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Pink triangle co-founder wants people to remember history

by Khaled Sayed

Pink triangle co-founder Patrick Carney hopes people<br>enjoy – and learn from – this year's 20th annual installation.<br>Photo: Khaled Sayed
Pink triangle co-founder Patrick Carney hopes people
enjoy – and learn from – this year's 20th annual installation.
Photo: Khaled Sayed  

He is credited with bringing an increased awareness of Nazi atrocities during World War II to a new generation of LGBT people and their straight allies. Now, Patrick Carney will be honored by the San Francisco Pride board of directors as the iconic pink triangle installation he co-founded marks its 20th anniversary.

Carney is this year's Gilbert Baker Pride Founder's Award recipient, and was selected by the board of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee. For the 20th year, Carney, assisted by a large group of volunteers, will install the giant pink triangle atop Twin Peaks over Pride weekend, June 27-28.

The brief installation – the triangle is only up from Saturday morning to Sunday evening – is meant to convey a history lesson and perhaps inspire people to learn more about a Pride symbol rooted in humiliation and discrimination.

The pink triangle was used by the Nazis in concentration camps to identify and shame homosexuals. In the camps, gays were forced to wear the pink triangle on their breast pockets to identify them and to set them apart from other prisoners.

Of course, it wasn't just the gays who were forced to wear identifying patches. Jews had to wear yellow, Gypsies were forced to wear brown, and so on.

But beginning more than two decades ago, LGBTs started to reclaim the pink triangle, turning it into a symbol of Pride.

The pink triangle that's installed on Twin Peaks has been admired by locals and visitors alike, and first appeared in 1996. It's made up of more than 175 bright pink canvasses and measures 200 feet across. It is close to an acre in size and, depending on the weather, can be seen for nearly 20 miles.

Carney said he was pleasantly surprised when informed of the Pride award.

"I am honored by the acknowledgement of nearly two decades of the pink triangle educational effort and hope it might remind others of the many struggles our forebears went through to get to where we are as a community today; they made great sacrifices which we can only imagine," he told the Bay Area Reporter.

He said that he hopes the recognition will "shine a light" on the "hardships so many LGBTs around the world still face today in countries such as Uganda, Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jamaica, Brunei, Yemen, and Russia."

"Unfortunately, the list goes on and on," he added.

Carney, 59, grew up in central Washington state in Bridgeport and Ellensburg, He moved to Palmdale, in southern California, when he was in high school.

"I moved to the Bay Area a month after Harvey Milk was assassinated," he said, referring to the November 1978 murders of Milk, the first openly gay supervisor, and Mayor George Moscone by disgruntled ex-supervisor Dan White.

In 1979, Carney attended UC Berkeley, graduating with a master of architecture degree in 1980, and he began his career as an architect, later moving to San Francisco.

Two years after the installations started, Carney incorporated a public ceremony commemorating the unveiling of the pink triangle. Political leaders, SF Pride officials, and grand marshals attend, along with interested community members.

"I realized many people thought the pink triangle was some sort of abstract symbol to represent the LGBT movement, and didn't know of its tragic origins," Carney said. "The ceremony reminds people of where the pink triangle came from and the horrors of its original intent."

State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) has spoken at all the pink triangle commemoration ceremonies. He praised Carney's work.

"I first met Patrick as creator and organizer of the pink triangle and I was immediately charmed by him and his creation," Leno said. "From conception through execution, the installation is a community accomplishment on multiple levels. I will forever be a huge fan of Patrick Carney and his artistry."

As a gay, Jewish man Leno is familiar with the history of the pink triangle and the yellow Star of David.

"The Nazis were very specific in their stratification of those they were determined to destroy," Leno said. "The fact that our LGBT community has successfully reclaimed the pink triangle as a symbol and source of pride speaks to our resiliency and strength."

Now that the pink triangle has been reclaimed by the LGBT community all over the world as a symbol of pride, Carney said its origins should not be overlooked.

"We must never forget how it started or the hatred of the past," he said. "The Holocaust must never be forgotten."

He talked about what the annual pink triangle installation means to him.

"The pink triangle is a visible, yet mute reminder of man's inhumanity to man," Carney said. "It is accomplished by a small group of volunteers who, on a tiny budget, construct a gigantic pink triangle on Twin Peaks. We must remind people of the hatred and prejudice of the past to help educate others and try to prevent such hatred from happening again."

Carney has organized the installation and commemoration ceremony every year since it began. He is co-founder of the display and the sole founder of the annual commemoration ceremonies. He considers those who help out to be "Friends of the Pink Triangle," but there is no formal group. Two of those longtime helpers are Carney's husband, Hossein, and his sister, Colleen Hodgkins.

Many hardworking individuals volunteer their time to make the display possible and organizations and businesses have contributed funds. Financial sponsors for 2015 include SF Pride, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the Castro Lions Club, the Apothecarium, Toad Hall, Badlands, Steamworks, Hodgkins Jewelers, and Haus of Starfish. Starbucks provides coffee, tea, and snacks for the volunteers; Barefoot Wine and Bubbly provides the champagne used in the ceremony. The San Francisco Police Department provides 24-hour coverage during the installation. The B.A.R. is a media sponsor, along with Betty's List.

Carney noted that it's still not too late to help out with this weekend's installation. For more information, see the News Briefs in the main section of the B.A.R. or visit www.thepinktriangle.com.

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