The pink triangle is a popular and widely recognized symbol for the gay community. The history of the triangle is rooted in the World War II era, and reminds individuals of the tragedies that occurred during that time. Although the Nazi regime targeted many groups for extermination history often does not mention that homosexuals among those groups. The pink triangle is a reminder that homosexuality was persecuted the symbol defies anyone to deny history.
The history of the pink triangle begins before WWII, during Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Paragraph 175, a clause in German law prohibiting homosexual relations, was revised by Hitler in 1935. The revision included kissing, embracing,and gay fantasies as well as sexual acts. Convicted offenders were sent to prison and then later to concentration camps. An estimated 25,000 people were convicted from 1937 to 1939. Homosexual men were viewed as a threat to the state because they would reduce the capacity to wage war and purify the German race. Initially the sentence for this crime was sterilization, usually by castration, but in 1942, the punishment was extended to include death.
Each prisoner in the Nazi concentration camps was labeled with a color-coded geometric figure that identified the reason for incarceration. The designations also served to form a sort of social hierarchy among the prisoners.Criminals were marked with green triangles; political prisoners with red, "asocials" (including Roma, nonconformists, vagrants, and other groups) were marked with black or--in the case of Roma in some camps--brown triangles. Homosexuals were marked with pink triangles and Jehovah's Witnesses with purple ones. Non-German prisoners were also marked with the first letter of the German name for their home country, which was sewn onto their badge. The two triangles forming the Jewish star badge would both be yellow unless the Jewish prisoner was included in one of the other prisoner categories. A Jewish homosexual prisoner, for example, would be identified with a yellow triangle beneath a pink triangle.
The social hierarchy among prisoners:
The green triangle marked its wearer as a regular criminal.
The red triangle denoted a political prisoner and Christian clergy.
The pink triangle was for gay men.
The black triangle was for lesbians, prostitutes, gypsies; women who refused to bear children, "asocials."
The purple triangle was for Jehovah Witnesses.
Two yellow triangles overlapping to form a Star of David designated a Jewish prisoner.
A yellow Star of David under a superimposed pink triangle marked the lowest of all prisoners -- a gay Jew.
Although homosexual were not shipped en masse to the death camps at Auschwitz, a great number of gay men were among the non-Jewish prisoners who were killed there. Stories of the camps suggest that homosexual prisoners were given the worst tasks and labors. Pink triangle prisoners were also a focus of attacks from the guards and even other inmates. Although the total number of the homosexual prisoners is not known, official Nazi estimates are around 10,000. Estimates of the number of gay men killed during the Nazi regime range from 50,000 to twice that figure.
When the Allied forces liberated the Nazi concentration camps, the horrors they discovered shocked the world. The fact that millions of people had been systematically tortured and murdered seemed beyond human capacity for violence and hate. When liberation came in the mid-1940's, most of the survivors were set free. Many homosexuals remained prisoners in the camps or were taken by the U.S. Army to allied prisons, because Paragraph 175 remained law in West Germany until its repeal in 1969.
In the 1970's, gay liberation groups reclaimed the pink triangle as a popular symbol for the gay rights movement. Not only is the symbol easily recognized, but it also draws attention to oppression and persecution. In the 1980's, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) began using the pink triangle for their cause. The triangle was inverted so it pointed up, to signify an active fight back rather than a passive resignation to fate. Today, for many, the pink triangle represents pride, solidarity, and a promise to never allow another Holocaust to happen again.
Like the pink triangle, the black triangle is also rooted in Nazi Germany. Gay women were never attacked in the same way that gay men were persecuted. Although lesbians were not included in the Paragraph 175 prohibition of homosexuality, there is evidence to indicate that the black triangle was used to designate prisoners with anti-social behavior. Accordingly black triangle prisoners included lesbians, prostitutes, women who refused to bear children, female gypsies and women with other "anti-social" traits.There are no estimates of the number of lesbians killed during the Nazi regime.
As the pink triangle is historically a male symbol, the black triangle has similarly been reclaimed by lesbians and feminists as a symbol of pride and solidarity.
It has also been rumored that there was a burgundy triangle, which designated transgendered prisoners, but this has not been confirmed.
In Germany, homosexual acts remained criminal until the late 1960s. Gays convicted under the Nazis were not pardoned until 1998. Nazis were of course by no means alone in their persecution of gays. The infamous Paragraph 175 had been added to the Reich Penal Code in 1871, more than 60 years before Hitler took power. It was just one more advancement in a long line of legislation around the world aimed at punishing homosexuals.
The origin of the bisexual triangles, interlocking pink and blue triangles sometimes referred to as the "biangles," is unknown. The pink triangle seems to be taken from the gay symbol but the Nazis never used a blue triangle. It has been speculated that the blue triangle may have been added to counter balance the pink triangle (pink for girls and blue for boys since bisexuals have attractions to both). The overlapping purple triangle represents an intermediate point between sexual orientations. Other interpretations of this symbol suggest that the pink triangle represents homosexuality and the blue triangle represents heterosexuality. Accordingly the purple over lap is equated with bisexuality. These explanations are of course are anecdotal accounts.
Channel 4.com: http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/H/history/n-s/pink.html
Counseling and Wellness Services at Wright State University: http://www.wright-counseling.com/Safezone/safezonesymbols.htm
Lambda GLBT Community Serivices: http://www.lambda.org/symbols.htm
Queer Marriage: http://www.queermarriage.com/index.php?content=Timeline
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/index.php?ModuleId=10005378&Type=normal+article
Note: The above information was gathered from various resources on the web including some that are now non-existent.