First, They Came for the Trans Kids.
In 1933, the Nazis attacked the world's first transgender clinic. Ninety years later, Fascists are once-again targeting trans people.
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First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
Entitled, “First They Came…”, the above poem by German Pastor Martin Niemöller is widely known for its haunting-yet-artistically-beautiful warning about the escalation of the Holocaust. The poem is commonplace in U.S. history textbooks and is even inscribed on the walls of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, though the opening line condemning the killing of Communists has been removed.
Though beautiful in its own way, the global popularity of Niemöller’s creation is primarily due to its warning. To modern audiences, the poem should remind us that atrocities never begin where they end. Fascists start their projects by targeting marginalized groups, building hatred as they accrue the power necessary to enact their true vision of a hierarchical society. For this reason, we must move against Fascist attack campaigns, even if they seem small and trivial.
But we must also read between Niemöller’s lines, understanding that his work was a synopsis, not the complete history of 1930s Germany. Whether omitted for brevity or bias, “First They Came…” fails to include one very prominent group targeted by Nazi cleansing: the LGBTQ+ community.
As the American Right of 2023 has chosen to emulate the Nazis in persecuting queer folks, it is direly important we educate ourselves, and our fellow Americans, that this path has already been taken. We know where it leads, and it should never be walked again.
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The Institute of Sexual Research
On July 6th, 1919, Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld opened the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft or The Institute of Sexual Research at a chateau in Berlin. Dedicated to the protection, education, and celebration of people we now call LGBTQ+, the Institute served as a safe haven for queer life. It had living quarters, classrooms for sexual education, laboratories for research, writing rooms for feminist journals, health clinics, and even surgery chambers, in which the first modern gender-affirming surgeries were performed. It was a wonderful place, a pocket of humanity in a deeply troubled world.
But the world would not let it last.
On May 6th, 1933, the Nazis came, torch in hand. The residents and researchers fled, escaping the brownshirts who were busy tearing down the Institute’s decor, which was carried into the street and piled atop the thousands of pages comprising Hirshceld’s research. A match was lit, and the Institute’s work became one of the Nazi’s first large-scale book burnings, a practice that was soon to become a Fascist tradition.
This was only the onset of the Nazi campaign against queer people. Over the next decade, LGBTQ+ folks were declared “Lebensunwertes Leben,” or “lives unworthy of living.” They were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, where an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 homosexual men and other queer persons were castrated, abused, and killed. After the War, the Allied occupiers decided to leave Germany’s anti-queer law Paragraph 175 intact, keeping gay men and transgender persons in prison long after “liberation.” For quite some time, the new German states, Austria, and the United States refused to acknowledge that queer folk had been victims of the Holocaust, shaming survivors into silence and forever hiding the extent of the Nazi persecution against the LGBTQ community.
American Fascism, 2023
History seldom repeats itself, but it does rhyme. Today, the Fascist elements of the Republican Party have declared trans people to be public enemy number one. Across the country, GOP-controlled State legislatures are passing increasingly-aggressive anti-trans bills, such as Kentucky’s new law forcing people to use the bathrooms corresponding to the gender assigned to them at birth (even if they’ve already changed their genitalia) to South Dakota’s bill outlawing gender-affirming care for minors.
Gay Americans are also under attack, particularly those working in the public sector. All it takes is a 30-second recording of a public school teacher hanging a gay pride flag or having a picture of their same-sex spouse, and the reactionary TikTok account LibsOfTikTok will incentivize a cascade of death threats.
One doesn’t need a crystal ball to see where this is headed.
While there are many cowardly Republican politicians who are “just following Fox New’s orders” in voting for these bills, the engineers of this crusade are openly honest about their want to eliminate trans, gay, and other queer folks from public life. Here’s a clip of self-described Theologian Fascist Matt Walsh starting to admit he wants gender-affirming care to be outlawed, only to be cut short by a fact check refuting his claim “millions” of children have undergone transgender therapy.
Unfortunately, people like Walsh are already getting what they want. The last few years have seen a number of firebombings upon drag show venues, LGBTQ centers, and even churches that host events Fascists don’t like.
To be clear, I don’t mean to insinuate that American Fascists are akin to the German Nazis of 1933. They’re much dumber, and are too focused on shadowboxing Mickey Mouse to organize themselves into a bureaucratic structure matching Hitler’s party. But, it is no coincidence that they both chose the already-marginalized LGBTQ+ community as their first target.
A century ago, the Nazis came for trans people, and civil society failed to protect them. Today, they’re doing it again. Let’s not make the same mistake.
Love is as varied as people are. - Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld
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History doesn't repeat itself. But it does rhyme.
Thank you for this, Joe. I have shared on both linked-in and counter social. Sorry I can't do a paid sub right now. I hope this little bit of sharing helps.