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Watch: The story behind San Francisco’s iconic giant pink triangle

The first time San Francisco’s massive pink triangle appeared on Twin Peaks’ hillside in 1995, its creator, Patrick Carney, put it up under the cover of night to avoid being arrested. Now, the triangle has become one of the city’s most celebrated symbols of LGBTQIA+ resilience, progress and pride, making an appearance near Sutro Tower every June during San Francisco Pride month.

Though the pink triangle beams brightly now, its origin story is much darker. During the Holocaust, Nazis would force gay individuals to wear a pink triangle so they could be easily identified—part of a detailed, hateful classification system. Different colors of triangles were applied to different groups of persecuted people in the labor and death camps the Nazis set up.

While the symbol once represented an incredible amount of hate and oppression toward the LGBTQIA+ community, today, it has been reclaimed and serves as an educational reminder of how the community has been treated in the past and continues to be treated today around the country and the world. 

The journey to reclaiming the pink triangle started in the 1970s when the symbol was used to protest homophobia. In the '80s, the triangle was flipped upside down and used by the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT UP) as a call to action against the AIDS epidemic.

And with its neon coloring glowing through the fog against the hillside, it’s now a beacon of pride visible miles from its home atop Twin Peaks. 

Volunteers help lay bright pink tarps to set up the annual pink triangle display at Twin Peaks on June 17. | Morgan Ellis/The Standard

According to Carney, over 400 volunteers signed up to participate in the community setup of this year’s pink triangle early one foggy morning last weekend. In a near-perfect display of teamwork, the actual laying and hammering of the project’s 175 bright pink tarps and 5,000 steel spikes barely took an hour.  

A volunteer hammers down one of the bright pink tarps making up the massive annual pink triangle display at Twin Peaks on June 17. | Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Later in the morning, a group of public figures and elected officials—including Mayor London Breed, State Sen. Scott Wiener, SF Pride President Nguyen Pham, SF Pride Executive Director Suzanne Ford and the world’s first city drag laureate D’Arcy Drollinger—joined Carney and the pink triangle atop Twin Peaks for a commemoration ceremony. Each was greeted with a bedazzled pink visor on their seat to combat the wind and pockets of sun peeking through the fog. 

The event kicked off with tunes courtesy of the city’s official band, the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, and concluded with popping champagne over the pink triangle. Now christened with bubbly for the year, the uniquely San Francisco display will brighten up the hillside through the end of the month. 

Watch our video to get a closer look at the volunteer-led effort to install San Francisco’s annual pink triangle display.

Patrick Carney, center, and a group of public officials end the commemoration ceremony by popping champagne over the pink triangle. | Morgan Ellis/The Standard