The History of the Gay Pride Rainbow Flag
by JD Greene (Google+)
Have you ever wondered exactly where the multi-colored rainbow flag that we LGBT People wave during gay pride parades and proudly fly outside our homes through the year came from originally? Well, this article will explain the humble and defiant origin of the Gay Pride Rainbow flag and how it has been adapted and adopted through a half century of emerging gay pride and gay history.
It all began with a single person, having a vision of a world where a man or woman could be accepted for who they are inside and for their differences to be celebrated and the hope that one day it would be possible to freely and without shame demonstrate their Gay Pride!
Gilbert Baker was born in Kansas in June 1951 and served in the U.S. Army from 1970 until 1972. After an honorable discharge he taught himself to sew. He began making banners and ultimately the Gay Pride Rainbow Flag for his friend Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to any substantial political office of San Francisco City Supervisor in 1978 and who was later assassinated on 27 November 1978.
The Rainbow Flag was designed in response to a local activist’s call for the need of a community symbol for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender – LGBT pride, liberation and diversity. A flag was needed that could be easily recognized and could be used year after year. It was about breaking free of an existence limited by fear and conformity, the right to express sexuality without shame or retaliation.
The Pride Flag Makes its First Appearance
The Rainbow Flag first appeared on 25 June 1978 at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade. Gilbert Baker and thirty volunteers hand-stitched and hand-dyed two huge prototype flags for the parade. In 1979, Gilbert Baker went to work at Paramount Flag Company in San Francisco (which closed in 1987).
Gilbert Baker has designed flags for many dignitaries and political figures, including then San Fransisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein. He also designed the flags for the 1984 Democratic National Convention. The Rainbow Flag theme has since been used around the world as a symbol of Gay Pride unity. The Rainbow Flag is also recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers.
The Rainbow Flag resides in the public domain.
The Rainbow Pride Flag originally had eight stripes symbolizing the diversity of the gay community:
COLORS OF THE RAINBOW FLAG
- Pink = Sex
- Red = Life
- Orange = Healing
- Yellow = Sunlight
- Green = Nature
- Turquoise = Magic
- Blue =Serenity
- Purple Spirit
The Power of a Symbol
After the November 1978 assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and openly gay Supervisor Harvey Milk the Rainbow Flag began to be used in San Francisco as a general symbol of the gay community.
To meet demand, the Paramount Flag Company began selling a version of the pride flag using stock rainbow fabric consisting of seven stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and purple. Gilbert Baker increased production of his version of the flag, and he also dropped the pink stripe due to the unavailability of the pink fabric.
In 1979, the flag was modified again after it was hung vertically from a lamp post; the center stripe was obscured by the post itself. Changing the flag design to one with an even number of stripes was the easiest way to rectify this, so the turquoise stripe was dropped, which resulted in a six stripe version of the flag – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
In 1989 the Rainbow Pride Flagcame to nationwide attention in the USA after John Stout sued his landlords and won when they attempted to stop him displaying the rainbow flag from his West Hollywood apartment. In 2003 a 2km (1 1/4 mile) long, 8 colour nylon Rainbow Flag was produced for the 25th anniversary of the Rainbow Flag. It was used in the Key West Parade and later Gilbert Baker had it cut up and distributed with a limited worldwide release of 1100.
Each smaller portion of the flag was personally signed by Gilbert Baker, numbered and each came with it’s own Certificate of Authenticity. However, the eight-striped version has seen little adoption by the wider gay community, which has mostly stuck with the better known six-striped version which now has international recognition.
PRIDE FACT: The Rainbow Pride Flag is most commonly flown with the red stripe on top or on the left side, as the colors appear in a natural rainbow.
The Modern Pride Flag
Many variations of the flag have been created. For instance, a black stripe is added to some symbolizing those lost to AIDS. There are also variations to represent bisexual, bears and many other segments of the LGBT community.
The Gay Pride Flag has become a beacon of hope and a symbol of modern LGBT liberation and is flown or waved across the world as a symbol of a very important universal truth that everyone, regardless of where you come from or who you love, is deserving of respect, tolerance and acceptance.