Dark times remembered in LGBT History Month

John Glenton, Riverside's Executive Director for Care and Support

By John Glenton, Executive Director of Care and Support and Executive Champion of Riverside’s LGBT staff network Spectrum

Last month saw the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp which was responsible for the death of around 1.1 million people. Jews, Poles, Roma people, Soviet Prisoners of War and others were killed at the Auschwitz camps.

Adolf Hitler planned a 1,000-year Reich. It lasted all of 12 years but in that short time some 100,000 gay men were arrested. About half of them were sent to prison but as many as 15,000 were deported to concentration camps.

By 1945, more than 40,000 such camps were in operation and men were arrested in Nazi Germany as ‘homosexuals’ and sent to any number of them. But a relatively small number were sent to Auschwitz.

Of the 97 gay men known to have been sent to Auschwitz, 96 were German. Scholars have unearthed the fate of 64 of them – 51 died in the camp. That’s 80%, a higher number than any other category of ‘undesirables’ except for Jewish deportees. Lesbians, bi women and trans people, whose experiences remain under-researched, were also targeted during this time, so it’s unclear how many LGBT people actually perished in these camps.

LGBT History Month is an annual month-long observance of LGBT history, and the gay rights movements. LGBT History Month originated in the United States, and was first celebrated in 1994. In the US, Canada, and Australia, it is celebrated in October to coincide with National Coming out Day on 11 October. In Hungary and the United Kingdom, it is observed during February.

In the UK this coincides with the major celebration of the abolition of Section 28 in 2003. Section 28 was part of the Local Government Act 1988 and stated that a local authority ‘shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality’ or ‘promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’.

The LGBT community has so much history, much of which has never been discussed openly or is well known by the general public. For centuries our existence was denied and we were persecuted or imprisoned.

It is hard to believe how much has changed over the years for many of us, however it is important to remember that in many countries in the world today the LGBT community remain persecuted and under threat of imprisonment, or even death, just for being themselves.