We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog post to bring you this late-breaking historical analysis of the news. I planned on devoting my blogpost this week to my experiences documenting the history of Alcoholics Anonymous, but then Pastor Worley happened. The head of the Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina recently delivered a fiery sermon denouncing President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage rights. His now-infamous sermon has swept the blogosphere and created easy fodder for the 24-hour news cycle. In Worley’s sermon he urges his congregation to never vote for “a baby killer and a homosexual lover.” Although some in the LBGT community would question whether the President is, in fact, a “homosexual lover,” many others, however, see the President’s public proclamation of support as a monumental step forward in the Gay Right’s Movement. Worley, on the other hand, sees Obama’s endorsement as a sin against nature, America and Christianity.
How does Pastor Worley plan to right this wrong? Well, in his sermon he proposes an “ingenious” plan to incarcerate all gays and lesbians in order to render them extinct. Pastor Worley argues:
“Build a great, big, large fence…150 or 100 mile long…put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can’t get out… feed’em and you know what? In a few years, they’ll die out… do you know why? They can’t reproduce!”
In the YouTube video you can actually hear the cheers and applause from Worley’s congregation:
Do you see the genius in his plan? Believing that being gay is a choice or an indoctrinating force upon the children of America, Worley argues that by incarcerating all gay and lesbian citizens and allowing them to “die out,” we can rid the country of homosexuality forever. Besides the obvious flaws of logic in Worley’s plan, it is, unfortunately, not an original one. As a historian, I always hate it when people make the go to Hitler analogy – you know, Obama is just like Hitler, Bush was just like Hitler, vegetarians are just like Hitler (OK, Hitler WAS vegetarian) – but in Worley’s case, the comparison is apt. That’s because Hitler did just what Worley is suggesting – he incarcerated homosexuals with the intention of working them to death or outright murdering them. Although the statistics are very hard to quantify, historian Richard Plant estimates that during Hitler’s reign between 50,000 and 63,000 men were incarcerated for the crime of homosexuality and between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men perished in Nazi concentration camps.
In fact, the famous gay-pride icon, the pink triangle, originated from the symbol homosexuals were required to wear within the walls of the camps. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC:
Jews in the camps were identified by a yellow star . . . criminals were marked with green inverted triangles, political prisoners with red, “asocials” with black or—in the case of Roma in some camps—brown triangles. Homosexuals were identified with pink triangles and Jehovah’s Witnesses with purple ones. Non-German prisoners were identified by the first letter of the German name for their home country, which was sewn onto their badge. The two triangles forming the Jewish star badge would both be yellow unless the Jewish prisoner was included in one of the other prisoner categories. A Jewish political prisoner, for example, would be identified with a yellow triangle beneath a red triangle.
In the 1970s the Gay Liberation Movement co-opted the pink triangle as a powerful symbol of unity. According to Lambda.org, in the 1980s, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) also adopted the pink triangle as their symbol, turning it upright to suggest an active subjectivity.
I highly doubt that Pastor Worley or his congregation know the history behind the Pink Triangle (as evidenced by the video below) and if they did, would their opinions change?
There has been wonderful scholarship in the last forty years on gay and lesbian history in the United States and I’ve included a short list below (A very short and incomplete list. Please add any more suggestions to in the comments section). With the recent legislation passed in California requiring schools to actually teach American LBGT history – a history that reaches far back to the founding of our country – I can only hope that Worley’s dangerous line of thinking will eventually “die out” behind an electrified fence of knowledge and education.
For Further Reading:
Bronski, Michael. A Queer History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2011.
Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Makings of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books, 1994.
D’Emilio, John, and Estelle B. Freedman. Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
Faderman, Lillian. To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America–A History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Plant, Richard. The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War against Homosexuals. New York: H. Holt, 1988.