LGBTQ / Queer
Jewish Pride, The Pink Triangle, and San Francisco

Jewish Pride, The Pink Triangle, and San Francisco

Every year in San Francisco, a giant pink triangle adorns Twin Peaks over the Castro. What does it mean?

It was 1997 and my first and only visit to Washington DC. My Jewish pal and ex-girlfriend, Stefani, had invited me on a family trip to stay with her sister and brother-in-law in Maryland.

It was on this trip, a couple time zones from home, that I really first admitted to myself that I was gay; I remember staring in the bathroom mirror and letting the full realization land with its full gravitas.

Of the many amazing things I saw on that trip, the DC Holocaust Museum was the most intense and lasting. Stefani’s sister Michelle worked there, and after our tour, we went upstairs to the offices. While chatting, I saw a replica pink triangle tacked to the wall of Michelle’s cubicle. I remember thinking how surprised I was that hers was so prominently displayed; it was the 90s, things weren’t great for the LGBTQ community (still aren’t!) — and it was, to date, the most gay display I’d ever seen.

Earlier in the museum, dark room after dark room with matter and displays darker still, there was a tucked-away alcove very easy to miss. I watched others breeze past and I asked Stefani what was over there as I walked toward it. I distinctly recall her replying something like, It’s nothing. But it was a small, isolated display about the homosexuals and Roma murdered in the Holocaust, and it hit me like a gut punch. And even this tucked-away, sad, inadequate marker was controversial at the time. But why?

pink triangle has been a symbol for the LGBT community, initially intended as a badge of shame, but later reclaimed as a positive symbol of self-identity and love for queerness. In Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s, it began as one of the Nazi concentration camp badges, distinguishing those imprisoned because they had been identified by authorities as gay men. In the 1970s, it was revived as a symbol of protest against homophobia, and has since been adopted by the larger LGBT community as a popular symbol of LGBT pride and the LGBT movements and queer liberation movements.

Pink triangle. (2023, June 10). In Wikipedia.
Nazi concentration camp badge. (2023, June 8). In Wikipedia.

Fast-forward a year-and-a-half, and I had fully come out to family and friends after going off to college. I joined and after a semester became an officer in LGBSA, the student social group, and very quickly saw the pink triangle on buttons, patches, and posters, and much like the word queer, grew to accept it as a reclaimed badge of honor.

I also remember first seeing the pink triangle as a tattoo, something particularly jarring since Jews and other prisoners, of course, were forced to get tattoos in the camps. I’ve not seen a Jew with this particular tattoo (though this Jew is covered in ink).

Fast-forward another 20 years and I now live in San Francisco where atop the most visible hills in the city is this incredible display: A bright pink triangle overlooking the Castro every June for Pride.

I live a few blocks from Castro and Market – the center of the gay universe – and where Harvey Milk, a city supervisor, once served as a leader of the community. He was Jewish, too, and his story is told hauntingly well in 2008’s Milk (and I highly suggest you revisit it). He was also the same age I was when he moved to San Francisco to start his life anew, where I discovered a rich community in NJBSF.

Castro storefront, 2023: Harvey Milk, pink & gold triangle over his head; message us for attribution (unknown artist)
Castro bookstore window: The Story of the Jews by Simon Schama and The Mayor of Castro Street by Randy Shilts. Support Fabulosa Books!

It means a lot to me to be in this area, to wonder what it was like in the 70s during the life and times of Harvey Milk; especially these days, as radicals use the same language and tactics against trans people and drag queens as they did against gay men. During his time, police harassment and arrests were a fact of life.

Jewish Pride is something I have, too. Pride—the opposite of shame!—means not hiding, not being quiet, not being a victim amid rising antisemitism and homophobia and violence.

Be safe this pride and always.

Above: photos from Queer AF (Queer Artists Featured), a community and arts space in Harvey Milk’s former camera shop. Swipe through the gallery below of photos I took on Castro Street, an info window about the 28th display of the pink triangle in San Francisco.

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