3: Poster, “Silence=Death,” and an excerpt of “A Letter to Harvey Milk” read by Lesléa Newman, 2016.
In the 1980s, while thousands of gay men were dying of AIDS, the U.S. government’s official response included statements like, “It hasn't reached the general population yet.” Artists and activists began using the pink triangle—which gay men had been forced to wear in Nazi concentration camps—as a way to raise awareness about the AIDS crisis, and this image of the triangle above the words “SILENCE=DEATH,” became the activist group ACT UP’s trademark, and a symbol for AIDS activism in general. In this excerpt from “A Letter to Harvey Milk,” Harry encounters this symbol on the book bag of his writing teacher and is confused and hurt by its reappropriation.
Suggested Activity: Play the audio clip and follow along with the text. Then, look at the image as a class. The pink triangle was used by Nazis during the Holocaust and then by artists, activists, and members of ACT-UP--a radical coalition to fight AIDS. Why was the pink triangle chosen by activists, some of whom were Jewish, as a symbol to condemn the U.S. government and others for their failed response to the AIDS crisis? What do you make of this symbolism? What emotions did this image conjure for Harry? How did it make you feel?
Sources: Liclair, Christian. "Silence=Death-Project." The Nomos of Images. December 2015. https://nomoi.hypotheses.org/198. ; Newman, Lesléa. "A Letter To Harvey Milk." In A Letter To Harvey Milk, 33-47. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.