For the past 25 years, the Pink Triangle art installation adorning the top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco has been a dynamic and beautiful part of LGBTQ Pride celebrations. On this 50th anniversary of San Francisco Pride, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing restrictions, most events have been cancelled or moved to a virtual platform. Indeed, this year’s Triangle was in jeopardy of not being mounted, because the number of volunteers it usually takes to post the rosy canvases that make up the triangle would challenge coronavirus social distancing policies. However, the Pink Triangle will shine on. It will glow starting Saturday, June 27 and remain twinkling until July 10.
The nonprofit Illuminate is partnering with the Pink Triangle, using 2,700 pink LED nodes to light up the icon. Illuminate is the group responsible for the “Bay Lights” display on the Bay Bridge. Their success with that installation in 2013 led to other artistic works, including “Harvey’s Halo,” which celebrated the 40th anniversary of the election of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay public official, and the permanent neon fixture at the opening of the Castro with Milk’s words, “Hope will never be silent.”
The acre-sized pink triangle is the brainchild of architect Patrick Carney. “Twenty-five years ago, a friend of mine and I were having margaritas, and I asked him what he was going to do for Pride. He said that he was going out of town, because he’d been everywhere and done everything,” Carney explained in an interview. “I suggested that we do something. You know, since he’d done everything, maybe there was a way for us to do something new, some way to add to Pride. Then I looked up and saw Twin Peaks and thought, we have a big, blank canvas right there!”
The idea was struck to create a giant pink triangle. The pink triangle is a symbol that was used in Germany by the Nazis during the Second World War to discriminate against and criminalize homosexuals. (Nazis forced many different groups to wear symbols to allow others to discriminate against them, including a yellow star for Jewish people; pink triangle for gay men; black triangle for alcoholics, drug users, prostitutes, lesbians, and mentally challenged people; blue triangle for immigrants; and a green triangle for convicts and criminals.) By creating a giant pink symbol to be seen for miles around, it would take what was once a marker of one of the darkest episodes in history and reclaim it as a hopeful and inclusive emblem. Carney gathered a few volunteers and painted swaths of canvas in bright pink. “I remember the paint was called, ‘Mardi Gras pink,’” Carney said. They clandestinely put up that first triangle in the middle of the night, so as to not attract law enforcement.
In the years since that first renegade installation, the piece has become larger and a more integral part of San Francisco’s Pride festivities. “We get permission and permits from the city now,” Carney said. Prominent speakers at past Pink Triangle kick-off celebrations have included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and actress Cloris Leachman. San Francisco Mayor London Breed has confirmed she’ll attend this year’s lighting ceremony.
“This year, the Triangle will not only honor those lost in the holocaust, but also those we lost to HIV/AIDS and the current COVID-19 pandemic,” Carney said. “We illuminate the triangle to show that we [as a community] know how to deal with a pandemic. The Bay Area certainly has lessons to share.”
“During World War II,” Carney added, “the Nazis used the pink triangle to dehumanize those people they thought were undesirable. It’s like what’s happening now in this country.” Carney commented that the marginalization of people of color, immigrants, poor people, and the LGBTQ community is happening again in America under our current national leadership. “We need symbols like this to remind people of what can happen,” he said.
To cover the costs of the installation and maintenance of the sizeable artwork, Illuminate the Pink Triangle is taking tax-deductible donations. So far, they are almost halfway to their goal of $85,000. “People donating is a way for them to be a part of this historic installation,” Carney said, “celebrating 50 years of Pride in San Francisco.”
The Pink Triangle will be visible in the San Francisco area for over 20 miles and will also be featured on the Global Pride website. This shiny pink emblem will blaze as a beacon of hope, history, and resilience to be seen the world over.
Illuminate the Pink Triangle is accepting tax-deductible donations to fund the installation. To make a donation, visit charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/thepinktriangle.