The Pink Triangle
: The politics of forgetting and remembering the homosexual victims of Nazi persecution

  • Jason Porter

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis critically examines the history, and marginalized memory, of the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, a period of propaganda, persecution and prosecution which saw many banished to concentration camps, and branded with a pink triangle. It is a past exemplified by silence and suppression, whose victims and survivors are often described as ‘hidden from history.’ Part One of the study traces the ‘decadence’ of the Weimer Republic in the 1920s, the destruction of the homosexual subculture and imprisonment of gay men by the Third Reich in the 1930s and ‘40s. It engages with the politics of memory, and with key theorists of Holocaust testimony and trauma, to critically analyze key memoirs which have been under-theorized in relation to cultural memories of the period. Most gay men who survived the liberation of the camps faced years of further intolerance and indifference, and my thesis investigates the complex relationship between suppressed memories and the continuing homophobic context in which they circulated.

Decades later, the pink triangle and the testimonies of gay survivors, were finally able to emerge from their silenced shadows. Part two of the thesis traces the mobilization of the Pink Triangle, as a symbol of resistance in the gay rights movements in 1970s United States. In addition to repurposing the pink triangle as a contemporary symbol of liberation, the history of the Nazi period was also mobilized in other ways by gay activists. Specifically, the thesis engages with the way that the Shoah was invoked by campaigners in the 1980s in response to the emerging AIDS crisis. I engage in particular with the controversial mobilization of the holocaust by Larry Kramer in his crusade against AIDS and reflect on the relative marginalization of gay victims of the Nazis in this fight. The thesis brings together both parts of the study with a critical examination of two memory sites which speak to the Nazi persecution of homosexuals, and which were conceived, designed and inaugurated at a tumultuous time for LGBTQ communities.

This is an interdisciplinary study that produces an original contribution to memory studies and to gay cultural history. It makes a significant contribution to the scholarship around the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. It is also a study of how these memories were politicized, and informed the wider gay liberation movement. These long-occluded memories provided the movement with a set of cultural narratives and symbols that were re-purposed and politically activated in support of the contemporary struggle for recognition and liberation. The thesis is both an excavation of marginalized memories and a critical engagement with uses and abuses of the past in later political struggles for gay rights.
Date of AwardJan 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorAnita Rupprecht (Supervisor) & Catherine Bergin (Supervisor)

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