Legacy Of The Pink Triangle - Sam Lowry

Prisoners wearing pink triangles on their uniforms are marched outdoors by Nazi

From the Nazis' concentration camps to the streets of London today, lesbians and gay men have been a target of fascist attacks. Sam Lowry examines this history of persecution.

From issue 2 of Anti-Fascist Action's Fighting Talk magazine, 1992.

Submitted by Fozzie on February 4, 2019

One evening in Croydon two men were walking home together. One had his arm affectionately around the other. As they reached the British Rail station concourse they were set upon by six skinheads. It was 23 April - St Georges Day - and unwittingly they had just walked past a pub full of National Front members.

Pedestrians and travellers stood by and watched as the two "dirty queers" were kicked and beaten to the ground, while the skins screamed abuse. Only the ticket collector went to help them, bundling them both into his booth and summoning the police.

Later in casualty they were subjected to more homophobic abuse, this time from fellow patients, when one tried to comfort the other. The increased level of racist violence in Welling after the opening of the British National Party's headquarters there, the grave situation for black people on estates in Bermondsey and Tower Hamlets, are often pointed to by anti-fascists. But in each of these areas alongside the growth of race attacks there is also a rise in "queerbashing".

Queerbashing is less easy to produce statistics for even than race attacks but there are thousands of anti-gay attacks each year, often resulting in serious injury and even death. However, normally the victim will try and avoid any publicity or contact with the police.

But isn't the BNP and NF's anti-gay bigotry just a more extreme version of the prejudice to be found in so much else of society? Yes, at one level it is. But where does that prejudice come from, what is its cause? It is born out of a social system - capitalism - which has always, to a greater or lesser degree, discriminated against homosexuals. For the bosses homosexuality challenges the way they like to maintain social control of society and reproduce the workforce which they exploit. The family is used as a way of breaking up the working class into small units.

Feeding, clothing and caring for the existing workforce and preparing the next generation for the same fate is done within the family by the workers themselves (mainly women), not the bosses. And all the time the politicians, media and the church feed us "moral" arguments to justify this set up.

Lesbians and gays rock the boat. They show that relationships can be about more than simply having kids and bringing them up. This is a problem for the bosses and in times of economic and political crisis, they promote "family values" in order to help stabilise the situation. The fascists have always understood the importance of the family in maintaining capitalism. They glorify motherhood and fertility and like to paint man as the dominant fighter and worker for the "super-race". As one Nazi propagandist said in the 1930s:

"In the ideology of National Socialism there is no room for the political woman ... [Our] movement places woman in her natural sphere of the family and stresses her duties as wife and mother. The political woman, that post-war creature, who rarely 'cut a good figure' in parliamentary debates, represents the denigration of women. The German uprising is a male phenomenon."

Or as another put it more succinctly, "Woman... her duty the recreation of the tired warrior". The British Third Position slogan "Faith, Family, nation" echoes the old Hitlerite "Kirche, Kuche and Kinder" (Church, Kitchen and Children). So it is no surprise that one the first groups targeted by the Nazis once they had achieved power in 1933 were male homosexuals (they regarded lesbianism as an irrelevance).
In 1928 the Nazis had issued a statement declaring:

"Those who are considering love between men or between women are our enemies. Anything that emasculates our people and that makes us fair game for our enemies we reject, because we know that life is a struggle and that it is insanity to believe that all human beings will one day embrace each other as brothers."

Right from the beginning of Hitler's regime a conviction for a homosexual offence guaranteed a trip to a concentration camp. The anti-gay legislation already in place - Paragraph 175 of the German penal code - was quickly added to and the criminal police set up a special deportment, the Reichs-Centre for the Fight Against Homosexuality and Abortion. The name alone illustrates the link in Nazi thinking between homophobia and the question of reproduction. A kiss, even eye contact, became a felony and once a pink triangle was stitched onto his prison uniform a gay man's prospects were bleak indeed. As one historian put it:

“Inside the concentration camp, mere suspicion was enough to label a prisoner as homosexual and thus expose him to denigration, general suspicion and special dangers."

No-one inside a camp would assist a gay prisoner, no one outside would dare contact or visit one. They were generally considered to be in the lowest category — "asocials" — below political prisoners and criminals, and were subjected to gruelling physical labour and the murderous brutality of the guards.

Four-fifths of the "pink triangles" died within a year of being sent to a camp. We don't know how many gay prisoners there were in total — probably about 10,000, maybe as many as 15,000. This is a small number compared to the horrific slaughter of the Jews of Europe, but their systematic persecution and suffering is still a hideous crime by any standards, and one often left out of accounts of the camps.

Britain, the USA and the Soviet Union, the countries which liberated the few survivors, all regarded homosexuality as a criminal offence too, and it would continue to be one in both East and West Germany for another twenty years. As a consequence no surviving homosexual prisoner received compensation for the war crimes committed against them. The left has had a very poor record of support for the rights of lesbians and gay men in recent times. Ironically, one of the reasons for this is that gay-baiting was considered a handy propaganda weapon against the Nazis in Germany and elsewhere by both social democrats and Stalinists.

It was an open secret that a number of key Nazis, such as Roehm and other leaders of the SA, were homosexual (many of them perished during the Night of the Long Knives, 30 June 1934). The Stalinists, in particular, who by then idealised the family and motherhood, had re-criminalised homosexuality in the Soviet Union in 1934. They tried to score cheap points against the fascists in this way. As the Stalinist Maxim Gorkii said at the time:

"In the fascist countries homosexuality, which ruins the youth, flourishes without punishment; in every country where the proletariat has audaciously achieved social power homosexuality has been declared a social crime and is heavily punished."

This was in complete contrast to early statements by Soviet sexologists such as Doctor Grigorii Batkis, who codified the Bolsheviks' approach to homosexuality in 1923:

"Concerning homosexuality, sodomy, and various other forms of sexual gratification, which are set down in European legislation as offences against public morality — Soviet legislation treats these exactly the same as so-called 'natural' intercourse. All forms of sexual intercourse are private matters."

The fact that the labour movement in Germany had fought unreservedly against Paragraph 175 since the 1860s is now largely forgotten. In Britain the old Stalinist position that homosexuality is a deviation caused by capitalism was held by many in the labour movement until the birth of groups such as the Gay Liberation Front in the 1970s, and by some until much later.

Many lesbian and gay activists are taking a stand against fascism. Some have been actively involved in supporting Anti-Fascist Action in recent months. The London based group OutRage! had a stall at the Unity Carnival, members at the Brick Lane picket and a banner on the 10 November demonstration in the East End. They had a large and militant contingent at the picket of Le Pen outside Charring Cross Hotel too and are now affiliated to London AFA.

However, there are some who see anti-fascism as an issue for the "straight left", not for them. We can and must convince them that they are wrong. We must encourage those who do support us to get more involved. And we must not forget that AFA has lesbian and gay members already, though they may not all be open about their sexuality. Amongst other things this means we must not tolerate homophobia, not only queerbashing by fascist thugs, but the "everyday" prejudice found in a hospital waiting room too.

On the October picket of the BNP's Brick Lane paper sale an anti-fascist started shouting anti-gay abuse at Tyndall and his goons. One gay member of AFA said afterwards that despite being angry at this he did not have the confidence to challenge it there. The individual was challenged (by a gay man) and stopped shouting this rubbish. Clearly AFA cannot and should not vet every person who attends its events to see if they are pro- or anti-gay. All anti-fascists are welcome to take part in our activities.

But all AFA members have a duty to lesbian and gay anti-fascists not to tolerate open, homophobic behaviour. That means straight comrades taking it up if it occurs. AFA is committed to taking this fight seriously. By clearly standing against all the bigotry and lies spread by the fascists we can swell the ranks of anti-fascists with new layers of militants. We urge lesbians and gay men who are against fascism to fight alongside us and we commit ourselves to help them in this way towards liberation.