The Past, Present, and Future of LGBTQ+ Communities in North Rhine-Westphalia

Christoph Mayer

German Bundestag

Christoph Mayer is currently working as a policy advisor to a member of the German parliament. Topics he has worked on include data governance, transatlantic relations, and the intersection between digitalization and democracy. He previously worked as a research fellow in the Technology and Global Affairs Program at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) and as a project manager at Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.

With a Master's degree in war and conflict studies from the University of Potsdam and the Universidad Autónoma in Madrid, his academic journey included working visits to the German Embassy in Washington D.C. and the Foreign Office headquarters in Berlin, along with a year abroad at National Chengchi University in Taiwan. His analytical approach to current political developments is marked by his advocacy for critical, class-conscious, and intersectional perspectives. He strives to forge inclusive spaces that foster active solidarity among marginalized groups, with a vision of shaping a (digital and analog) future that is more equitable for all.

Jennifer Bihr

University of Heidelberg

Jennifer Bihr is a queer rights activist from Germany focused on political education, empowerment, and community building. Jennifer holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a minor in philosophy from the University of Heidelberg. They have built community structures in their hometown of Heidelberg and expanded them into a politically engaged network nationwide. Jennifer has led social media campaigns, written policy letters, engaged with politicians, and participated in cabinet meetings.

Building bridges between and within generations and communities are Jennifer’s priorities. Jennifer believes social change and equality is only possible if diverse perspectives and needs are respected. To build bridges, Jennifer has worked with different media methods such as movies, books as well as through art workshops, where people from different backgrounds come together through their creativity. Art and media offer Jennifer’s participants not only a mutual foundation for discussions, but also demand participants to be empathetic towards each other and engage in new perspectives. In addition to community engagement, Jennifer is pursuing a Masters in political science from Heidelberg University with a graduation expectation of 2025.

Lisa Schnurpfeil

Atlantik-Brücke e.V.

Lisa Schnurpfeil was born and raised in East Germany. After completing their high school education, Lisa pursued a degree in North American studies at the Free University of Berlin. In their thesis, Lisa focused on the role of narratives around masculinity and male supremacy in the ideology of the right-wing extremist group ‘The Proud Boys’.

Currently, Lisa is working as a Program Manager of the New Bridge Program at Atlantik-Brücke e.V. This fellowship offers young professionals from historically underrepresented communities in the United States and Germany the opportunity to learn about and contribute to the transatlantic dialogue over the course of a ten-day program. In this role, Lisa has helped to conceptualize, plan, and execute several cross-cultural study trips, conferences, and events. Outside of their professional role, Lisa is part of a collective that organizes a yearly weekend-long cultural event offering workshops, music performances, and a community experience.

Malik Brown

Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

Malik Brown, an award-winning LGBTQ advocate and political strategist, is a media-recognized figure featured in outlets like CNN, NBC News, and The Hill. Brown recently presented his work on prestigious stages like the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and AdWeek New York. As Atlanta's Director of LGBTQ Affairs, appointed by former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Malik became the Southeast's first full-time official dedicated to bridging the LGBTQ community with municipal government. He is the Atlanta Mayor's top advisor on LGBTQ policies and is a founding member of the Mayor’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.

Malik's political expertise extends to national campaigns, serving on the Biden campaign's 2020 Out for Biden LGBTQ+ Leadership Council and as Special Advisor on LGBTQ+ Engagement for Reverend Raphael Warnock's historic U.S. Senate campaign in 2021. Malik is a dedicated advocate, serving on the Human Rights Campaign's National Board of Governors and Rainbow Railroad's Board of Directors.

Mieko Kuramoto

Office of Congressman Mark Takano (CA-39)

Mieko Kuramoto is a Legislative Assistant in the office of Congressman Mark Takano (D-CA-39). Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mieko came to Congress through the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS) Fellowship Program and is in her third year with the office. Her portfolio includes healthcare, oversight and government reform, agriculture and nutrition programs, financial services and housing, tribal affairs, and LGBTQ issues. Mieko is a graduate of Smith College and organized in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community prior to coming to the Hill. Her work with AAPI groups has spanned both the academic and the advocacy spheres, including research on data collection and disaggregation, voting access, and organizing techniques as well as direct advocacy work with Japanese American youth groups and other AAPI political organizations.

Natalie Adams-Menendez

Office of Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries

Natalie Adams-Menendez is a Staff Assistant to the Executive Office of Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries. She began her congressional tenure as a staffer with Team Jeffries in the House Democratic Caucus in 2022. Previously, she interned with the House Democratic Caucus as an LGBTQ Victory Institute congressional intern and with the office of LGBTQ Equality Caucus Co-Chair Sharice Davids (KS-03).

Natalie grew up in Lawrence, Kansas and graduated with honors from Stanford University, where she majored in international relations and double minored in French and human rights. Her commitment to human rights work drives her passion for politics and legislation, and she is dedicated to applying her background in these subjects to domestic and international LGBTQ rights issues.

Philipp Leinenbach

LGBTQties Comedy Berlin

Philipp Leinenbach is a trained actor and comedian who has worked on stage and in front of the camera for more than fourteen years. He is based in Berlin, but his work has taken him all over the country and to other European cities. In 2021 he, amongst 184 fellow queer acting colleagues, signed the #actout manifesto, a policy statement and publication that takes a stand for visibility, more acceptance, and recognition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and non-binary people in society and within the German-speaking film, TV, and theater industries.

Philipp is part of the Queer Media Society and was listed as a "Prout Performer in Media, Art, and Culture" by the "Prout at Work" organization twice already - an honoring of media representatives that are openly queer and contributing to the community with their work. He runs LGBTQties Comedy Berlin, producing comedy shows that offer safer spaces for queer people and friends. Philipp also is an ambassador for Kinderschutzengel e.V. (guardian angels for children), with whom he visits seriously and chronically ill children in hospitals, organizes get-togethers, and hosts a yearly party for the kids.

Simon Schütz

German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA)

Simon Schütz works as the head of communication for the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) in Berlin. Before that, he was a Responsible Editor at BILD, covering U.S. politics as well as domestic politics in Germany. In addition, he freelanced for the American National Public Radio (NPR), where he wrote mostly about current developments in Germany.

Simon graduated from Freie Universität in Berlin, with an MA in strategic political communication. He also studied at George Washington University in Washington, DC, where he primarily focused on public diplomacy and campaigning during elections and in Bordeaux, France.

Steven Paulikas

All Saints’ Episcopal Church

The Rev. Steven Paulikas is the rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Brooklyn, New York. He has focused his ministry on congregational development rooted in radical welcome and acceptance of all people. He serves on the Board of Directors of Episcopal Relief & Development, which promotes early childhood development, prevention of gender-based violence, and climate resilience in the most vulnerable global communities. While a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he co-chaired the New York Term Member Advisory Council. His opinion writing has recently appeared in the Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others. Prior to attending seminary, Steven was a journalist based in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Thao Nguyen

LesMigraS/Lesbian Counseling Center Berlin e.V.

Thao Nguyen studied social sciences at the Humboldt-University in Berlin. In the last several years she has been active in various civil society initiatives and intersectional migrant organizations. She is a political educator and currently an anti-violence and anti-discrimination consultant for Queer People of Color who are affected by multiple discrimination. Her thematic focus lies in the field of addressing racism, queer feminism, classism and intersectionality.

Thomas Haakenson

California College of the Arts

Dr. Thomas O. Haakenson is an Associate Professor and former Associate Provost as well as Special Assistant to the Provost for Faculty Support at California College of the Arts (CCA). Prior to joining the CCA community, he served as Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs as well as Department Chair for Liberal Arts at Minneapolis College of Art and Design. In 2021, Haakenson published the monograph Grotesque Visions: The Science of Berlin Dada, which examines the radical avant-garde interventions of certain Berlin Dada artists as they challenged the questionable practices and evidentiary claims of late-19th- and early-20th-century science. His current book projects include the monograph Decolonizing the European Avant-Garde, as well as a collaborative project and series of publications with the title Dada Studies as Countercultural Practice with Brett M. Van Hoesen (University of Nevada Reno) and Kathryn Floyd (Auburn University).

Whitney Morris-Lange

Indiana Youth Group (IYG)

After more than a decade of teaching in Berlin, Germany, Whitney Morris-Lange made the decision to return to her hometown of Indianapolis in October 2021, to champion LGBTQ+ causes in the Midwest. Despite her roots in education, she embraced her passion for activism. Her diverse experiences in education, social work, and leadership forged a spirit essential for this new path, and her appreciation for progress propelled her forward. In January 2022, she eagerly embraced the opportunity to volunteer at Indiana Youth Group (IYG), the nation’s oldest continually operating LGBTQ+ youth center. There, she found herself captivated by IYG’s mission to empower young individuals, eagerly anticipating the perfect opportunity to formally join the team. Since October 2022 Whitney has been working as IYG’s Donor Relations Manager.

Wilfredo Hernandez

Communitas Arts + Culture, LLC

Wilfredo Hernandez is a cultural producer, interdisciplinary artist and consultant with over 20 years of experience in nonprofit arts leadership and producing. He is the Founder/CEO of Communitas Arts + Culture, LLC, as well as the Founder/Executive Producing Director of the Drag Arts Oral History Project, a new multimedia social impact project that documents the lived experiences, artistry and histories of drag artists in Philadelphia and beyond. He recently served as Interim Executive Director of CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia and has worked/consulted with many notable organizations, including: the Institute for Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Latino Arts & Film Festival, the Independence Public Media Foundation, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, etc.

Wilfredo holds a Masters of Arts in producing & directing theatre from New York University, completed the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office on LGBT Affairs’ LGBTQ Leadership Program and serves on the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.

Zana Çobanoğlu

Free University of Berlin

Zana Çobanoğlu is currently completing his degree in veterinary science at the Free University of Berlin. While working at the veterinary department of the Free University during his studies, he also actively participated in local initiatives and advocacy campaigns that focus on raising awareness on socio-political issues and fostering understanding amongst diverse communities. Mr. Çobanoğlu is one of the hosts of the digital education format ‘erklär mir mal' and an assistant manager at the initiative 'Barrierefrei Feiern'.

Following their trip to Florida, the AGI project group “Building LGBTQ+ Communities in Germany and the United States: Past, Present, and Future” convened in Cologne, Germany, in April 2024. Through discussions and site visits, the group learned about the resources for LGBTQ+ people and families, businesses, and the wider community in Cologne. This Story Map, written by the participants in the project, shares the group’s impressions from meeting with LGBTQ+ civil rights, religious, and support organizations. Archives and museums show the importance of documenting LGBTQ+ history as LGBTQ+ politicians work to build a more inclusive future.

View StoryMap

The project “Building LGBTQ+ Communities in Germany and the United States: Past, Present, and Future” is generously funded by the Transatlantik-Programm der Bundesrepublik Deutschland aus Mitteln des European Recovery Program (ERP) des Bundesministeriums für Wirtschaft und Klimaschutz(BMWK) (Transatlantic Program of the Federal Republic of Germany with Funds through the European Recovery Program (ERP) of the Federal Ministry for Economics and Climate Action (BMWK)).

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.