Curatorial Projects > Battle Emblems (2006)


Migration to cities after World War II established gay communities nationwide, as well as early gay and lesbian organizations such as Los Angeles’ Mattachine Society and San Francisco’s Daughters of Bilitis. The modern gay rights movement began on June 28, 1969. Although police raids on gay bars were common at the time, patrons of New York City’ Stonewall Inn fought back that night, escalating into riots that lasted three days, receiving unprecedented media coverage. After the catalyzing riots, gay and lesbian activists continued working for social equality, and began demanding legal rights to live and work without discrimination, and that homosexuality be removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of mental diseases. The 1970s saw the creation of influential groups such as Gay Liberation Front and a large migration of gays and lesbians to San Francisco, where they acquired political influence, most notably with the 1977 election of openly gay activist Harvey Milk to the Board of Supervisors. 100,000 people attended the first national gay rights march in Washington, D.C. in 1979; a million people attended the third national march in 1993. In 1987, AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) formed in New York to fight for de-stigmatization of AIDS and for AIDS research funding. Their aggressive street tactics politicized the gay community around AIDS, leading the way to other activist organizations, including the Lesbian Avengers. The Stonewall riots are commemorated each June on Pride Day, where gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgenders gather for celebratory parades and political action. The 1990s brought the opening of GLBT community centers nationwide.

The pink triangle was established as a pro-gay symbol by U.S. activists during the 1970s. Its precedent lay in World War II, when homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps were forced to wear inverted pink triangles as identifiers, much in the same manner that Jews were forced to wear the yellow Star of David. Lesbians (along with Gypsies and other “asocials”) were forced to wear inverted black triangles. The appropriation of the pink triangle, originally pointing down in the concentration camps and now pointing up, transformed a symbol of humiliation into one of solidarity, resistance, and liberation. The pink triangle gained mass exposure in 1987 by members of the Silence = Death Project, who subsequently offered the symbol to activist group ACT-UP. Owing in part to its increasing identification with AIDS, the pink triangle was supplanted in the early 1990s by the rainbow as the dominant symbol of gay pride.