Burned at the Stake, Institutionalized, and Sent to Death Camps: A Very Brief History of Gay Persecution and Oppression

There has been so much in-fighting in the LGBT and especially the Q  community  about “oppression” and “gay white cis-male privilege” that I think its time for brief gay history refresher course. Many have seem to have forgotten that the gay men (and lesbians) have been oppressed, persecuted, tortured and murdered for CENTURIES and still are to this very day far from “equal” or “privileged”.

Starting in the 12th century, homosexuals were tortured, castrated, and burned to death on a regular basis in the Christian Church and Christian-controlled States in Europe. 

In the thirteenth century, in areas such as France, homosexual behavior between men resulted in castration on the first offense, dismemberment on the second, and burning on the third. Lesbian behavior was punished with specific dismemberments for the first two offenses and burning on the third as well. By the mid-fourteenth century in many cities of Italy, civil laws against homosexuality were common. If a person was found to have committed sodomy, the city’s government was entitled to confiscate the offender’s property.

In 17th century Malta, there was harsh prejudice and laws towards those who were found guilty or even spoke openly of being involved in same-sex activity. English voyager and author William Lithgow, writing in March 1616, says a Spanish soldier and a Maltese teenage boy were publicly burnt to ashes for confessing to have practiced sodomy together.

In Germany, Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code was used to arrest, an estimated 100,000 homosexuals between the years of  1933-45. Because the records are incomplete, we will never know exactly how many ended up in the concentration camps  or were forced to submit to castration and “hormonal reversal” experiments (presumably to enable them to become “ex-gays”).

Research by Prof Ruediger Lautmann of the University of Bremen shows that of the non-Jewish camp inmates, homosexuals had the highest death rate (53 percent compared to 40.5 percent for Polish nationalist political prisoners and 34.7 percent for Jehovah’s Witnesses and Gypsies). Three out of four deaths among gay men occurred within the first year of their internment. Some homosexuals were systematically murdered.  Every day at Buchenwald concentration camp, several of the weaker men never returned from the quarry. They were taken aside and shot. For the “entertainment” of the SS guards, and to fulfil liquidation targets, others were given deliberately impossible tasks. Ordered to carry huge rocks, they inevitably collapsed under the immense weight. These men were then marked down for extermination.

Gay prisoners were also subjected to vile medical experiments. At Buchenwald, Nazi doctors claimed to have developed an artificial male sex hormone that would eradicate homosexuality When it was implanted in gay inmates, however, two died and the rest showed no change in sexual orientation. The doctors nevertheless boasted to the SS chief, Heinrich Himmler, that “this implant, known as 3A, is proven to reverse homosexuality to a normal sex drive”. After the war, these medical abuses were never cited at the Nuremburg Trials and none of the Nazi doctors involved was ever prosecuted.

The Nazi crimes against the gay community must never be forgotten

Unlike other groups imprisoned by the Nazis, when the concentration camps were liberated, homosexuals remained prisoners in the camps–by order of the Allies. Their imprisonment remained part of their police record, and they received no compensation for concentration camp sentences. And, as one historian has written: “Throughout the 1950s and l960s, German courts convicted homosexual men at a rate as high as that of the Nazi regime.” 

Until 1950, all but two states in America classified same-sex relations as a felony, with only murder, kidnapping and rape commanding heavier sentences.  If a gay man was found out and refused to “conform” he would be ostracized by his family, and shipped off to an insane asylum where many were experimented on and many were lobotomized as “a cure”.

In the 1970’s the Mormon Church’s “Evergreen  re-education program” was exposed as using electro-shock therapy on gay men and lesbian women in a basement on the Brigham Young University campus to try and get them to stop being gay. This torture went on for 15-20 years and was performed on teen and adult men and women.

And this is just a brief overview I could go on and on.  Gay men and lesbians for centuries and to this very day are targeted, beaten, tortured and murdered and victims of hate crimes.

And while some groups feel oppressed within our own community by “gay white males” remember that gay males have been mistreated  and oppressed for centuries.  You are not alone.  But if you keep pushing us away with this hateful rhetoric you might very well find yourself that way one day.

14 thoughts on “Burned at the Stake, Institutionalized, and Sent to Death Camps: A Very Brief History of Gay Persecution and Oppression

  1. In 1962: at the age of 12, my parents sent me to a psychiatrist who performed electo-shock aversion therapy on me for months. Yes it was child abuse but more devastating was the fact that as a kid I wanted this so that my parents could love me again. That “wanting it” took years of therapy to address. The desertion I felt when the Dr. told my parents that I would naturally fight it and “Make up all kinds of wild stories” about what happened, so they should not believe me when I tried to beg for help. Yet I survived! Please don’t let history be re-written and these practices be denied!

  2. REALITY CHECK: Of course, the historical and modern day oppression of gays is little understood by many gays themselves let alone straights. But we are not served by distortion of the facts however well-intended. With respect, the author of a 1997 letter to the editor of the “Honolulu Star-Bulletin” that you quote was simply projectile vomiting a crock of historical bullshit:

    1. The belief that the use of “faggot” to mean homosexual evolved from burning homosexuals, (popularized by Arthur Evans in 1978’s “Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture”) was discredited long ago. As gay historian Rictor Norton has explained, emphasis mine: ‘”faggot’ as a slang term for a homosexual only occurs in English, and IN ENGLAND HOMOSEXUALS WERE NEVER BURNED AT THE STAKE, but hanged.” Etymologist Douglas Harper adds: “Any use of ‘faggot’ in connection with public executions had long become an English historical obscurity by the time the word began to be used for ‘male homosexual’ in 20th century American slang.” The earliest known published usage was in a book called, “A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang” by L.E. Jackson and C.R. Hellyer, published in 1914: “All the fagots (sissies) will be dressed in drag at the ball tonight.” Linguistics historian David Wilton is more blunt in “Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends”— “Any connection to the firewood used for executions is pure fantasy.”

    2. The actual horrors were bad enough, but, no, repeat NO documentation exists to support the nonsense that “up to 220,000 German homosexuals” were “exterminated” by the Nazis. According to a variety of sources including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum which was founded and operates with input from gay historians, only circa 100,000 gay men were arrested during the Nazi years. Half of them were not incarcerated at all, and of the other half the majority were sent to regular prisons. Of the some 15,000 sent to camps, roughly 9,000 died—of multiple causes. And, NO, those who survived were NOT kept in the camps, for those camps that weren’t destroyed by the Allies were also totally evacuated. Those gays not released were transferred to regular prisons to complete their sentences under P175. For those interested in the documented history of gays under the Nazis, we suggest the following sources, most collected by gay historians:

    The online exhibit by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum at: http://www.ushmm.org/exhibition/persecution-of-homosexuals/

    “The Hidden Holocaust?: Gay and Lesbian Persecution in Germany 1933-45” [Grau & Schoppmann] which includes translations of many original Reich documents [note the ? mark in its title]

    “The Pink Triangle” [Plant]

    “Days of Masquerade: Life Stories of Lesbians During the Third Reich” [Schoppmann]

    “An Underground Life: Memoirs of a Gay Jew in Nazi Berlin” [Beck]

    “Homosexuality & Male Bonding in Pre-Nazi Germany” [Oosterhuis]

    “Deciphering the ‘Gay Holocaust’” [Raphael/Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review].

    3. RE “only murder, kidnapping and rape commanding heavier sentences [than same-sex acts]”—again, that would be a No. For instance, the penalty for “sodomy” in Ohio in 1964 ranged from 1-20 years. While it shouldn’t, of course, have been a crime at all, we doubt very much if any, for example, convicted bank robbers ever got a sentence of less than a year in that or any other state.

    Thank you.

    1. Sir, I respect you diligence in the reply. May I point out the term faggot or fag came from cigarettes and the practice that was called “Dropping hairpins”, that is using certain words to notify others in the “know” that you were homosexual. Much like “Friends of Dorthy”.
      However studied your response was, I know that the camps WERE in fact used to house homosexuals after others were “freed” because they were considered criminals, not victims. They were given better food, clothing, and care, but were not released to other prisons. Please save your vitriolic words, we have all heard them before. AND check your facts! Our history is too important to be re-written and revised for popular consumption.
      Thank You!
      BTW my father was the first allied soldier to break into Buchenwald. He was an eyewitness, I believe him and other documented reports of the time rather than vague nonsense.

    2. As an African American gay man I respond to this article by simply saying that if indeed white gay white men have been on the front lines fighting oppresion from the society at large then they should collectively know better than to discriminate in their ranks, especially when it comes to African American and Latino gays. And of course many of them have and continue to play racist games. And in my view there is nothing worse than a “bigoted queer”, and I am very vocal when I see and or expereince this kind of b.s. And in my world view there is no excuse for it, especially when white queers are ignorant enough to think or believe that “white gay male privilege” should be the norm. And of course in the “reality busting” world I operate in it doesn’t ever fly! For me it never did and never will as long as Iive in the American Empire! In my view this is one of areas that Gay Liberation clearly failed!

  3. The message is sound. The fight is for equality regardless of one’s race. And I whole heartedly agree that the single most targeted group for extermination throughout history has been the homosexual. Every racial or ethnic group has tried to eradicate us from their ranks and still do.

    I personally feel that we ourselves are a race in that our differences are physical, biological and psychological. We cannot be changed, we can adopt different behaviors but we cannot erase who we are.

  4. The gays convicted of what were then considered crimes were transported to other prisons; therefore, they were not released from the camps with the other prisoners, and stayed there for some time afterwards in the general chaos at the end of the war and its aftermath. There is no contradiction. Of course some percentage of the Jews who were rounded up were gay, but there deaths shouldn’t be counted towards those who died in the deliberate persecution of gays, because that’s not why they died. So the question remains: how many gays died as a direct result of this persecution. Mr. Bedwell claims it was 9,000 based on his sources. Perhaps it was higher, but if Mr. Kohler thinks so, what is his evidence?

  5. Keep in mind,many homosexuals were also Jewish, and chances are if they were killed,it was not for being gay. This is not to take away any people who suffered at the hands of the Nazies. However,Jews were the main people who suffered just because they were Jews. The same goes for communist, a great many were put to death,but mostly because they were Jews and not because they were communist.

  6. The sooner that you realize that the troll Michael Bedwell LIVES to start (idiotic) arguments like the one he started above, and the sooner you don’t take his bait, the better off you will be.

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