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Branded by the Pink Triangle

by Ken Setterington

From retired Toronto librarian Ken Setterington, whose publishing credits include the picture book Mom and Mum Are Getting Married! (illustrated by Alice Priestley) and the reference book A Guide to Canadian Children’s Books in English, comes an ambitious non-fiction title for young readers. Branded by the Pink Triangle explores the little-known history of the persecution of gay men (and, to a lesser extent, gay women) in Germany during the Nazi regime.

At a time when the “It Gets Better” campaign and anti-bullying measures are helping promote the safety and acceptance of LGBT youth, it is necessary to take a sobering look back at what the book’s cover copy describes as “a time when your sexuality  could be your death sentence.” There is no documented explanation as to why a pink triangle was used to label gay men in concentration camps (lesbians wore a black triangle instead, identifying them as “anti-social” for their refusal to marry and bear children), but the symbol has since been reclaimed and repurposed as a mark of LGBT rights, freedoms, and community.

Setterington begins by outlining the many factors that made Berlin the gay capital of Europe in the first decades of the 20th century. He also explains the political and economic context of Hitler’s rise to power, and the ways that, under the guise of creating a renewed sense of national pride after Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the Nazi Party scapegoated Jewish citizens as well as gay men, gypsies, and people with disabilities or birth defects, all of whom were perceived as weakening the promise of a strong and disciplined German population. Setterington explains that the notion of German “purity” was as much about heteronormative sexuality and childbearing as it was about race and religion.

Offering a detailed timeline of crucial events during this period of history, and including the stories of several gay men who survived the Nazi regime, Setterington’s book is a much needed complement to existing studies of the Holocaust, and vital reading for young and adult readers alike.