(Participants in Cologne’s 2014 Gay Pride March)

The Federal Republic of Germany took a positive step toward atonement this week, as the government announced that it would annul convictions of homosexuality left over from a now repealed law known as Paragraph 175. The annulments will apply to the convictions of more than 50,000 men.

The law was first put in place toward the end of the 19th century, though was half-heartedly enforced, especially in Berlin where gay culture thrived compared to other European capitals during the first quarter of the 20th century. Under the Nazi regime, however, gay Germans faced fierce prosecution, with many sentenced to castration and over 15,000 sent to concentration camps where Nazi authorities compelled them to wear pink triangles to distinguish themselves.

Following WWII, West German authorities left the law in place, maintaining a persecutory environment that greatly harmed Germany’s gay citizens. While the law was largely defanged in 1969, the government did not take the full leap in reconciling itself with the nation’s history of anti-gay sentiment and policy. For instance, while most survivors of German crimes against humanity during the Nazi terror received some form of reparations by the late 1960s, those prosecuted for homosexuality did not.

Paragraph 175 was fully repealed in 1994.

While the LGBT rights movement has secured major victories over the past several decades, even gay-friendly nations have not addressed past human rights transgressions committed out of anti-gay animus. In 2013, British Queen Elizabeth II granted a post-humous pardon for Alan Turing – the brilliant mathematician depicted in the 2014 film The Imitation Game who was prosecuted for homosexual acts in 1952 and sentenced to chemical castration. He died shortly thereafter. The pardon occurred after an online petition called for the restoration of Turing’s good standing. A mass pardon for thousands of men similarly convicted, however, was put on hold in 2015 after members of the Tories claimed that the pardon would benefit those convicted of pedophilia.


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