SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) – Every June, atop San Francisco’s Twin Peaks, sits a piece of history: the iconic pink triangle.

“This message helps people realize that we’re just one more minority that has been discriminated against,” Pink Triangle founder Patrick Carney told KRON4.

Carney said nowadays, the brightly colored symbol is worn with pride. But about 80 years ago, the downward pink triangle was used a symbol of hate against gay men. 

“It has this horrible tragic history that we have to remember,” he said.

During the Holocaust, the Nazis used colored triangles to categorize selected groups of people. Blue was for immigrants, yellow was for Jews and pink was for gays.

Gay men were singled out and received harsh treatment from Nazi prison guards.  

The Nazis used what was known as paragraph 175, a German statute that banned sexual acts between men, to persecute gay men.

“One particularly sad part is when the camps were finally liberated, those who wore the pink triangles were put back in prison under Germany’s paragraph 175 and the nightmare continued,” Carney said.

Scholars estimate about 100,000 gay men were arrested for violating the statue during the Nazi era.

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men were sent to concentration camps as a result.

“Imagine spending all that time in a Holocaust camp and starving down to 75 pounds and being locked up again,” Carney said.

Years later, the meaning behind the pink triangle started to change. 

Fog rolls in above the 26th Pink triangle, installed on Twin Peaks in San Francisco on May 29, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Carney)

In the 1980s, activists used the symbol to call attention to the AIDS epidemic, which killed thousands of gay men in San Francisco alone.

By the 1990s, it was used as more than a protest symbol, and took on a more representative meaning for the gay community. 

In 1996, carney and supporters wanted to bring the message of the pink triangle to the Bay Area. 

It started out as a wild arts and craft project.

“We snuck up here at 4 a.m.,” Carney said. “There 10 or 12 of us and it was over here a smaller meadow.”

It turned into a vibrant work of art that has grown in size over the years and is now almost an acre wide.

“It’s here to commemorate the gays that were forced to wear a pink triangle in the holocaust,” he said.

This display features dozens of streamers and 2,700 LED lights, illuminating the pink triangle during the day and at night. 

“It’ll be dragalicious as they say,” Carney said.

And every year, organizers light it up to remember one of the darkest times in history.

“It sort of goes through the whole gamut from tragic to celebration all throughout one hour of the ceremony,” Carney said.

Carney said the triangle serves as an educational tool, but also is a warning symbol. 

“I always say it’s up here on Twin Peaks as a reminder and a warning and without that warning, you know who’s going to remind people of what can happen,” Carney said.

Because while, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community has made major strides in acceptance — there’s still work to be done. 

“We’re trying to remember that kind of hatred to help prevent it from happening again,” Carney said.

So when people look at the pink triangle this pride month — it’s to remember the long difficult history that it encompasses.

KRON4’s annual Pride special, Love Will Keep Us Together, will be aired Thursday, June 23 at 6:30 p.m. Watch on KRON4 and KRON ON.