The Importance of LGBT+ History
October marks the beginning of LGBT+ History Month. As those who have attended Posture Shift know, the history of the LGBT+ community is an integral part of it. If we are going to have a missional mindset, then we need to be familiar with the history of the people group we are seeking to reach. The history is not only about what happened. It’s about how the past shapes the present. As Bill Henson, our founder, says in Posture Shift:
“Missionaries cannot be effective without learning and coming to terms with historic vulnerability and injustices that a people group has suffered.”
So during the month of October, we will be posting a 4 post series dedicated to the modern history of LGBT+ vulnerability and mistreatment.
The Age of Silence
In Posture Shift, we refer to the period between 1940 and 1959 as the Age of Silence. Why is it the Age of Silence? For many homosexuality was simply a rumor. Something you heard talked about in hushed voices. And gender dysphoria was largely unknown within society.
During that time, homosexuality was illegal in most countries. As the Third Reich gained power, Germany began to seek out gay people (especially men) in an attempt to eradicate homosexuality from the human race. Between 1933 and 1945, the Nazi arrested an estimated 100,000 men under the suspicion of homosexuality, with some 50,000 officially sentenced. Most of these men served time in regular prisons. An estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of those sentenced were incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps. Gay people were considered the lowest of the prisoners in the concentration camps, being marked by pink triangles on their clothing so the other prisons could be warned of their potential danger.
Until the repealing of laws against homosexuality, Holocaust survivors who were gay lived with the threat of being re-imprisoned for “repeat offences” and were kept on the modern lists of “sex offenders”.
When World War II ended, the problems for gay people in Germany were not over. Gay concentration camp prisoners were not even acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution. Therefore they were denied from reparations and state pensions available to other groups. This is due to the fact that Nazi laws classifying gay people as criminals were upheld in Germany until 1969 even after World War II had ended. Until the repealing of laws against homosexuality, Holocaust survivors who were gay lived with the threat of being re-imprisoned for “repeat offences” and were kept on the modern lists of “sex offenders”.
In Britain and America
This mistreatment was not limited to Germany though. Many gay men were subjected to chemical castrations throughout Europe. Alan Turing (whose story is recounted in the 2015 film The Imitation Game) is one of the most famous cases. Having played a crucial role in bringing WWII to a close, Turing was legally prosecuted for homosexuality and chemically castrated. Later he died at the age of 41 from cyanide poisoning. Britain prosecuted nearly 49,000 men for homosexuality during this time. In the States, gay people were considered mentally ill and at times sent to psychiatric institutions where doctors performed castration, lobotomies, pudic nerve surgery, and electroshock treatment with the hopes of curing them. It is these events that propelled the LGBT rights movements of the following decades.
It is these events that propelled the LGBT rights movements of the following decades.
Calls for Justice
If there is one thing history has shown us, it is that continual mistreatment leads to calls for justice. For a long time, in the early 20th century society and the church completely ignored the mistreatment of LGBT+ people. When mistreatment is silenced and pushed into the background, someone is ultimately going to rise up and speak out against it as we will see next in the Stonewall Riots and the emergence of the LGBT rights movements.
Check out the other posts in this series of LGBT+ History:
Josh has an M.A. in Biblical Literature, and his greatest passion is help people grow in their relationship with Jesus.
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