It came to my attention during a recent conversation with some younger LGBTI friends that not many of the younger sect know the history of the Rainbow flag which is an international symbol of Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transsexuals and Intersexuals, so I have decided to do a series of articles on this and similar subjects.
LGBTI rights are rights that have been hard-fought for and for which many are still fighting. It is for this reason that I believe that we should know more about the history of the symbols in use and some of the battles that we have fought over the years.
This first article will concentrate on the Gay Pride Flag.
The flag originated in the United States in the 1970s, when it was felt that we needed a symbol under which we could all unite for Gay Rights. A San Francisco artist, Gilbert Baker designed the original flag in 1978. It consisted of eight colours and was hand-dyed and sewn by Baker and a few friends.
Gilbert Baker designer of the Gay Pride Flag
First used in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978, the flag was made up of hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo and violet. Each colour was assigned a specific meaning by Baker:
Original 8-colour version
After the November 27, 1978 assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and openly gay City Supervisor Harvey Milk by former Supervisor Dan White, and the subsequent lenient sentence given to their murderer, it became the perfect symbol for the entire gay community to unite under in protest of this tragedy, and demand for it grew exponentially.
The Paramount Flag Company sold their own version of the flag using stock rainbow fabric consisting of seven stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet. Baker continued to produce his version of the flag too, but had to drop the hot pink as the fabric was unavailable in the necessary quantities. At this stage the indigo was also replaced by royal blue.
Version with hot pink removed due to fabric unavailability. (1978–1979)
The flag was again modified in 1979 because it transpired that when hung vertically from the lamp posts of San Francisco’s Market Street, the centre stripe was obscured by the post. (Another version of this is that the 1979 Pride Parade Committee got rid of the indigo stripe to make the colours evenly divisible along the parade route; red, orange, and yellow on one side of the street and green, blue, and purple on the other.) This led to the dropping of the turquoise and the emergence of the currently used 6-colour version.
Current Internationally used version
The flag was officially recognised by the International Congress of Flag Makers, and is a universal symbol for LGBTI communities.
During the 1994 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Baker was commissioned to create the world’s largest rainbow flag. A gigantic 30-foot wide, one mile long rainbow flag was carried throughout the parade route by over 10,000 volunteers. The Guiness Book of World Records confirmed it as the world’s largest flag.
30-foot wide, one mile long rainbow flag – 1994 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots
Foot-wide sections of the flag were given to individual sponsors as part of a fundraiser for the Stonewall anniversary event once the event had ended. Afterwards additional large sections of the flag were sent with activists to be used in pride parades and LGBTI marches in various countries all over the world.
The Rainbow Flag signifies:
Pride in standing up for who we are in a hostile world; Pride in being who we are and Pride in standing by those who are still fighting for their basic rights
The rainbow is a symbol of Hope that all LGBTI individuals will one day have equal rights in all countries
Ours is an extraordinarily diverse community; it encompasses all genders, all races and cultural backgrounds, all languages, with or without disabilities, all religions, and much more.
Which side is up?
It is interesting to note that although the flag is flown mostly with the red stripe on the top, there is in reality no “right-side up” so it can be flown either red up or purple up as per Gilbert Baker. This underscores the very point that every gay individual is free to be “oriented” in any direction, and the freedom it gives to groups is likewise unique.
By flying the Gay Pride Flag we celebrate our pride in what we have achieved; we remember our past, we affirm our future and we provide support and visibility for those who are still fighting for their Equal Human Rights!
Well, I hope you enjoyed this brief history of the Rainbow Flag and will check back for future articles.