Thursday, January 27, 2011

International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Last session, SB 482 created the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. Written by Sen. Rodney Ellis, the legislation was carried in the House by none other than notorious bigot Warren Chisum, the man behind the Texas prohibition on marriage equality.

The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission is a wonderful organization, it does good work and I'm glad it was created. What I find upsetting is the definition of "Holocaust" that was included in their founding document. When SB 482 came to the House floor "Holocaust" was defined as:
"the killing of approximately six million Jews and other persons during World War II by the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis) and Nazi collaborators as part of a state-sponsored, systematic program of genocide and other actions of persecution, discrimination violence, or other human rights violations committed by the Nazis and Nazi collaborators against those persons."
Which is true, but glosses over the merciless execution of the mentally and physically handicapped, Polish, Romani, Catholics, Jehovah's Witnesses, Anabaptists, Communists, Socialists, Masons, and yes, queer people.

Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) attempted to amend the bill to more fully articulate the scope and breath of the horror of the Holocaust but Chisum removed the bill from consideration before he had the chance. Later that day the bill was brought back up and, in a compromise, Chisum agreed to amend the bill to say that "millions of others" were also exterminated.

It seems Chisum was reticent to recognize in statute that there is a historical precedent for the ruling party of a state to have an official policy in support of rounding up queer people and putting them behind bars, the fact that Chisum belongs to the Republican Party of Texas, which has an official platform calling for the re-enforcement of the state's sodomy law might have hit a little too close to home. Maybe Chisum didn't like the idea that the public might become informed that there have always been queer people, and always will be queer people and that we have a history and a legacy all our own. It's hard to guess the motivations of a man so filled with hate.

Fortunately there are institutions in this state which recognize more fully the broad scope of the horror of the Holocaust. The Dallas Holocaust Museum has specifically invited the LGBT community participate in their Remembrance Day candlelight vigil tonight at 6 pm. (The Dallas Voice has more information) The Houston Transgender Center has a large collection of items from the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, one of the earliest organizations to approach homosexuality and transsexuality scientifically. The Nazis raided the institute on May 6 1933, confiscating the client roles and destroying the library and research materials. The client roles were then used to round-up thousands of gay and bisexual men and transgender women and send them to concentration camps. The Transgender Center is located at 604 Pacific street in Houston and is open to the public M-F from 1 to 5 pm or by appointment. More information at www.tgctr.org

If you would like to know more about the queer victims of the Holocaust I recommend the excellent essay Gay Prisoners in Concentration Camps as Compared with Jehovah's Witnesses and Political Prisoners by Ruediger Lautmann which can be found in the book A Mosaic of Victims edited by Michael Berenbaum.

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