The Showing of Paragraph 175 for National Coming Out Day

By Brooklyn Dennison, Editor-in-Chief

Last Wednesday, The Zips Programming Network highlighted National Coming Out Day, a day most members of the LQBTQIA+ may celebrate, by showing “Paragraph 175,” a documentary about the persecution of gay men and women in Germany during the Third Reich.

The documentary said that under Paragraph 175, about 100,000 people were arrested or sent to concentration camps for homosexuality or suspicion of homosexuality. Out of those 100,000, only about 4,000 people survived. During the time the documentary was created, very few of those survivors were still alive, in which the documentary told the stories of some of those few.

The film showed that under Nazi ideologies, Nazis considered it unlikely that being attracted to the same gender would allow people to reproduce and increase the German population. Under this ideology, gay culture in Germany started to be eliminated by closing gay bars and gay literature was destroyed. For instance, Hirschfeld’s Institute for Sexual Science was destroyed along with its libraries and archives in 1933.

To further Nazi’s anti-gay ideologies, Paragraph 175, which had already existed before the Third Reich, was revised. Paragraph 175 was created in 1871; it prohibited sex between men. In 1935, Paragraph 175 was broadened to criminalize a wide range of behaviors other than sex, the documentary said. Paragraph 175 did not criminalize acts between gay women.

The film highlighted the marginalization of gay men and women during the Third Reich, which is important because it sheds light on something that seems to be lost in history. It is also important because it allows viewers to further understand the marginalization of gay people throughout history. This is significant because once a non-member of a marginalized group understands the marginalization of a  member of the marginalized group, then the non-member can become aware of their privilege and their own oppressive acts.

Although the documentary has value, it may not have been the best documentary to show on National Coming Out Day, a day that many members of the LGBTQIA+ community may embrace and consider a safe day to express their sexuality. The documentary was very harrowing in that it had detailed descriptions of violence against members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This may not have been appropriate because there may have been viewers in the audience who have been mistreated because of their sexuality or identity. This would not be something that is uncommon. According to the FBI’s most recent report on hate crime statistics, almost 20 percent of hate crimes in 2015 were because of a sexual orientation or gender identity bias.

The documentary also was not very inclusive, both in its terminology and content. The content of the documentary focused on the experiences of gay men, which undermines the experiences of bisexual, pansexual, asexual and aromantic individuals who may have also faced discrimination for being interested in the same gender. The term gay could be used colloquially as an umbrella term to mean people who are interested in the same gender, but this may not have been the case since the film did not make it clear.

Historically, this may be accurate since words like “bisexual” did not have general use until the 1950s, but that does not mean that bisexual people did not exist before then. At the least, the film could have mentioned that people of other sexualities besides gay people could have been persecuted. Not mentioning other sexualities erases the marginalization of those people.

The documentary also disregarded the treatment of gay women during the Third Reich. Gay women may not have been punished as severely as gay men, but that does not mean they were treated kindly. Gay women, who were already objectified because of their gender, existed in a state that alienated gay people. The documentary did include the experiences of a gay woman who survived, but it was not emphasized as much as it could have been.

Perhaps, in future years, organizations within the University can show films that are more inclusive to the LGBTQIA+ community and express the essence of what National Coming Out Day is.