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The Black Triangle as a Lesbian and Feminist Symbol

by Melissa Cole

Since the 1940’s, the inverted pink triangle has been widely recognized as a reclaimed symbol of gay pride. While many are familiar with the history of the pink triangle, the history of the black triangle is much less known.

In the years before World War Two, Section 175 of German Law prohibited homosexual acts between men. Historians estimate that as many as 25,000 men were convicted under this law in the two years before the second World War began. While in concentration camps, inmates wore inverted triangles that symbolized the reason for their presence in the camps: criminals wore green triangles, political prisoners wore red triangles, and Jews wore two overlapping yellow triangles which formed the Star of David. Gay male prisoners wore an inverted pink triangle, and “anti-social prisoners” wore an inverted black triangle. Section 175 of German Law prohibiting homosexuality remained in the law books until 1969. Gay inmates were taken to prison when they were liberated from the concentration camps. Because of this history, the pink triangle was re-claimed by gay activists as a symbol of the fight against oppression.

What most people don't know is that many lesbians were forced to wear the inverted black triangle due to their “anti-social” behavior of not having sex with men. Lesbianism was not specifically forbidden by Section 175 (since women can't have sex without the presence of a penis!). But lesbians still faced persecution and oppression in the years before the war and in the concentration camps. If a woman was deemed to be “anti-social,” it was likely because she did not conform to the expectations and demands of society imposed on women. She may have refused to have children, she may not have been passive enough--or she may have been a lesbian. Also included with the “anti-social” group were men and women who refused to work, vagrants, the mentally ill, the homeless, and the unemployed.

It is interesting to note that the Nazis’ hostile attitudes toward women comprise many of the same stereotypes surrounding lesbians today: that we are man-haters, that we don't like families, that we don't want to have children.

The black triangle is starting to be reclaimed by more and more lesbians and feminists as a symbol of pride, in much the same way as the pink triangle has been reclaimed by gay men.same way as the pink triangle has been reclaimed by gay men.

 
 
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