One day in June 2013, members of the board of the German football club St Pauli found they had an unused flag pole atop their stadium. Of the three poles, one flew the club’s name in brown and white, one had flown the word Kiezhelden—referring to the club’s neighbourhood social projects—but a third, which flew a flag of one of the sponsors, had just been vacated.
So the board members approached Dirk Bruellau, the president of Queerpass St Pauli, a gay and lesbian fan club of the team. “Maybe you are interested, they asked me,” Bruellau recalled. So Queerpass installed the stadium’s first rainbow flag—a symbol that has, across the world, become synonymous with queer pride. Since 2013, the flag has been flying at the Millerntor Stadium, the team’s home base, in the heart of Hamburg and down the road from the Reeperbahn, the country’s most famous red-light district.
“As a gay person, if you see that, it makes you think, this place is safe for me,” Bruellau, a thin man in spectacles and a black “Sankt Pauli” T-shirt, told me in May. “It also means you can get more gay fans who might otherwise be discouraged by the homophobia in football.”