The Pink Triangle, a source of fear, is now the symbol of pride. The Pink Triangle has evolved with time in terms of its significance and representation. Today, you will see people wearing this triangle proudly and boldly, but years back, that wasn’t the case.
During the reign of Nazism, gay men (later trans women and bisexual men) were made to wear an inverted pink triangle, just like how the Jews were made to pin yellow stars. In the late 1800s, a sexual relationship between two men, lawfully coined “unnatural indecency” as mentioned in ‘paragraph 175’ was a serious criminal offense for which one could be jailed. But its execution was irregular. It was almost impossible to convict someone unless they confessed to homosexual intercourse. To supervise this, the police strictly patrolled gay bars and parades. Since homosexuality was considered a “communicable disease”, the law also encouraged scientific research in the field.
However, it was during Hitler’s rise in the 1930s when the magnitude of hate increased tenfold. Hitler encouraged women to give birth to blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryans. But since gay couples couldn’t have kids, he saw them as a threat polluting the German community. Hence, gay bars and clubs were shut down, authorities destroyed the books at a prominent research facility dedicated to the study of sexuality, and homosexual fraternal groups were closed down.
In September 1935, a Nazi version of the 1871 legislation went into force, banning something as basic as males staring at or caressing one another in a sexually suggestive manner and allowing police to prosecute persons even if they had just heard reports that they had been participating in such activity. (However, lesbians were not subject to the same criminal penalties.)
The Gestapo began to keep “pink lists” of anyone who violated the law. At this point, documented evidence was scant, and most and of the information came from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). According to USHMM, from 1933 to 1945, around 100,000 men were arrested for breaching this statute, with almost 50% of them being imprisoned. It is estimated somewhere between 5,000 and 15,000 men were sent to concentration camps for purposes related to their sexual orientation, but the exact number of deaths may never be known.
Some survivors came forward and shared their horrifying stories. Some were castrated, used as rats for experiments for cures to diseases including homosexuality, beaten up ruthlessly, and isolated to avoid spreading homosexuality. Simultaneously, certain Kapos (SS-selected convicts who kept other prisoners in order) are claimed to have demanded sexual favors from prisoners known as “doll boys” in return for additional food or safety from hard labor. The treatment gays received was so bad that some traded their pink triangle for a yellow star.
But even after the war ended, gay people still feared being jailed. In the 70s and 80s, gay liberation movements started to gain momentum in America, and also information about the persecution of gays in Germany came forward. It was in 1977 when for the first time, the pink triangle was seen upright when gay rights activists in Miami pinned it to their clothes, protesting the elimination of a provision that protected LGBT persons from housing discrimination.
When TIME magazine said the emblem was “reminiscent” of Nazi-era yellow stars, a reader wrote in to say they were really comparable, not “reminiscent”, because both the star and the triangle were real objects from the time. “Gay people wear the pink triangle today as a reminder of the past and a pledge that history will not repeat itself,” he continued. Finally, in 1994, paragraph 175 was repealed.
Even though the pink triangle is not as popular as the rainbow flag, it definitely takes a strong stand. It is the epitome of how far we have come.
Written by: Samiksha