Can servicewomen and men search for sexual partners on Tinder? The Federal Administrative Court sees limits here and last week approved a disciplinary measure imposed on Bundeswehr soldier Anastasia Biefang because of her Tinder profile.

Biefang, the first transgender commander in the German army, was warned in 2019 for her profile on the dating app Tinder. Her first name and a short text could be read in her profile: “Spontaneous, lustful, trans*, open relationship looking for sex. All genders welcome.”

This creates the impression that Biefang “reduces herself and her sexual partners to pure sex objects,” according to the Federal Administrative Court in a press release on the verdict. There are “doubts about their moral integrity”. The court therefore approved the disciplinary measure, although it emphasizes the right to sexual self-determination enshrined in the Basic Law – and, according to the court, this also allows “promiscuous sexual behavior”.

Nonetheless, as a soldier in a senior position, Biefang must ensure that her demeanor does not give “the false impression of a random sex life and a serious lack of integrity of character.”

“It seems as if outdated moral concepts are being enforced through the back door if the action is accepted, but making it public is punished,” says Stefanie Deinet, professor of personnel law at the Berlin School of Economics and Law, WELT. “Private life is fundamentally covered by the general right of personality,” emphasizes the expert on civil service law. “It’s up to everyone how he or she wants to be free and diverse or shape their sex life, which of course also applies to soldiers and civil servants.”

Biefang herself sees in the judgment of the Federal Administrative Court a “sexual understanding from the 50s”, as she told the “Stern”. The Bundeswehr must “understand and accept that there are other life plans,” said Biefang.

According to the Federal Administrative Court, Biefang’s behavior conflicts with the Soldiers’ Act, which also stipulates behavior outside of service that corresponds to the “reputation of the Bundeswehr”. Deint takes a critical view of this.

“If something is covered by the Basic Law, I ask myself: why can’t I deal with it openly?”, Deint says. The so-called duty of conduct prescribes, for example, civil servants and soldiers also off-duty behavior that does not damage the reputation of their profession. But in the case of legitimate sexual behavior that does not cause harm to other people, the punishment with a disciplinary measure is “not consistent,” Deint said.

QueerBW, an advocacy group for queer members of the Bundeswehr, on whose board Biefang is, is now sounding the alarm. The association would receive many letters from insecure servicewomen and men who are now deleting their dating app profiles for fear of discrimination and the consequences.

Does this judgment actually have a great impact? “I don’t see this as a problem for soldiers with a low rank, since it is obviously about the prominent position of those affected,” says expert Deinet, also with regard to the mild means of reprimand. “From the point of view of those affected, I can of course understand the uncertainty.”

Does the problem of restricting personal freedoms outside of work also exist in other areas, such as the police? WELT asked all interior ministries whether the police had already taken disciplinary measures due to the use of dating apps. According to this, in no federal state has this happened due to the use of dating apps. “There are no such rules for the division of the federal police,” emphasizes the Federal Ministry of the Interior when asked by WELT.

In several federal states there are at least guidelines on the use of social media for police officers. In the handout from the Saarland police, for example, only respectful and exemplary statements are recommended. In addition, sharing and commenting on posts with “racist, sexist, violent or pornographic content” is considered “unacceptable”. Before each post, one should ask oneself whether the content could later be “embarrassing”, damage the police’s reputation or cause problems in police work.

The police in North Rhine-Westphalia also advises separating personal and professional life in social media and emphasizes the duty of good conduct. Discrimination should be opposed. It is also emphasized that content on the Internet can no longer be deleted and that this should always be considered. “The web never forgets,” they say.

Nevertheless: “The basic use of dating portals is entirely at private discretion,” according to the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Interior. Only a separation of job and private person on the Internet is important, it is said. In individual cases, the use of dating apps can potentially conflict with the duty of good conduct “if the officers have left the private sphere” and can be recognized as police officers, according to a spokesman for the Hamburg police.

The Ministry of the Interior of Lower Saxony also reminds police officers of “duties under civil service law, such as the duty of loyalty to the constitution, the duty of confidentiality, the duty of party-political neutrality and the duty of moderation and restraint”. Here, too, there are no specific instructions for dating portals, as a spokeswoman tells WELT.

In many places there are contact persons for LGBTQ issues and discrimination, such as in Saxony-Anhalt. This has been in place in Hamburg since 1996. “We see ourselves as a colorful and modern metropolitan police force that is very open to sexual and gender diversity and different life plans.”

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