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What you don’t know can hurt others

By Kenya Smith

George Santayana said, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

As a person who became interested in learning history as a kid and even minored in history during college, I agree with Santayana’s statement. I also agree with this quote from Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

These two quotes accommodate each other. There is so much history that many of us don’t know, and that can cause us to treat people with disrespect and cruelty because they might be of a different race, religion, nationality, sexual identity and so on. That’s why I believe that it is important that we do not sweep certain parts of history under the rug, no matter how gruesome it is. Doing this would make it easier to understand why people feel the way they feel and do what they do.

Many may not know this, but during the 1930s and 1940s, millions of people in Nazi Germany suffered in the Holocaust, and 17 million people perished under the dictatorship. Some of the victims were LGBT, whether their sexuality was confirmed or suspected. About 5,000 to 15,000 LGBT individuals were sentenced to concentration camps, and it is unknown how many died. Their clothing was marked with a pink triangle in order to single them out. Although World War II ended and Nazi Germany began to crumble in 1945, LGBT people still faced persecution, for they were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution and were still considered as criminals under a Nazi law that lasted until 1969. Because of this, they were denied reparations and state pensions that were available to other victims. They even lived with the threat of being re-imprisoned and were kept on sex offender lists.

During the period between 1945 and 1969, chemical castration was imposed on gay men throughout Europe. One of the most notorious cases of this gruesome trend involved an Englishman by the name of Alan Turing. Turing was prosecuted for homosexuality and was chemically castrated. At the age of 41, Turing died from cyanide poisoning. Approximately 40,000 men were prosecuted for homosexuality in Britain. In the United States, gay people were considered mentally ill and were sometimes taken to psychiatric institutions, where doctors performed procedures such as castrations, lobotomies, pudic nerve surgery and electroshock therapy in order to “cure” or “fix” them. When you get a chance, research these procedures and see what happened to these individuals. With the addition of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, these events initiated what we now know as the Gay Rights Movement.

What we can learn from history is that anytime mistreatment and oppression is concealed, anticipate oppressed people to speak out. While it is said that what we don’t know can hurt us, it can also hurt others in the process.

Kenya Smith is a Suffolk native. Email her at s.kenya43@yahoo.com.