Projecting light on inequalities

Erin Grogan

Many different types of people were persecuted throughout the Nazi regime including Jews, Roma and Sinti Gypsies and the mentally and physically disabled. One group often ignored is the 100,000 homosexuals targeted during this time.

The Rainbow Reel Festival will show films that relate to the persecution of homosexuals, with a special interest in the persecution during Nazi Germany and modern-day Russia. The festival, hosted by the LGBT Faculty/Staff Association, will show “Paragraph 175,” “Bent,” “The Iron Closet” and “The Out List.”

Kyle Felker, president of the LGBT FSA, said the films are shown in an order that allows them to build off each other and allow for an ongoing discussion about the persecution of LGBT populations. The festival coincides with the exhibit currently displayed in the Mary Idema Pew library, “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals: 1933-1945.”

“We’d also like people to make the connection between the anti-homosexual policies of Nazi-era Germany and the policies of many present-day countries, such as Russia and Uganda,” Felker said. “We selected most of the films with that goal, in particular, in mind.”

Colette Beighly, director of the LGBT Resource Center, said the center recommended some of the films.

“This history is mostly invisible,” Beighly said. “Most people don’t know about the pink stars or the persecution of homosexuals. In studying this, we can learn about our own history and we can draw parallels to our own lives.”

The first film is called “Paragraph 175,” a documentary with interviews from six gay Holocaust survivors. It will be shown on Monday, Feb. 2 in the Mary Idema Pew multipurpose room.

“’Paragraph 175’ is a very good introduction to the historical facts of the period,” Felker said. “(The film is) well-contextualized with interviews from people who were arrested under the German anti-sodomy laws and survived.”

GVSU history professor Jason Crouthamel, who has studied the persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust, will introduce the film. He will also lead a question and answer discussion following the film. Crouthamel and Felker agreed that “Paragraph 175” is a good introduction to the truths of the Holocaust.

“Many of my students have expressed that they had no idea that the Nazis persecuted homosexuals,” Crouthamel said. “The documentary provides an important glimpse into their experiences on a human level, as it introduces us to real people, rather than just abstract numbers, who were victims of Nazi violence.”

On Feb. 3, the festival will show the film “Bent” – a fictional story of homosexual persecution during the Holocaust. Crouthamel said the film is “quite accurate” in its presentation of the era. “Bent” was chosen to mirror the content in “Paragraph 175.”

“(Bent is) probably the most unusual love story I’ve ever seen,” Felker said. “It’s a very intense viewing experience, and I’ll be surprised if there aren’t tears. It’s pretty dark as well, although I think there are also messages about hope and resilience in it.”

On Feb. 4, the Rainbow Reel Festival will move the conversation of homosexual persecution into the modern era by showing “Iron Closet.” Cael Keegan, a professor in Women and Gender Studies, will lead a discussion after this showing.

“It’s just as sad, in its own way, as ‘Paragraph 175’,” Felker said. “What struck me most about it is the disconnect between the government’s claims that its policies are about protecting children, and the reality of what’s actually taking place.”

Felker said the last film shown in the festival, “The Out List,” is a departure from the others as it does not show the persecution of homosexuals but instead focuses on interviews with famous and notable modern-day figures.

“We selected it because most of the rest of the material was so grim; we wanted to end on a more pleasant note,” Felker said.

Screening for each film begins at 4 p.m. in the Mary Idema Pew Library. For more information, contact the LGBT FSA at [email protected].