Cornell University Press

Q&A with Jake Newsome on the story of Pink Triangle Legacies

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June is observed as LGBTQ Pride Month, rooted in the commemoration of in the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. While events held throughout this month vary, they all contribute to conversation about queer identity, visibility, and belonging. These are hard-earned accomplishments, won through tireless effort of gay, lesbian, bi, and trans activists, and advocacy for rights is far from over.

During Pride and year-round, words and symbols serve to connect and self-identify within the queer community. Many of these have their roots in an oppressive history and have been reclaimed. Pink Triangle Legacies traces the transformation of the pink triangle from a Nazi concentration camp badge and emblem of discrimination into a widespread, recognizable symbol of queer activism, pride, and community.

1. What is your favorite anecdote from your research for this book? 

Standing on a sidewalk in Hanover, Germany, I stared in confusion at my handwritten directions. I was sure I had made a mistake, but the address on the archive’s website matched what appeared on the apartment building in front of me. Upon closer inspection, I found the name of the archive on one of the doorbells. As it turned out, the researcher had amassed an extensive, well-organized archive in his own apartment! This speaks to the nature of writing queer history. It has long been up to queer individuals and communities ourselves to collect, organize, and preserve our own histories.

2. What do you wish you had known when you started writing your book that you know now?

I wish I had been prepared for the emotional impact of researching and writing this book. I thought I should remain detached from my personal connections to the history. But I soon learned I cannot separate my writing about this past from my own coming out, exploration of my identity, and longing to see where people like me fit into history. I wish I had known sooner that it is possible to conduct historical research that is emotionally invested and rigorous.

3. How do you wish you could change your field?

Where possible, I wish that more historians would engage more meaningfully with the individuals and communities they’re writing about – and not just as sources for a quote that supports an argument we’re making. The individuals I spoke with for Pink Triangle Legacies helped fill in gaps by providing facts and statistics. But they also taught me new ways that communities construct, experience, and relate to their histories. Their perspectives reshaped the book into a more dynamic and rich account. I remain forever grateful for their wisdom.

4. Has writing this book changed your relationship with Pride Month or other public LGBTQ+ celebrations?

The rainbow flag has become the symbol of visibility for the LGBTQ+ community. I love its symbolism of diversity and inclusion, but it has been disarmed and rendered palatable to mainstream society. After researching for my book, I wish the queer community would pull the pink triangle from the closet as our symbol (again) because it acts as a warning of the dangers of labelling LGBTQ+ people as inappropriate. In the era of “Don’t Say Gay,” we need the pink triangle more than ever. This is our country, too, and we have every right to be represented here. We’re going to fight for it because the pink triangle warns us what happens if we don’t.


*Featured photo: ACT UP 30th Anniversary Gathering Rally at the NYC AIDS Memorial by Elvert Barnes Protest Photography


W. Jake Newsome is a scholar of American and German LGBTQ+ history whose work as a public historian reaches global audiences. He currently works as a museum professional in Washington, DC. You can find him online at wjakenewsome.com and @wjnewsome

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