The Pink Triangle atop Twin Peaks, San Francisco Pride

An Interview with Pink Triangle Founder Patrick Carney

Nearsighted welcomes Patrick Carney, one of the founders of The Pink Triangle, a group that’s placed a giant pink triangle atop Twin Peaks in San Francisco for each Pride weekend since 1996.

Belo Cipriani: Where are you from and what brought you to San Francisco?

Patrick Carney: I grew up in central Washington State, and we moved to Palmdale, CA when I went into high school. I moved to the Bay Area a month after Harvey Milk was assassinated in late 1998 to attend graduate school in architecture at UC Berkeley, and moved back and forth between Berkeley and San Francisco. I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Architecture in 1980 and began my career as an architect, and finally gave up the back-and-forth commute across the bay and moved full time into San Francisco.

BC: How did the idea for the Pink Triangle come together? What was your inspiration?

PC: The display started as an attempt to add a little extra color (pink, it turns out) to the 1996 Pride Parade. We were sitting in a restaurant on Market Street wondering how we could spread the weekend’s festivities to other parts of the city and noticed a huge blank canvas right outside the window — Twin Peaks. The Pink Triangle of Twin Peaks was born three weeks later. It started out as a renegade crafts project, which went up in the dark of night, and is now appreciated enough for the community and the city’s elected officials to help celebrate.

Once we learned so many people did not know about the story of the pink triangles used in Nazi concentration camps, annual commemoration ceremonies were then established. It is great to live in a city where one can not only put an enormous pink triangle on a hill in the middle of the town, but the mayor, supervisors, senators, assemblypersons, and our congressperson have shown up and taken part.

To many people, the pink triangle is a brightly colored, graphic image that has come to represent the LGBT movement, and there is often not a connection to the tragic history of how the symbol came about. In the 1930s and 40s, the pink triangle was used by the Nazis in concentration camps to identify and shame homosexual prisoners. This symbol, which was used to differentiate one “undesirable group” from another “undesirable group,” has been embraced by the gay community as a symbol of pride.

BC: How long did it take you to get it started and who were your initial supporters?

PC: The first year it was easy.

It started with a quick trip to Home Depot and the purchase of a handful of large tarps and large containers of pink paint. The display has doubled in size many times, requiring five painting parties. It’s now about 200 feet across and nearly an acre in size. Though now large, perhaps the most gigantic aspect of the display is not its size, but how many people it has hopefully educated and inspired. We install numerous placards along the edge of the tourist overlook, which is a few feet above the top edge of the pink triangle. We like to stay back and observe people reading the signs, which describe the project, to hear how they all universally seem to say: “I didn’t know that.” That means the education process is working. Mostly friends and family were the initial supporters, and they are still supportive to this day. My sister, Colleen Hodgkins, and my husband, Hossein Carney, are long-term and consistent volunteers — they are so essential and I can’t imagine the project lasting this long without their help and unwavering support, loyalty and reliability (we can expect that from family!). My nearly 92-year-old mother will be on Twin Peaks on Saturday, June 27th handing out coffee and pastries to the volunteers helping install the 20th annual display, just like she has done for every pink triangle set up for years.

BC: Have you received funding?

PC: Yes, outside funding is necessary. I have put in lots of money over the years, but lately, as the economy improved, there have been consistent donors. The 2015 sponsors are: Toad Hall, Badlands, The Apothecarium, SF Pride, The Castro Lions Club, The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, The Steamworks, Hodgkins Jewelers, Haus of StarFish, Starbucks for the coffee, tea, snacks and volunteers, Barefoot and Bubbly for the champagne used in the christening.

BC: How many people does it take to put together?

PC: It takes about 125 people to install it on Saturday, and 50 to take it down Sunday, after the parade. The outline is installed by my husband, my sister and I the day before the public installation. We found that having the outline up makes it much easier once the volunteers arrive. The volunteers then fill in between the pink lines with 175 bright pink tarps and over 4,000 12” long steel spikes.

This is a true “community-building project” and volunteers are needed. See below for information on how you can help.

BC: Is the Pink Triangle the only one of its kind?

PC: Yes, it is a one of a kind as far as I know. I am pretty sure it is the only one. Several have contacted me about the logistics of doing one in other areas (one was even in Europe from someone who found my website). However, no one has actually create a giant Pink Triangle for another city.

BC: Where do you see this project in the future?

PC: Still going up on Twin Peaks every year, and hopefully in other cities too. A big inspiration for keeping the annual San Francisco Pink Triangle display going was learning that after the camps were liberated, and all of the other prisoners were let go, gays were put back in prison.  The discrimination and dehumanization continued — simply because they were homosexual.  It was amazing to me that after all of the carnage and horror of the camps was revealed to the world via newsreels, and people around the globe were unified in shock and disbelief, somehow it was still okay to throw the gays back in prison. That kind of hatred and discrimination certainly doesn’t exist here, but there are still plenty of places in the world where it is not only alright to discriminate against homosexuals, some even look the other way when we are killed.

It is through the display that we hope to educate others of the lessons of the Pink Triangle; the lesson being: what can happen when hatred and bigotry become law. There are certainly numerous recent examples covered well in the media such as in Uganda, Nigeria, Iran, Jamaica, Brunei and many others. Unfortunately, there are currently 77 countries where homosexual activity is illegal. While it isn’t illegal in Russia anymore, President Putin signed an anti-gay propaganda law. There is still much discrimination toward the LGBTQ community. The gigantic display is a visible yet mute reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.

BC: How can people support this cause and get involved?

PC: Volunteering to help install it or take it down are great ways to support the cause and contribute. Also, educating others about the Pink Triangle is the ideal way to support the cause. The goal is to remember the hatred of the past to help prevent it from happening again.  Also, the message we are trying to teach is “what can happen when hatred and bigotry are allowed to become law.” For those who want to contribute financially, they can contribute via SF Pride. The pink triangle project is too small to spend money on lawyers to draw up documents to create a 501c3. About 18 years ago, Pride agreed to be the fiscal sponsor (money is run through them). Donation checks can be written to SF Pride with “for Pink Triangle” in the memo line.

If you’re interested in volunteering to help install and/or break down the Pink Triangle this year, here’s some helpful info:

Installation: Saturday, June 27th, from 7am-10am, with ceremony at 10:30am

De-installation: Sunday, June 28th, from 4:30pm-8pm (after the parade)

(One need not stay the entire time — even an hour of help on either day is a huge help!)

  • Bring a HAMMER and Gloves!!!
  • Wear closed-shoes. Sandals are not recommended. Wear sunscreen.
  • Fashionable Pink Triangle t-shirts will be provided to all who help.

More info at www.thepinktriangle.com 

Belo Cipriani View more

Belo Cipriani is the award-winning author of Blind: A Memoir and Midday Dreams. He is a disability advocate, a spokesman for Guide Dogs for the Blind, and is currently the national spokesman for 100 Percent Wine -- a premium winery that donates 100 percent of proceeds to nonprofits that help people with disabilities find work.