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Blood, Sweat, and Canvas: Remembering the Struggle for LGBT Rights

For nearly 20 years, a massive pink triangle has been emblazoned across Twin Peaks during each Pride weekend. Visible from the hub of the festivities on Market Street and from as far away as the mouth of the Caldecott Tunnel, the triangle appears in the Saturday morning sunlight as if by magic. It serves as a beacon, marking San Francisco — at least for the weekend — as a queer mecca.

Unlike the ubiquitous rainbow flags that fly cheerily throughout the city, the Pink Triangle serves as a somber reminder of the prejudice and brutality faced by LGBT people, historically and presently. An inverted pink triangle was the badge used to identify gay men in Nazi concentration camps.

"We need to understand our past to celebrate and understand where we are today," says Patrick Carney, who worked to install the first Pink Triangle on Twin Peaks in 1995 and has organized the annual installations and accompanying commemoration ceremonies ever since. "It took such hardship to get us the equality we have today; there were very dark chapters in that history."

Carney, who moved to the Bay Area in the weeks following Harvey Milk's assassination and has now resided in San Francisco for 33 years, says the Pink Triangle started as "a renegade craft project." Under cover of darkness, he and a group of friends staked pieces of pink-painted canvas into the Twin Peaks soil. "It was one-twelfth the size it is now," he recalls. "It was hard to even see. We had to run around on Pink Saturday, pointing up at the hill."

These days, there's no missing it. Hundreds of volunteers, including Carney's 90-year-old mother and other members of his family, brave the elements to install over 175 large pieces of butylene tarp (a material selected after the original canvas proved heavy and difficult to paint). According to Carney, volunteers of all ages and sexualities participate. "It's become a pilgrmage," he says. "You have to do it at least once; the LGBTs in S.F. need to volunteer at least once."

Volunteers are also sought to remove the triangle as the Pride celebration draws to a close on Sunday — Carney says the de-installation is often not as well-attended.

And volunteers don't have to sneak around in the dark anymore in order to participate; since 1996, the event has been permitted by the city, and often attended by its highest officials, including former mayors Gavin Newsom and Willie Brown, State Sen. Mark Leno, and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

The way for the installation is not only paved by politicians, but also by hungry goats. (Yes, you read that right.) A herd of goats spent last weekend prepping the site for the Pink Triangle by chowing down on weeds.

The installation is followed by a commemoration ceremony that acknowledges the progress of local LGBT rights and the persecution still faced internationally by the LGBT community. "Brothers and sisters around the world don't have the same things we do," Carney says, pointing to Russia's anti-gay propaganda law and ongoing discrimination in Uganda, Iran, Jamaica, and other countries around the world.

Past commemoration ceremonies have featured speeches by Ted Phillips, deputy director of the U.S. Holocaust Museum, and LGBT activist Jose Sarria, who also went by the name Widow Norton, among others. This year's commemoration ceremony includes Mayor Ed Lee, the Pride parade's grand marshals, Ugandan refugees who've escaped LGBT persecution, and actress Lea DeLaria, who plays Carrie "Big Boo" Black on the hit Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.

The ceremony is accompanied by music from the San Francisco Gay/Lesbian Freedom Band, and attendees have been known to pop pink sparkling wine once the installation is finished. Despite the hard work and hard memories, the Pink Triangle is still a site of celebration.

Installation starts Saturday, June 28, at 7 a.m. and the commemoration ceremony starts at 10:30 a.m.; de-installation starts June 29 at 4:30 p.m. on Twin Peaks Vista Outlook, S.F. Bring a hammer, gloves, long pants, and sunscreen; coffee, snacks, and a pink triangle T-shirt are provided. Free; visit thepinktriangle.com.

 
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