By : Grace Raih
5 min read
In May of 1933 just months after Hitler was appointed Chancellor and the Nazi Party rose to power, a research facility in Germany was taken over by Nazi youth and its library looted and publicly burned. This center was the Institute of Sexology founded by Magnus Hirschfield, a Jewish, gay academic and advocate for the advancement of gay and trans studies. This overtly political act of incinerating books deemed “un-German” was the begining of a violent nationalist campaign against the country’s Jewish, homosexual and trans populace and ultimately laid the ground work for their eradication under Nazis dictatorship.
Burning literature that did not support a white, Christian ethnostate was a performance of fascist zealotry and fear mongering meant to dehumanize a vulnerable population and set the stage for their state sponsored genocide. The manufacturing of scapegoats are critical to the rise of fascist politics as they enflame existing tensions and redirect them towards a susceptible group, enabling further violence and division through fear, paranoia and propaganda. The Jewish-German poet Heinrich Heine wrote that, “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people”.
While on the surface less fanatical than public burnings, the recent swarth of book bans across the US enflame totalitarian sentiments by attempting to erase identities deemed “un-American”. The banning of LGBTQ books, particularly by Black authors, is an effort to erase the lived experiences of marginalized people and re-establish the cultural dominance of a white, Christian theocracy. Affirming stories found in these books can be critical to social acceptance and identify formation of young LGBTQ people. Conservative and alt-right groups target and fear these books because they deem them a threat to the power of the white cis heteropatriarchy. The white paranoia over curriculum that works to educate children about issues of race and racism in the US provoke these same bigoted fears.
The erasure and repression of literature that humanizes LGBTQ people is only the beginning. The “grooming” rhetoric of the right wing that demonizes LGBTQ people, the articles published by major media outlets that delegitimize trans lives, the upswell of fanatical draconian bills that target trans youth and the abject failure of democratic politicians to actively stand against this vitriol is setting a terrifying prescient for dehumanization. Centrist politics that compromise the safety of trans people in order to “win elections” has only succeeded in enabling fanatical right-wing groups and state sponsored transphobic violence. There must be an activated effort to defend trans rights, not only because a society is only as safe as its most vulnerable, but also simply because it is what is right and just. In a letter to Angela Davis, James Baldwin once wrote, “For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night”. These coordinated attacks on trans people mirror the initial waves of 1930s European fascism, and turning a blind eye will end up drowning us all.
Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #148 July 2022
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