check it out: a lesbian couple we know have adopted a daughter, and they want to buy an apartment. About a month ago, they found a nice place, and one of them got in touch with the owners about buying the place. The owners asked for an application and some financial statements from our friends. Then the owners called them back and said, 'Let's make a deal.'

Our friends then went to their first face-to-face meeting with the owners, who are both men. Shortly after they walked in together, they were told the property was no longer for sale.

Then the bashing started.

"So you're from Hamburg?" one of the owners said to one of our friends. "Why aren't you blonde then?"

At first our friends were confused, then struck dumb by disbelief.

"How would you live in a place like ours?"

"As a family," our other friend answered.

"Is that legal?" one of the apartment owners asked. "I have to make a phone call to check on that."

"You have a daughter?" they asked. "Why didn't you adopt a son? Is it because you have a problem with men?"

At some point, our friends declared this "meeting" over and they walked out. One of them was so shocked (and hurt?) she only started to gather her wits on the way out of their office. But then all she could do was complain to the owners' receptionist.

Here's the punchline: our friends went to a local gay rights organization to get help. The people there told them, 'Sorry, there's not much you can do. But thanks for coming to us--will you sign our register? Then we can continue to get government funding for our anti-discrimination programs.'


C N Heidelberg said...


Lisa said...

Hi Pat

awful story... and I am quite sure that it is as much a woman hating thing as it is homophobia. two men going into that meeting i am sure would have had a very different outcome.

A point about the care for mothers - in New York, I would hear over and over again (even from my ex who wanted a kid) that any woman artist who has a child is finished. not a chance of a career - i have never heard peep of any such sentiment here.

Not sure which is worse, the liminal repression or hatred of women here or the more subliminal and institutional kind one sees in a place like new york...

Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Ed Ward said...

But not unusual. A friend of mine opened a restaurant in Berlin, and, like most good restaurants, the kitchen help was all Bangladeshi. Some of them lived a good long ways from work, so my friend went about finding them apartments closer in. She'd call and say she was an employer trying to find a place for some employees and then the landlord asked what kind of business she had. When she said it was a restaurant, the landlord would ask "Are these men black? Because I don't rent to black people." Nothing you can do about it: perfectly legal in Germany.

Jim said...

I see that not much has changed in the last 20 years or so since we've moved back to the United States. Generally, it's said that Europe is so much more progressive and tolerant when it comes to civil rights related issues. I know from first-hand experience that it really never was and never will be. America, the end they're all the same. Europe is just better at window dressing their problems.

pat said...

What a great set of comments--thanks!

I'm not sure if there's really nothing that can be done about this. I've gotta keep thinking that through.

And though I do agree that it's bad all over--people sometimes mistake me complaining about Europe to mean I think the US is better--the difference in the US is that people have learned to at least talk about race and class and sexual preference in a different, and in many cases, more sensitive way. I believe in political correctness.

In Vienna, people--especially straight white men--say the most appalling things because they've never been forced to confront the hatred within themselves. Even thought the UN is here, Vienna is not really an international city. The Viennese don't rub elbows with people of color or people from as many different parts of the world as do average Americans in most US cities. They're gonna have to change, because this ain't yo mama's Europe anymore.

katharina said...

hi pat
re: hatred of white men in vienna: yesterday on the way home heard a father yelling at his 7 yr old daughter: "you always have to be right, he? thats because you´re a fucking "weib" (woman), you bitch!"
have a nice sunday with your 3 girls!

pat said...


Expat Traveler said...

wow... so sad.

pat said...

Sad is one word. Inhuman is another word that's appropriate.
Not sure I'll ever understand hate like this.....