From Persecution to Pride: The Pink Triangle SymbolRoundup
tags: Nazism, LGBTQ history
Jake Newsome is a public scholar of German and American LGBTQ+ history and author of Pink Triangle Legacies: Coming Out in the Shadow of the Holocaust.
Although the year is not yet over, 2022 has already become the worst year on record for anti-LGBTQ legislation. More than 300 bills have been introduced in legislatures across the United States aiming to govern everything from LGBTQ+ participation in sports to bathroom access. These proposed laws also seek to limit discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom and curriculums with what has been deemed “sexually explicit” content.
Censoring information about marginalized communities is nothing new and has enabled the continued oppression and persecution of those communities. Today, as before, the history of the pink triangle — a concentration camp badge turned LGBTQ+ rights symbol — offers important insight into the consequences of historical erasure as well as the importance of writing inclusive histories.
The pink triangle’s origins stem from Germany in the early 1930s. With popular German support, the new Nazi government cast the “homosexual lifestyle” as a threat to the nuclear family, social stability and, thus, national strength. Moreover, the Nazis demonized “homosexuals” as a direct threat to procreation and the rise of an Aryan “master race.”
Between 1933 and 1945, German law enforcement and Nazi organizations arrested more than 100,000 LGBTQ+ people using a range of laws governing “crimes against morality.” Approximately 10,000 queer men and trans women were also sent to concentration camps across Germany. There, they were forced to do hard labor and undergo medical experiments to “cure” them of their “vice.”
The Nazi regime implemented a color-coded system of triangle badges to label concentration camp prisoners. Jews, the Nazis’ primary targets, were forced to wear a yellow triangle. Other prisoner groups each had a colored badge to denote their “crime”: political opponents (red), Jehovah’s Witnesses (purple), Roma (brown), purported “anti-socials” (black) and those deemed habitual criminals (green).
Men marked as “homosexuals” were forced to wear a pink triangle, possibly based on a slang word for men who had sex with men for money: Rosarote (“pinkies” or “rosies”). Queer women were also persecuted, but were classified as “anti-socials” and made to wear a black triangle.