How the Nazis destroyed the first gay rights movement

The story of how close Germany – and much of Europe – came to liberating its LGBTQ people before violently reversing that trend under new authoritarian regimes is an object lesson showing that the history of LGBTQ rights is not a record of constant progress.

While these developments didn’t mean the end of centuries of intolerance, the 1920s and early ‘30s certainly looked like the beginning of the end. On the other hand, the greater “out-ness” of gay and trans people provoked their opponents.

In the 1930s... Fascist parties offered Europeans a choice of stability at the price of democracy. Tolerance of minorities was destabilizing, they said. Expanding liberties gave “undesirable” people the liberty to undermine security and threaten traditional “moral” culture. Gay and trans people were an obvious target.

What happened next shows the whiplash speed with which the progress of a generation can be thrown into reverse.

One day in May 1933, pristine white-shirted students marched in front of Berlin’s Institute for Sexual Research – that safe haven for LGBTQ people – calling it “Un-German.” Later, a mob hauled out its library to be burned. 

When Nazi leader Adolph Hitler needed to justify arresting and murdering former political allies in 1934, he said they were gay. This fanned anti-gay zealotry by the Gestapo, which opened a special anti-gay branch. During the following year alone, the Gestapo arrested more than 8,500 gay men, quite possibly using a list of names and addresses seized at the Institute for Sexual Research. [emphasis mine]

I found this history depressing and scary.

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Replies to This Discussion

Superstition at work.

I, for one, am beginning to suspect it might be more efficacious than we'd like to think.

What are the similarities, and differences, between Weimar Germany, and the US govt and culture today?

Is the USA a more sophisticated, tolerant and diverse society, in general, compared to Weimar Germany?  Does that have a protective effect, as far as potential scapegoating?

As individuals and as a group, what actions should we take to reduce the risks for a similar outcome here and now?

If we are concentrating here on LGBT persons, but the far larger numbers in Germany were Jews, and there were also political dissidents, communists, and gypsies, what are their potential fates, and those of other groups that were not present in Weimar Germany to any appreciable degree, such as African Americans, Muslims, Mexicans and other Hispanics,  in the US, assuming there is a "whiplash fast" reversal of civil rights?

Great question. I'd guess we don't want to know, but could find out sooner than we think.

Yeah

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