One aspect of coming to terms with your own homosexuality is learning about gay culture and history. Unlike your national heritage or family history, school or your parents probably won't have taught you about Oscar Wilde, Colette, Divine, Stonewall, Harvey Milk, and the ongoing fight against AIDS. Getting acquainted with the past struggles of gays, lesbians and transgendered people, but also some of their incredible successes, is part of what helps you brush off the sadness and shame most of us still unfortunately grow up feeling.
I recently got a chance to meet someone who reminded me of this again, in Rudolph Brazda, the last known survivor of the Pink Triangles. Last June, author Jean-Luc Schwab sent our office a press release. He had written a book with Rudolph Brazda, who in 1942 had been sent to a concentration camp in nazi Germany because he was a homosexual. The term "last known" means that there could be more, but very few have decided to speak up. Brazda was approached by Jean-Luc Schwab, and together, they wrote a memoir: Itinéraire d'un triangle rose.
The release announced a press conference, for which they were traveling to Paris since Brazda lives in Alsace. He is 97 years-old, and such a trip was a tremendous effort for him. My editing director Christophe Martet and I went with a camera, hoping to get a chance to talk to him. We turned out to be the only journalists who had bothered showing up at all. Brazda was kind enough to tell his story to us on video, helped by Schwab, who translated. As I was holding the camera, I realized I was facing someone who had gone to jail twice, and was then sent to a concentration camp, simply for being gay, while I enjoy the freedom to be who I am out in the open. Furthermore, Brazda's story is one of survival, and when he was finally freed from the camp, he made a life for himself, found love and work and lived "like everyone else." It really did get better for Rudolph Brazda, and even though the interview was a difficult moment for him, it ended with an incredible smile.
Though these kind of stories are still complicated to deal with in France, a country in which the first official plaque recognizing the homosexual deportation was unveiled only a few months ago, it is heartwarming to read some of the reactions that were gathered when American LGBT websites like Towleroad, Joe My God and Queerty posted our video. The emotion you can read in the comments are proof that stories of the past still help us all tremendously. And the wave of gay teen suicide sadly reminds us that there is still plenty of sadness and shame to be brushed off.