The pink triangle was established as a pro-gay symbol by activists in the United States during the 1970s. Its precedent lay in World War II, when known homosexuals in Nazi concentration camps were forced to wear inverted pink triangle badges as identifiers, much in the same manner that Jews were forced to wear the yellow Star of David. Wearers of the pink triangle were considered at the bottom of the camp social system and subjected to particularly harsh maltreatment and degradation. Thus, the appropriation of the symbol of the pink triangle, usually turned upright rather than inverted, was a conscious attempt to transform a symbol of humiliation into one of solidarity and resistance. By the outset of the AIDS epidemic, it was well-entrenched as a symbol of gay pride and liberation.
In 1987, six gay activists in New York formed the Silence = Death Project and began plastering posters around the city featuring a pink triangle on a black background stating simply ‘SILENCE = DEATH.’ In its manifesto, the Silence = Death Project drew parallels between the Nazi period and the AIDS crisis, declaring that ‘silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.’ The slogan thus protested both taboos around discussion of safer sex and the unwillingness of some to resist societal injustice and governmental indifference. The six men who created the project later joined the protest group ACT UP and offered the logo to the group, with which it remains closely identified.
Since its introduction, the ‘SILENCE = DEATH’ logo has appeared in a variety of manifestations, including in neon as part of an art display and on a widely worn button. It was also the forerunner of a range of parallel slogans such as ‘ACTION = LIFE’ and ‘IGNORANCE = FEAR’ and an entire genre of protest graphics, most notably including a bloodstained hand on a poster proclaiming that ‘the government has blood on its hands.’ Owing in part to its increasing identification with AIDS, the pink triangle was supplanted in the early 1990s by the rainbow as the dominant image of ‘gay pride.’ By force of analogy, however, the rainbow itself has, in some countries, become an image associated with AIDS. --from the ACT UP website
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