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TODAY, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Unison Cymru Wales will be remembering all those who perished in the Holocaust with a minute’s silence in our regional and branch offices.
We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community in commemorating the more than six million people murdered in a crime against humanity.
What is less well known is that alongside Jewish victims, many Romany Gypsies, people with disabilities and members of the LGBT community were also targeted by the nazis.
Berlin in the 1920s and early ’30s was home to a flourishing LGBT community, however the rise of the nazi party changed that. It brutally cracked down on gay people, who they portrayed as a threat to society.
In the concentration camps, prisoners arrested for being “homosexual” were forced to wear a pink triangle on their sleeve as a badge of shame.
“Homosexuals” in the camps suffered an unusual degree of cruelty by their captors, including being used as target practice on shooting ranges.
Gay people were additionally used as subjects for nazi medical experiments, as scientists tried to find a “cure” for homosexuality.
Between 1933 and 1945, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested in nazi Germany as “homosexuals,” of whom 50,000 were sentenced, and between 5,000 and 15,000 were sent to concentration camps.
Lesbians, bi women and trans people, whose experiences remain under-researched, were also targeted. It is unclear how many LGBT people perished in these camps.
After the war, the treatment of “homosexuals” in concentration camps went unacknowledged by most countries, and some men were even rearrested and imprisoned based on evidence found during the nazi years.
It was not until the 1980s that governments began to acknowledge this episode, and only in 2002 did the German government apologise to the gay community.
In 2005, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Holocaust which included the persecution of “homosexuals.” Commissioned memorials around the world were adopted, including the Memorial to Homosexuals Persecuted Under Nazism in Berlin.
Now, the pink triangle has been inverted and reclaimed as a symbol of queer resistance and liberation, as was done most visibly by US HIV/Aids activists in the 1980s.
The pink triangle symbolises the power of remembering the past, reflecting on the injustices that persist today, and the possibility of a future where people are not demonised for their differences.
Today LGBT+ people face an increase in hate crime and continued discrimination in Welsh communities and workplaces.
Unison Cymru Wales, with 100,000 members in public services across the country, is using its enormous reach to challenge prejudice and intolerance.
Anyone who faces discrimination should think about how a union can help and join our campaign for equality and respect for everyone.
Ryan Williams is Unison Cymru Wales LGBT+ officer.
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