Taken partially from Cassandra Wehrhahn (they/them/their), a reporter/photographer for the Neepawa Banner & Press
Valentine’s Day is a day of love. For others, Feb. 14 is also a day of remembrance — Pink Triangle Day. To understand what this day means, one must journey back 80 years, when the pink triangle was a symbol used in the imprisonment of LGBT+ individuals during the Holocaust.
The symbol’s transformation, from one of oppression to one of inclusion, is a testament to decades of work by those in the LGBT+ community. According to the Jewish Virtual Library (JVL), there was a significant LGBT+ rights movement in Germany near the end of the First World War under the leadership of Magnus Hirschfeld and his organization, the Scientific Humanitarian Committee. The primary goal of the movement was to repeal the law known as Paragraph 175 (established in 1871), which criminalized homosexuality in Germany.
Though the law was not repealed, a climate perceived to be slightly more sympathetic allowed LGBT+ meeting places to be established, books, articles and films published and released and such topics could be more openly discussed. It was short lived— in the mid-1920s, the government attempted to counteract this social change by enforcing anti-LGBT+ laws more enthusiastically and passing more restrictive legislation. At this time, the Nazi Party also asserted its anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT+ view that Jewish people were leading a movement to undermine the morality of the German people.
In 1933, the Nazis officially took power in Germany. A purge of LGBT+ meeting spaces, publications and organized groups began in late February of that year. Groups were banned, meeting spaces raided and shut down and Paragraph 175 (which was expanded in 1935) was enforced with a new strictness and vigour. With the establishment of the Dachau concentration camp in March, the Nazis began imprisoning people in camps and categorizing them using various badges.
These badges allowed the Schutzstaffel (SS), to easily identify a person’s alleged grounds for incarceration. Gay men, and those the Nazis mislabelled as such (including bisexual men and transgender women), were made to wear a pink, inverted triangle.
The 1970s saw the LGBT+ community in North America and Western Europe begin to take ownership of the pink triangle. Liberation advocates began to use the symbol in their movements to raise awareness of LGBT+ persecution during the Holocaust, as a memorial and to protest ongoing discrimination.
By the 1980s, the pink triangle saw much wider usage. It was incorporated into memorials, logos and was strengthened as a positive symbol for the community. During this period, the un-inverted pink triangle was officially adopted as a “reversal” of its usage by the Nazis.
By the 1990s, a pink triangle enclosed with a green circle was officially being used as a symbol to identify safe spaces for LGBT+ people, such as general meeting spaces, as well as workplaces and schools. In 1994, Paragraph 175 was finally repealed in Germany. Then, in 1995, following a decade of campaigning, a pink triangle memorial was installed at the Dachau Memorial Museum to commemorate the suffering of LGBT+ Holocaust victims.
Today, the pink triangle is the second most popular symbol of positivity within the LGBT+ community.
Officially established in 1979 by the Canadian Lesbian & Gay Rights Coalition, Pink Triangle Day is observed annually on Feb. 14 by LGBT+ people, groups and human rights advocates — such as the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project —as a day to remember and celebrate. However, it has not been nationally recognized by the Government of Canada.