The Book

2022-09-15T12:00:00

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Pink Triangle Legacies Release!


Dr. Jake Newsome’s forthcoming book Pink Triangle Legacies: Coming Out in the Shadow of the Holocaust (Cornell University Press, 2022) will be the first to tell the history of one of the most recognizable symbols of the modern LGBTQ+ community: the pink triangle. To chart this incredible story that spans continents and decades, Newsome has mined rare archival material in Germany and the United States. He also conducted nearly 30 original interviews to learn how the pink triangle resonated with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences as gay, bi, lesbian, non-binary, cisgender, transgender, white, and persons of color. This range of sources allows Pink Triangle Legacies to showcase queer voices from the archives and in their own words.

Pink Triangle Legacies traces the transformation of the pink triangle from a Nazi concentration camp badge into a symbol of queer activism, pride, and community. After providing an overview of the Nazis’ violence against LGBTQ+ people, this book details queer survivors’ fraught and ongoing fight for the acknowledgment and compensation of the Nazis’ LGBTQ+ victims. While gay survivors sought to tell their stories, the West German government continued to enforce the Nazi Version of Paragraph 175, the national anti-gay law, for decades. In combination with widespread homophobia amongst the general public, this law created a closet in which queer West Germans had to hide their sexuality as well as their memories of persecution during the era of the Holocaust.

Within this context, a new generation of gay activists used the pink triangle – a reminder of Germany’s fascist past – as the visual marker of gay liberation, seeking to end the practice of second-class citizenship by asserting they had the right to come out and express their queer identity openly. In linking the pink triangle to coming out, memories of the Nazi past became integral to a new, politicized, and international gay identity beginning in the 1970s.

Shortly after the pink triangle appeared in West German gay activism, gay activists in the United States began using it. In doing so, they also adopted a chapter of German history as their own. By charting the transference of these histories back and forth across the Atlantic, Newsome’s book demonstrates how these “pink triangle memories” helped establish common historical roots that LGBTQ+ people on both sides of the Atlantic could feel connected to. This sense of shared historical roots helped lay the foundations for a modern, international gay identity.

Pink Triangle Legacies also illustrates the decades-long struggles to commemorate and then memorialize the Nazis’ LGBTQ+ victims. rightfully showcases the hard-won success stories in which gay communities forced mainstream society to acknowledge and memorialize gay suffering in the past and present. However, the book also demonstrates how these successes were not equally enjoyed by all in the LGBTQ+ community. The politics of memory ultimately led to a focus on remembering gay men and the continued marginalization of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people from the historical memory.  

The mainstream historical profession ignored the fate of queer people in Nazi Germany. So LGBTQ communities in Germany & the US utilized various modes of storytelling, including journalism, novels, & stage plays, to piece together an understanding of their past. Pink Triangle Legacies demonstrates that if a marginalized community wants a history that liberates them from the confines of silence, they must often write it themselves.