Every year, at the beginning of Pride Month, we put on our parkas and wool caps and head up to Twin Peaks to light the incredible pink triangle installation. Visible for 20 miles on a clear day, the pink triangle both stands as a symbol of Pride and educates us about the intolerance the LGBTQ community faced in the Holocaust. During the Nazi era, an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 men accused of being gay were imprisoned in concentration camps and forced to wear a pink triangle patch. Many were subjected to horrendous medical experiments, and most of these prisoners died in the camps.
The pink triangle reminds us all of what can happen when bigotry becomes law. One of us is a child of a Holocaust survivor, and we are both members of the LGBTQ+ and Jewish communities. The impacts of hatred, antisemitism, and bias are personal for us; we have witnessed and experienced their effects first-hand. Stories of loved ones who were murdered have been passed down to us.
We are not the only ones facing the recent rise of hateful rhetoric and violent extremism, however. The Anti-Defamation League reported a 34% increase nationwide in antisemitic incidents from 2020 to 2021. In California, the Stop AAPI Hate coalition documented more than 4,000 discriminatory incidents and attacks against people who identify as Asian American or Pacific Islander over the past two years. The number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced and passed in state legislatures has spiked. Social media channels are filled with images and messages intended to seed divisions and create fear.
We could go on. Our most vulnerable communities are being targeted. So many feel afraid as they go about their daily lives. Death threats are now commonplace on the internet.
That is why Governor Gavin Newsom’s groundbreaking decision to establish the Governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education is so timely and important. Co-chaired by state Senator Henry Stern (D-Calabasas), Attorney General Rob Bonta, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, and Anita Friedman, Ph.D., executive director of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the governor’s council is tasked with promoting Holocaust and genocide education throughout California to provide young people with the tools necessary to recognize and respond to hate-based bullying or discrimination on campus. We are deeply honored to have been appointed by Governor Newsom to serve on the council.
We are proud that our state is leading the way in standing up against extremism by investing in anti-hate programs and educating our public school students. Education has proved itself to be the most effective way to develop empathy and stop hate.
Results of a nationwide survey released in 2020 by Echoes & Reflections, a partnership program of USC Shoah Foundation, the Anti-Defamation League, and Yad Vashem (the World Holocaust Remembrance Center), found that college students who had received Holocaust education in middle or high school are more open to differing viewpoints, more likely to challenge intolerant behavior in others, and more willing to stand up to negative stereotyping. Surveyed students demonstrated higher critical thinking skills and a greater sense of social responsibility if survivor testimony was part of their learning experience. Jewish Family and Children’s Services’ Holocaust Center has learned this from practice for years through its educational programs in Northern California.
From survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides comes the crucial lesson to never forget. The message of these words is much more than the act of remembering. It requires that we speak up whenever hate and prejudice surface.
Though the pink triangle is taken down at the end of Pride Month, it is our collective responsibility to continue showing our pride all year long, and always to stand and speak out against hate in all its forms. Together, our actions will create a more just and compassionate world for everyone.
Joyce Newstat, a lesbian, and state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), a gay man, were both recently appointed to the Governor’s Council on Holocaust and Genocide Education.
Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.