There are probably millions of monuments and memorials around the world, erected in commemoration of any of a thousand different groupings of people. One minority that traditional has been underrepresented in remembering its past is the gay and lesbian community. The reasons for this are many and obvious, but some people have attempted to right this wrong and to recognize the millions of people who have suffered over the centuries.
While I really hate the name, the Homomonument, situated on the Westermarkt in the center of Amsterdam, is one of the few monuments (and maybe even the only one) in the world to recognize the full range of LGBT suffering since the dawn of civilization. In recent years other monuments have sprung up, but with more targeted goals. There are several sites that honor gays and lesbians who were killed during the Holocaust, and still others honor those who have fallen in any number of ways. The monument in Amsterdam is different, from the very beginning of the planning process it was intended to include several features.
First, it was meant to honor both men and women and the designers were adamant that the monument wouldn’t be tucked away in some dark alley, the location of which known only by those with a keen interest. It was always the intention of developers to place the monument in a central spot in Amsterdam, and the Westermakt is indeed the perfect location. The original planners also wanted to make sure that the monument didn’t just honor those whom the Nazis killed, but gay and lesbian men and women who have suffered throughout the centuries and who continue to suffer today. Discrimination and oppression of the LGBT community is hardly a recent phenomenon and people still suffer greatly around the world for no reason other than being born the way they were born. The Homomonument recognizes and honors this.
Planning for the monument began in the 1970s and the winning design features a triangle out of pink granite that juts out of a bend in the quay-wall of the canal. The larger triangle is then divided into three smaller pink triangles. What many people may not know is that the pink triangle emblem was first used by the Nazis in World War II to mark homosexuals. After the war the community decided to claim the design as their own as an act of resilience and defiance. The rest of the monument is meant to meld with its surroundings so that when you first see it, you may be a bit underwhelmed. But its beauty is in its simplicity, as it was intended for daily life to continue on within the boundaries of the monument. This is the perfect symbol for the LGBT community; we are part of society and daily life in every city, yet you may not know it.
The monument was on my list of things to do in Amsterdam, but I still found it by accident while on the way to visit the Anne Frank House. As we passed by I stopped, took a closer look and confirmed that I had found the only monument devoted to people like me in the world. I stopped for a moment, waited for a well of emotion to gush forth, but none came. I was honored to be at the site, but the full weight of the experience didn’t hit me until much later. While I applaud the monument, which debuted in 1987, I don’t think it goes far enough.
I would like to see a proper display honoring both the accomplishments of the LGBT community as well as our suffering. There’s still so much oppression in the world and I think we could all use a reminder of how many people suffer every day. For the moment though, it’s the best we have and I have to thank Amsterdam and the brave people who thought of constructing this amazing monument on the banks of the Keizersgracht in Amsterdam.