During most of the 1970s and 80s, the dominant symbol of gay and lesbian activism was the pink triangle. To many outside the movement it seemed an odd choice – pink was obvious, it was a sissy colour for a sissy people. But a triangle? It was, it was true, an inverted triangle – maybe that was the point?
In fact, the symbol had not been invented by the movement, but adopted. The pink triangle came from the German concentration camps of the 1930s. Just as the Nazis had employed the much more famous yellow star to identify Jews, so, too, a range of other groups of ‘undesirables’ were rounded up, imprisoned and marked out by very visible signs.
Communists wore red, criminals green, Jehovah’s Witnesses violet, people with physical or mental disabilities black and so on.
In the 1970s, the gay and lesbian movement around the world turned its attention to unearthing our past and discovered this hitherto forgotten part of the Nazi experience. Unlike other groups who had received compensation and even (aghast!) apologies from post-Nazi Germany, homosexuals, as ‘ordinary criminals’, had not. Indeed, Hitler’s harsh anti-homosexual laws remained on the books in West Germany well into the 1970s.
Adopting the pink triangle was an act of defiance directed against those who believed that homosexuals were criminals and legitimately targeted by fascism, and a warning to gay people everywhere of what homophobic ideas could turn into if not challenged.
Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives