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The symbols of glbtq pride are diverse in origin and meaning, but they serve the crucial purpose of rendering visible communities that have been erased or marginalized. Moreover, they assert a defiant and sometimes hard-won self-esteem in the face of discrimination and oppression.

Pink and black triangles come from the horrors of the Holocaust but have been reclaimed as signs of solidarity and determination. The labrys is an ancient icon whose importance still resonates. The rainbow flag was created as a sign of affirmation and celebration of the glbtq community. Still other symbols are used to represent bisexuals, the , leather people, and Bears, among other elements of the diverse glbtq community.

Pink Triangle

The pink triangle (Rosawinkel) is a badge of oppression that has been reclaimed as a symbol of pride.

During the Nazi regime some 100,000 people were arrested for homosexual offenses under Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code. Most of those convicted for these offenses were sentenced to prison, and between 5,000 and 15,000 of them were incarcerated in concentration camps.

Once there they were obliged to wear badges indicating the reason for their detention. In the early days of the camps gay men were assigned armbands with a black dot or "175" inscribed on it.

Later, a system of colored triangular patches was instituted. Gay men were identified by an inverted pink triangle sewn on the left shoulder and right trouser leg of their uniforms.

Historian Eugen Kogon has concluded that "the fate of the homosexuals in the camps can only be described as ghastly." Gay men were subject to sterilization, often by castration, and other medical experimentation. In the camps they were assigned the most arduous tasks and were in danger of attacks not just from guards but also from other prisoners.

In the end, wrote Kogon, "virtually all of them perished." Those who survived the war were kept in jail because Paragraph 175 remained in force.

In the early 1970s, gay rights organizations in both Germany and the United States reclaimed the pink triangle.

In 1973 the German gay liberation group Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (HAW) called upon gays to wear the pink triangle but warned that it would make them targets of discrimination in a society. Two years later the gay magazine H.A.W.-Info again promoted the wearing of the triangle as both a memorial to past victims and a protest against continuing oppression. The 1976 film Rosa Winkel? Das ist doch schon lange vorbei...("Pink Triangle? That was such a long time ago..."), directed by Peter Recht, Detlef Stoffel, and Christiane Schmerl, echoed this theme and documented the persistence of the persecution of gay men.

With Paragraph 175 still on the books, although modified, the gay journal Rosa Flieder warned in 1980 that "the pink triangle . . . is not only a remembrance of the past extermination of gays. There is oppression of and discrimination against gays even in this day and age." In a subsequent issue the journal pointed out that police in some regions of the country were still compiling lists of gay citizens.

American gay activists of the 1970s also used the pink triangle as a symbol of both remembrance and the need for progress.

Both the San Francisco journal Gay Sunshine (in 1973) and the Toronto gay journal The Body Politic (in 1974) ran articles about the concentration camp prisoners who had worn the pink triangle, and urged the use of the symbol as a memorial to them.

The pink triangle took on added political significance when activist groups supporting a New York gay rights bill adopted the symbol in 1974. Orthodox Jewish groups opposed the ordinance, and so gay rights activists organized a protest at which "picketers wore pink triangle armbands in an effort to demonstrate that homosexual men had been fellow victims with Jews (and others) in the Nazi concentration camps."

The following year in a New York Times editorial Ira Glasser, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, called upon all readers to wear the pink triangle to show support for the pending bill, which was designed to end discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, and public accommodation. Commenting on the persecution of gays in Nazi Germany, Glasser wrote, "Many know about the yellow star, but the pink triangle still lies buried as a virtual historical secret."

In the mid-1980s ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) adopted the triangle but with the point facing upward to symbolize the need for "an active fight back rather than a passive resignation to fate." The symbol often appeared above the motto "Silence = Death."

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The labrys, or double-bladed ax, is one of many symbols adopted by glbtq communities.
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