By Miranda Morton
On 27 January 2015, which is the UN’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the DPI hosted a briefing entitled, “The Holocaust, Homosexuals and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Today.” This event commemorated the persecution of homosexuals during the Third Reich.
Erik Jensen, the first speaker, is an Associate Professor of History at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio who concentrates on the collective memory of Holocaust persecution. Mr. Jensen’s address offered expert background on the subject and provided a context for the briefing. Throughout the 1920s, German homosexuals enjoyed a higher level of freedom than anywhere else in the world. The publications and organizations that catered to the homosexual community were very legal and accessible. Public policy took a turn in 1934 after Ernst Röhm, then the 2nd highest Nazi commander and an openly gay man, was purged due to the threat he posed to Hitler. In Röhm’s wake, Hitler promoted Heinrich Himmler, one of the men most directly responsible for the Holocaust. Himmler took a hard stance on homosexuals, claiming that gay men posed a threat to the all-male Hitler Youth groups. It is estimated that 100,000 homosexual men were arrested during the Third Reich and between 5,000 and 7,000 men died in concentration camps. In these camps, the SS forced homosexual men to wear a pink triangle, signifying their deviant preferences, and subjected them to hard labor, hormone treatment and even castration. Very few survivors of this persecution ever came forward, but Mr. Jensen shared the story of Rudolf Brazda who spent 3 years at Buchenwald concentration camp under charges of homosexuality.
Another panelist, Rick Landman, also shared a poignant story. Mr. Landman came out at the age of 13 with the full acceptance and support of both his parents. Mr. Landman’s parents were Jewish Holocaust refugees and had already experienced their fair share of bigotry and persecution. Having had a strong support system from an early age, Mr. Landman now serves as a gay rights activist working to formally commemorate homosexual Holocaust victims via memorial structures.
Next to speak was Charles Radcliffe, the chief of Global Issues at the UN for Human Rights and leader of the UN’s Free and Equal campaign. Mr. Radcliffe sees homosexuality as a human rights issue. In his words, LGBT discrimination is in direct violation of the UN’s first article of the Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” Mr. Radcliffe proposed three ways in which the UN can make a difference: (1) document and gather data on what’s happening on the ground, (2) advocate for human rights to governments and (3) assist governments in developing new policies, training people and improving institutions.
Finally, Marianne Møllman closed the briefing by explaining three myths that she believes pose a challenge to equality. The first myth is that being LGBTI is “a new phenomenon.” In reality, people have always identified as LGBTI, but there is now a definite label, making the phenomenon more visible. The second myth is that LGBTI is “all the same thing.” However, decriminalizing the act of homosexuality will not instigate effective change. For example, there is a stark dichotomy in Latin America where laws are very accepting and inclusive, but there is still an exceptionally high murder rate for trans men and women. The third myth is that being LGBTI is “all about sex” and all LGBTI people are perverted. Unfortunately, this myth reflects a focus on genitalia and behavior rather than actual identity. The truth is, everyone has a sexual orientation—including those who identify as straight.
From left to right: Erik Jensen, Rafael De Bustamante, the moderator, Rick Landman, Marianne Møllmann and Charles Radcliffe.