Jump to content

Pink triangle

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A pink triangle in the original Nazi orientation

A pink triangle has been a symbol for the LGBT community, initially intended as a badge of shame, but later reappropriated as a positive symbol of self-identity. In Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, it began as one of the Nazi concentration camp badges, distinguishing those imprisoned because they had been identified by authorities as gay men or trans women.[1][2] In the 1970s, it was revived as a symbol of protest against homophobia, and has since been adopted by the larger LGBT community as a popular symbol of LGBT pride and the LGBT movements and queer liberation movements.[3][4]


Nazi prisoner identification[edit]

In Nazi concentration camps, each prisoner was required to wear a downward-pointing, equilateral triangular cloth badge on their chest, the color of which identified the stated reason for their imprisonment.[5] Early on, prisoners perceived as gay men were variously identified with a green triangle (indicating criminals) or red triangle (political prisoners), the number 175 (referring to Paragraph 175, the section of the German penal code criminalizing homosexual activity), or the letter A (which stood for Arschficker, literally "arse fucker").[6]

Later, the use of a pink triangle was established for prisoners identified as homosexual men and transgender women. (Lesbian and bisexual women and trans men were not systematically imprisoned; some were classified as "asocial", wearing a black triangle.)[7][8] The pink triangle was also assigned to others considered sexual deviants, including zoophiles and pedophiles[3] in addition to sex offenders. If a prisoner was also identified as Jewish, the triangle was superimposed over a second yellow triangle pointing the opposite way, to resemble the Star of David like the yellow badge identifying other Jews. Prisoners wearing a pink triangle were harshly treated by most other prisoners.[3]

After the camps were liberated at the end of the Second World War, some of the prisoners imprisoned for homosexuality were re-incarcerated by the Allied-established Federal Republic of Germany, as the Nazi laws against homosexuality were not repealed there until 1969.[9][10] An out homosexual man named Heinz Dörmer, for instance, served in a Nazi concentration camp and then in the jails of the new Republic. The Nazi amendments to Paragraph 175, which turned homosexuality, previously labeled as a minor offense, into a felony, remained intact in East Germany until 1968[11] and in West Germany until 1969.[12] West Germany continued to imprison those identified as homosexual until 1994 under a revised version of the Paragraph, which still made sex between men up to the age of 21—as well as queer male sex work—illegal.[13][14] While many, though not all, lawsuits seeking monetary compensation have failed, in 2002 the German government issued an official apology to gay men who were persecuted during the war.[15]

Rudolf Brazda, one of the last known homosexual concentration camp survivors, died on August 3, 2011, at the age of 98.[16]

Symbol of LGBTQ+ liberation[edit]

An ACT UP member displaying the organization's trademark protest sign with an inverted, upward-pointing pink triangle.

In the 1970s, newly active Australian, European and North American queer liberation advocates began to use the pink triangle to raise awareness of its use in Nazi Germany.[17] In 1972, gay concentration camp survivor Heinz Heger's memoir Die Männer mit dem rosa Winkel (The Men with the Pink Triangle) brought it to greater public attention.[18] In response, the German gay liberation group Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin issued a call in 1973 for gay men to wear it as a memorial to past victims and to protest continuing discrimination.[19][20] In the 1975 movie The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Dr. Frank N. Furter—a bisexual transvestite[21][22]—wears a pink triangle badge on one of his outfits.[23] In 1976, Peter Recht, Detlef Stoffel, and Christiane Schmerl made the German documentary Rosa Winkel? Das ist doch schon lange vorbei... (Pink Triangle? That was such a long time ago...).[19] Publications such as San Francisco's Gay Sunshine and Toronto's The Body Politic promoted the pink triangle as a memorial to those who had faced persecution and oppression.[19]

In the 1980s, the pink triangle was increasingly used not just as a memorial but as a positive symbol of both self-identity and community identity. It commonly represented both gay and lesbian identity, and was incorporated into the logos of such organizations and businesses. It was also used by individuals, sometimes discreetly or ambiguously as an "insider" code unfamiliar to the heterosexual majority.[19] The logo for the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights was a silhouette of the US Capitol Dome superimposed over a pink triangle.[20]

The biangles symbol of bisexuality, designed by artist Liz Nania, features a pink triangle

The design of the biangles symbol of bisexuality began with the pink triangle. The biangles symbol was designed by artist Liz Nania as she co-organized a bisexual contingent for the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987. The addition of a blue triangle to the pink triangle in the biangles symbol contrasts the pink and represents heterosexuality. The two triangles overlap and form lavender, which represents the "queerness of bisexuality", referencing the Lavender Menace and 1980s and 1990s associations of lavender with queerness.[24][25]

Taking a more militant tone, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) was formed by six gay activists in New York City in 1987, and to draw attention to the disease's disproportionate impact on gay and bisexual men, and the apparent role of "genocidal" queer-antagonism in slowing progress on medical research,[26] adopted an upward-pointing pink triangle on a black field along with the slogan "SILENCE = DEATH" as its logo.[27][28][29] Some use the triangle in this orientation as a specific "reversal" of its usage by the Nazis.[30][31][32] The Pink Panthers Movement in Denver, Colorado, adopted a pink triangle with clawed panther print logo, adapted from the original Pink Panthers Patrol in New York City.[citation needed]

In the 1990s, a pink triangle enclosed in a green circle came to be commonly used as a symbol identifying "safe spaces" for LGBTQ+ people at work or in school.[33][34]

Use of the pink triangle symbol is not without criticism. In 1993, historian Klaus Müller argued that "the pink triangles of the concentration camps became an international symbol of gay and lesbian pride because so few of us are haunted by concrete memories of those who were forced to wear them."[35]


The symbol of the pink triangle has been included in numerous public monuments and memorials. In 1980 a jury chose the pink triangle design for the Homomonument in Amsterdam, to memorialize gay and bisexual men killed in the Holocaust (and also victims of anti-gay violence generally).[36] In 1995, after a decade of campaigning for it, a pink triangle plaque was installed at the Dachau Memorial Museum to commemorate the suffering of gay men and lesbians.[37] In 2015 a pink triangle was incorporated into Chicago's Legacy Walk.[38] It is the basis of the design of the Gay and Lesbian Holocaust Memorial in Sydney. In 2001 it inspired both San Francisco's Pink Triangle Park in the Castro and the 1-acre (4,000 m2) Pink Triangle on Twin Peaks that is displayed every year during the Pride weekend.[39] It is also the basis for LGBTQ+ memorials in Barcelona, Sitges, and Montevideo, and the burial component of the LGBTQ+ Pink Dolphin Monument in Galveston.


  1. ^ Plant, Richard (1988). The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals (revised ed.). H. Holt. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-8050-0600-1.
  2. ^ Williams, Cristan. "2008 Houston Transgender Day of Remembrance: Transgenders and Nazi Germany". tgdor.org. Archived from the original on 2008-08-20. Retrieved 2018-08-24.
  3. ^ a b c Shankar, Louis (April 19, 2017). "How the Pink Triangle Became a Symbol of Queer Resistance". HISKIND. Archived from the original on August 22, 2018. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  4. ^ Waxman, Olivia B. (May 31, 2018). "How the Nazi Regime's Pink Triangle Symbol Was Repurposed for LGBTQ Pride". TIME. Archived from the original on 9 October 2022. Retrieved August 22, 2018.
  5. ^ "Homosexual Prisoners · The Era of the Holocaust ·". libapp.shadygrove.umd.edu. Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  6. ^ "Homosexuals in Nazi Germany - Collections Search - United States Holocaust Memorial Museum". collections.ushmm.org. Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  7. ^ "Queer Women and AFAB People During the Holocaust". Making Queer History. Retrieved 2018-08-24.
  8. ^ "Lesbians and the Third Reich". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  9. ^ Arturo Garcia (11 October 2018). "Were Gay Concentration Camp Prisoners 'Put Back in Prison' After World War II?". Snopes.
  10. ^ "Gay Men under the Nazi Regime". encyclopedia.ushmm.org. Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  11. ^ James Kirchick (February 13, 2013). "Documentary Explores Gay Life in East Germany". Der Spiegel.
  12. ^ Clayton J. Whisnant (2012). Male Homosexuality in West Germany: Between Persecution and Freedom, 1945-69. Palgrave Macmillan UK. pp. 201–203. ISBN 9780230355002.
  13. ^ Zowie Davy; Julia Downes; Lena Eckert (2002). Bound and Unbound: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Genders and Sexualities. Cambridge Scholars. pp. 141–142. ISBN 978-1443810852.
  14. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20240520220446/https://www.bpb.de/kurz-knapp/hintergrund-aktuell/180263/1994-homosexualitaet-nicht-mehr-strafbar/
  15. ^ Melissa Eddy (May 18, 2002). "Germany Offers Nazi-Era Pardons". Associated Press.
  16. ^ Langer, Emily (7 August 2011). "Rudolf Brazda dies; gay man who survived Nazi concentration camp was 98". Washington Post. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  17. ^ "Symbols of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Movements". lambda.org. Lambda GLBT Community Services. 2004. Archived from the original on 2004-12-04. Retrieved 2014-09-26.
  18. ^ Jensen, Erik (2002). "The pink triangle and political consciousness: gays, lesbians, and the memory of Nazi persecution". Journal of the History of Sexuality. 11 (1 and 2): 319–349. doi:10.1353/sex.2002.0008. S2CID 142580540.
  19. ^ a b c d Gianoulis, Tina (2004). Claude J. Summers (ed.). "Pink Triangle". glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Archived from the original on 2014-10-25. Retrieved 2014-09-26. In the early 1970s, gay rights organizations in Germany and the United States launched campaigns to reclaim the pink triangle. In 1973 the German gay liberation group Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (HAW) called upon gay men to wear the pink triangle as a memorial.
  20. ^ a b "Pink Triangle Legacies: Holocaust Memory and International Gay Rights Activism". Nursing Clio. 2017-04-20. Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  21. ^ Tribune, Andrew S. Hughes South Bend. "Sexuality, doo-wop major themes in 'The Rocky Horror Show'". South Bend Tribune. Retrieved 2018-08-26.
  22. ^ "The Astonishingly Non-Nonsensical Plot of The Rocky Horror Picture Show". Tor.com. 2012-10-31. Retrieved 2018-08-26.
  23. ^ Nash, Tara (2017-11-30). "Rated "R" for Resistance". Queerer Things. Retrieved 2018-08-24.
  24. ^ "Biangles, bisexual symbol, bi colors, bi history — Liz Nania". Liz Nania. Retrieved 2022-06-26.
  25. ^ Jordahn, Sebastian (2019-10-23). "Queer x Design highlights 50 years of LGBT+ graphic design". Dezeen. Retrieved 2021-06-12.
  26. ^ Sember, Robert; Gere, David (June 2006). "'Let the Record Show…': Art Activism and the AIDS Epidemic". American Journal of Public Health. 96 (6): 967–969. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2006.089219. ISSN 0090-0036. PMC 1470625. PMID 16670207.
  27. ^ Feldman, Douglas A. and Judith Wang Miller (1998). The AIDS Crisis: A Documentary History. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 0-313-28715-5. p. 176
  28. ^ "SILENCE = DEATH". www.actupny.org. Archived from the original on 2009-09-07. Retrieved 2016-05-07.
  29. ^ "How the Pink Triangle Became a Symbol of Queer Resistance". HISKIND Magazine. 2017-04-19. Retrieved 2018-08-27.
  30. ^ "San Francisco Neighborhoods: The Castro" KQED documentary.
  31. ^ "This week in history: Recognizing the history of the pink triangle". People's World. PeoplesWorld.org. 2017-06-20. Retrieved 27 April 2018.
  32. ^ Elman, R. Amy (1996). "Triangles and Tribulations". Journal of Homosexuality. 30 (3): 1–11. doi:10.1300/J082v30n03_01. PMID 8743114.
  33. ^ "Safe Space – EQUAL!". equal.org. Retrieved 2018-08-24.
  34. ^ Raeburn, Nicole C. (2004). Changing Corporate America from Inside Out: Lesbian and Gay Workplace Rights. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-8166-3999-1.
  35. ^ Seifert, Dorthe (2003). "Between Silence and License: The Representation of the National Socialist Persecution of Homosexuality in Anglo-American Fiction and Film". History & Memory. 15 (2): 94–129. doi:10.1353/ham.2003.0012. ISSN 1527-1994. S2CID 159598928.
  36. ^ Martin Dunford (2010). The Rough Guide to The Netherlands. Penguin. p. 73. ISBN 978-1-84836-882-8.
  37. ^ Brocklebank, Christopher (31 May 2011). "New memorial to gay holocaust victims to be built in Munich". Pink News. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  38. ^ "Legacy Walk unveils five new bronze memorial plaques - 2342 - Gay Lesbian Bi Trans News - Windy City Times". 14 October 2015.
  39. ^ "The Pink Triangle, displayed annually on Twin Peaks in San Francisco during Pride weekend". Thepinktriangle.com. 2012-06-14. Retrieved 2013-02-12.

Further reading[edit]

  • Newsome, W. Jake (2022). Pink Triangle Legacies: Coming Out in the Shadow of the Holocaust. Cornell University Press. ISBN 978-1-5017-6549-0.
  • Tremblay, Sébastien (2022). "Visual Collective Memories of National Socialism: Transatlantic HIV/AIDS Activism and Discourses of Persecutions". German History. 40 (4): 563–582. doi:10.1093/gerhis/ghac045.