Pink Triangle. Image: Christopher Kelly

What Is The Pink Triangle?

Warning: contains distressing content

The pink triangle represents the agonizing struggle for freedom during a time of unfathomable evil. Also known as the Holocaust.

Indeed, antisemitism has become so synonymous with the concentration camps of Nazi Germany that we forget the other outcasts who stood (and died) alongside them. The gypsies, the political prisoners, the immigrants, the Mormons, the anti-socials… They each had their own coloured triangle; a badge that marked their dishonour.

For the Jews, they were branded with two triangles that formed the Star of David. It would be coloured yellow unless they were also part of one of the other minorities.

And then there were the homosexuals, branded with a bright pink triangle for all to know. They were predominately gay men – which is perhaps why pink became socially branded as a girl’s colour around the same time.

Surviving Oppression

The gay prisoners were considered prime targets by the guards. But even their fellow inmates despised them, scolding them for the indecency of preferring the same sex. The gays would have been more alone than the rest of their fellow prisoners. And as groups, they lacked the support network that other unions in the camps had.

So their only chance at survival was finding ways to fit in.

According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum: “Some homosexual inmates secured administrative and clerical jobs. For other prisoners, sexuality became a means of survival.”

These particular gay inmates would perform sexual favours in return for protection and extra rations. Usually, they were younger gay men. They would offer themselves to other inmates who had extra authority from the guards. And too often they would grow bored of their sex slave, and sometimes they’d kill them before finding their next victim.

But the quickest and cruellest way to survive was allowing the guards to castrate them.

Rebranding A Symbol Of Evil

Three decades passed and within them, the true horrors of the Nazi concentration camps came to light. But it wasn’t until the 1970s when the world began to hear about the gay prisoners. Their atrocities became abundantly clear when former prisoner Heinz Heger recounted his personal story in his harrowing memoir, The Men With The Pink Triangle.

It was also around this time when the gay liberation movement blossomed around the world. All the collectives aimed for stronger awareness of homosexuality within society. And thanks to Heinz Heger’s harrowing testimony about the pink triangle, a particular gay liberation group in West Germany would rebrand history.

The Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (Gay Action Group of West Berlin) challenged the norm by outing themselves with pink triangles. They’d don it on their lapel like a badge of honour. It was their way of bringing visibility to their cause while remembering the horrendous acts of cruelty towards gay inmates during the Holocaust. This also solidified the memory of the triangular symbols all the inmates wore, regardless of colour.

Thanks to their acts of bravery, the pink triangle grew from a mere fad to a global protest. The power of the symbol spread to the US, in the demonstrations of gay pride – from New York to the Castro District of San Francisco. And by the end of the decade, the pink triangle had become synonymous with nearly every gay movement across the globe.

And it’s power is still shared today.

Stealing Power From The Haters

Gay protest. Image: Laura Jaugey via Unsplash
Gay protest. Image: Laura Jaugey via Unsplash

The pink triangle has transformed from a symbol of oppression to an emblem of solidarity within gay communities across the world. Its mark represents an era of fallen gay comrades, which drives the collective objective that we must never let it happen again.

It also represents the newfound power of the gay community.

When you stand proud against those who degrade you, their power is lost. When you reclaim the verbal and symbolic abuse, they can’t hurt you. Their words, their symbols, their hate means nothing anymore.

Indeed, you will never rid the world of evil. But you can steal its power.

All you have to do is show your true colours.