Thursday, October 28, 2010

That's So Gay: The Pink Triangle

I hate it when people use the phrase "That's so gay" in a negative way. It's usually used to describe something tacky or tasteless. I've decided to take the phrase back and make it positive. This is the second in a series of posts I am doing about all things gay.

The Pink Triangle

The story behind the pink triangle begins prior to World War II. Paragraph 175, a clause in German law, prohibited homosexual relations. In 1935, during Hitler's rise to power, he extended this law to include homosexual kissing, embracing, and even having homosexual fantasies. An estimated 25,000 people were convicted under this law between 1937 and 1939 alone. They were sent to prisons and later concentration camps. Their sentence also included sterilization, most commonly in the form of castration. In 1942, Hitler extended the punishment for homosexuality to death.

Prisoners in Nazi concentration camps were labeled according to their crimes by inverted colored triangles. "Regular" criminals were denoted by a green triangle, political prisoners by red triangles and Jews by two overlapping yellow triangles (to form the Star of David, the most common Jewish symbol). Homosexual prisoners were labels with pink triangles. Gay Jews- the lowest form of prisoner- had overlapping yellow and pink triangles. This system also created a social hierarchy among the prisoners, and it has been reported that the pink triangle prisoners often received the worst workloads and were continually harassed and beaten by both guards and other prisoners.

Although homosexual prisoners were not shipped en mass to the Auschwitz death camps like so many of the Jewish prisoners, there were still large numbers of gay men executed there along with other non-Jewish prisoners. The real tragedy though occurred after the war. When the Allies defeated the Germany and the Nazi Regime, the political and remaining Jewish prisoners were released from the camps (the regular criminals- murderers, rapists, etc.- were not released for obvious reasons). The homosexual prisoners were never released though because Paragraph 175 remained West German law until 1969. So these innocent men watched as their fellow prisoners were set free, but remained prisoners for 24 more years.

In the 1970s, the pink triangle started to be used in conjunction with the gay liberation movement. When people, especially public figures such as law makers, were confronted with such a symbol, they risked being associated with the Nazis if he or she were to attempt to openly limit or prosecute gays. In the 1980s, when the triangle's popularity truly began to take off, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) adopted  it as their symbol, but turned it upright to suggest an active fight rather than passive resignation. I've also been told that some people wear their triangles pointing up if they personally know somebody who has tied of AIDS. In any case, the pink triangle is definitely a symbol very closely connected to oppression and the fight against it, and stands as a vow never to let another Holocaust happen again. Like the word "queer," it is a symbol of hate which has been reclaimed and now stands for pride.(Information taken from

Bob Out


Bob said...

I'm glad you're posting these. i did a similar post during LGBT History Month last year, but I think we all need to remember where we came from, and what we endured, and keep passing the message to the next generation.

R.J. said...

Thank you for posting this. I knew it was used during WWII but I didn't know homosexual prisoners were still incarcerated well after the war was over.

Anonymous said...

Wow, this was very informative, thanx for posting...I had no clue.

Wonder Man said...

Very helpful post, indeed

robertga99 said...

Thanks, Everyone!
I started these because I really didn't have that much knowledge about LGBT history but really wanted to educate myself. I've learned a lot already and just had to pass on the info. Glad you guys find it informative too.

Little Miss Sunshine State said...

Your post should be required reading for the right-wing nutjobs.
They haven't bothered to learn the history and struggles that came with restricting the rights of human beings.