A grassroots collective within the UWA LGBTI community has expressed anger at Left Action’s decision to wear shirts featuring a pink triangle during their election campaign.

The pink triangle is a very loaded symbol for the LGBTI community – and a contentious one. Used by the Nazis to identify, persecute and torture gay male prisoners during the Holocaust, it connotes a struggle against extreme oppression for the community. In the decades after the war, it was reclaimed by some gay men to assert their identity against this violent history.

“People have verbally confirmed that some members of Left Action doing this are straight. They were asked to please not but have continued,” says one member of the group, which has allegedly approached Socialist Alternative (SAlt) on the matter several times. “The issue of straight SAlt members wearing the shirts was raised with them at the beginning of the year [on O-Day] and they didn’t care.”

“There are many symbols to represent gay liberation that do not have their origin in the systematic persecution of gay men,” another representative tells Pelican.

The UWA group – which is unaffiliated with the Pride Department – has printed some pretty pissed-off brochures in response. Whilst there is no mention or reference to the Guild or the election party in the material, the message is forthright in its closing line. “Because of the seriousness of the symbol, many gay people do not think it should have been reclaimed for activism,” it states. “As for heterosexuals who appropriate the symbol:

GO FUCK YOURSELF!”

You can find the full brochure here.

Left Action situate themselves politically as the number one party when it comes to being socially progressive, and the unmatched ally of the marginal and oppressed. On their 2017 campaign Facebook page, they have pledged to “fight for…an inclusive guild with a social conscience that will stand up against injustice both on campus and off.”

When approached for comment, Left Action tells Pelican “we haven’t branded our campaign with anything. A few of us have T-shirts made by Curtin LGBTI activists some time ago, which say ‘nothing less than liberation’ on them.”

They go on to assert that the pink triangle has been “a symbol of pride and LGBTI liberation for over 50 years.” Whilst first they denied they had been approached, they amended their statement by saying that one LGBTI SAlt member had been confronted and “told he wasn’t allowed to wear it for some reason.”

“Left Action members are all LGBTI activists who have been part of leading the marriage equality campaign in Perth. We also led the fight to defend safe schools this year. Any attempt to paint us as homophobic is laughable.” They advise the group to “read some history”, and say they are happy to talk with them further on the matter.

“If the Curtin LGBTI group doesn’t mind straights wearing the pink triangle that is fine for them, but that doesn’t change my opinion or the opinions of anyone else,” a member of the gay collective has since responded. “Like, gay men marching under that banner while the FDA let them die is not equivalent to SAlt running in Guild Elections.”

“[The pink triangle] was used by gay people in their battle against the straight system that oppressed us. For a straight person – the very sort of people who are our oppressors – to wear it is an affront. Symbols/words come in various levels of reclaimed,” they conclude. “I shouldn’t have to tell them that.”

Words by Kate Prendergast

Two days left to bend our ears at <pelican@guild.uwa.edu.au>.