It’s not often that the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band is asked to bring pep music, our baton twirler, and all the sequins we can scrounge up to an event commemorating the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. But the Pink Triangle dedication isn’t your average Holocaust remembrance.
At the top of Twin Peaks—overlooking the Castro on the Saturday morning of Pride weekend—volunteers, politicians, band musicians, and even the podium and the mountain itself sport flaming pink triangles on their chests. A pink balloon arch floats above the podium and pink bubbly is sprayed downhill over the 1-acre, hot pink installation. A friend of mine calls the giant inverted triangle “Twin Peaks’ Bikini Bottom,” and I’m not sure the organizers would object. Pink Triangle founder Patrick Carney believes the event is about transforming that Nazi badge worn by gays in internment camps into a celebration.
“The band, the upbeat music, baton twirlers, hundreds of pink balloons, the pink stage, the exaggerated scale of the gigantic display and the champagne christening all help alleviate the tension and importantly emphasize what I keep saying over and over... that this once symbol of hate is indeed now a symbol of Pride,” Carney shared in an email.
San Francisco’s Pink Triangle started in the same, time-honored way many revered LGBT traditions have– after dark to avoid police detection. In 1996 without a permit, Carney with his friends Thomas Tremblay and Michael Brown snuck up to Twin Peaks and installed its first Pink Triangle in the dead of night before the Pride Parade. The idea of the iconic gay symbol appearing like a crop circle on the mountain overlooking the Castro tickled them. Carney told the SF Chronicle in a 2010 interview that during the first year they’d quipped, “Look! Up on the hill! It’s a sign!”
What started as a prank quickly became an annual mission. Carney wanted to create an event that would remind the LGBT community of the serious origin of its flamingo-pink symbol to emphasize that the fight for LGBT rights isn’t over. He invited SF-grown politicians like Mark Leno, Tom Ammiano, Carole Migden, Bevan Dufty, and various incarnations of the Mayor. He invited national and international figures like Stuart Milk, Lt. Dan Choi, Dustin Lance Black, Bruce Vilanch, and Andy Bell. He also invited the Freedom Band.
He wanted the Band’s upbeat parade music to lend a feeling of celebration to a somber topic. The Band was so buried with other Pride events – the Pride Concert, the Dyke March, Pink Saturday, the Mother of all Pride Parades – that it wasn’t until 2000 that enough musicians could squeeze it in. That year, as the sun burned off the fog, Carney himself recounted the history of the pink triangle. The featured speaker was Dorothy Hajdys, mother of Allen Schindler, the naval officer who was beaten to death in 1992 in the wake of Clinton’s DADT compromise.
Today, after 17 years, the Pink Triangle dedication has become an integral part of San Francisco’s Pride weekend, a must-attend event for Grand Marshals and politicians… and for the Freedom Band too. Remembrance and celebration: it’s a powerful combination.