It was a pink triangle, a simple piece of cloth sewed to the pocket of an overcoat. A symbol that declared the man wearing it was a pariah, sub-human, worthy only of scorn and derision.
He received much the same treatment as those forced to wear two yellow triangles forming a Star of David. He also had a tattoo, a number on his forearm that was now his identity until he and the rest of those wearing those symbols were erased from the face of the earth.
Symbols are powerful things.
When I first came out, my first outward statement was to wear a lapel pin in the shape of a pink triangle. I wore it not because I considered myself a pariah, but because I was refusing to let the world forget what it once meant, and to take back the power to oppress that symbol once had.
After all, symbols only have power if we give it to them.
So what does this have to do with anything? Well, right now there are Americans waving symbols of oppression and inhumanity and claiming they are doing it to “take our country back.” I want to know, take it back from whom?
My father’s generation fought the bloodiest war in history against those symbols and the people who believed in what the symbols stood for, and to save the people who wore pink triangles and yellow stars. We call my father’s generation “the greatest generation” because they fought that war, and considering the dangers and evil they faced, I would agree with that.
If I listen closely, I can hear those brave men and women rolling over in their graves. Did they fight that bloody war only so a new generation, fired by ignorance and hate, could wave swastikas and flood the streets of a college town carrying tiki torches, doing a laughable imitation of the Nuremberg rally?
And what of the generation who Lincoln so eloquently eulogized at Gettysburg? The ones who fought for the Union in the Civil War. Did they fight and die to preserve the Union only so their great-great-great grandchildren could wear the symbols of the Confederacy and the institution of slavery on their t-shirts? Did they defeat the secessionists at a staggering cost of lives and treasure just to see their descendants forget the terrible cost of that defeat for both sides?
Symbols still hold terrible power, and it’s time we retired a few of them for good.
The stars and bars flag, like the swastika, belongs in a museum, not on the streets of America. The foolish men and women shouting the only words of German they know and screaming insults at people of color, gays, lesbians, and Jews are really insulting their own ancestors. They take those who died to give them their freedom and defecate on their graves.
Strong symbolism? Absolutely, but it is intended to make it clear that symbols can have tremendous power and should be used with care.
The swastika and the Confederate Battle Flag and other emblems like them are symbols of the oppressor, not the oppressed, and as such they are beyond reclaiming. The fact that hate-filled fools are still waving them as they riot in the streets is ample proof.
Worse still is an insane marketing attempt to create a “rainbow swastika” line of clothing! When I saw this travesty in a Facebook post, I actually said out loud: “What were they thinking?!”
The fact that this idea even came up shows we do little to educate our country about the horrors of wars and the hubris of those who start them.
I have no doubt that our current resident in the White House has given those who do not know their history tacit permission to expose their ignorance and hatred and call it “alt right.” It’s not “alt” and it’s not “right.” It’s just plain-old garden variety hate.
They wave their flags and carry their garden torches and scream at the cameras to show the world how little they understand — a parade of ignorance fueled by a blind hatred — and they are dangerous. We cannot afford to ignore them, nor can we be bullied by them.
We must stand with our fellow Americans — black Americans, brown Americans, gay Americans, lesbian Americans, transgender Americans, bisexual Americans, native Americans. We must stand with Americans of every ethnicity and ancestry, of every religion or of no religion at all. We must stand together and say, “Put down those swastikas. Put down those battle flags. Lay aside your hatred and come to your senses.”
Our forefathers fought and won this battle already, let us not ignore their sacrifices. Our nation was forged in battle, but it does not need to be at war with itself anymore. We have better things to do;we have greater achievements yet to make. We have a brighter future ahead.
But to reach it, we must lay aside those symbols that inflame and terrorize.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.