There are many different stories with slight variations that recount the creation of the first pride flag, a now widely know positive symbol that represents the LGBT2Q+ community’s strength and hope.
The original pride flag was created in 1978 by Gilbert Baker, a queer artist and Vietnam veteran based in San Francisco after the suggestion and encouragement of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected for public office in California.
Sawn and hand dyed by Baker himself and a team of 30 volunteers, some sources say that he drew inspiration from the “Flag of the Race”, used by 60s activists who used it to demonstrate for peace. Other sources mention that he might have drawn inspiration from the Oscar-winning song “Over the Rainbow” and its performing artist Judy Garland, who was considered a gay icon, and by the Stonewall riots; but on an interview granted to the Museum of Modern Art, Baker himself suggested that the rainbow flag’s inspiration came from the sky as he considered it a “natural” flag.
Created by Baker as a positive and all-encompassing symbol for the LGBT2Q+ community, the first version of the original flag was displayed in June of 1978 at the San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade. It originally consisted of eight colors: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic/art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit. After the assassination of Harvey Milk, the organizers of the Parade selected the flag designed by Baker as decoration for the street where it was taking place due to its intent of representing the strength, pride, and hope.
The original flag underwent its first changes before the Parade, which ended with the current design of six colors of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. Baker had to drop the use of the hot pink fabric due to the short availability of the dye, which would have made it very complicated to mass produce before and after. Another change happened when the indigo and turquoise stripes were dropped in favor of a royal blue one. In some sources it is explained that this happened because the organizers of the Parade decided to split the flag equally, so it could adorn both sides of the street during the event, but other sources say that this happened a year later in 1979 because the dropped colors were being obstructed by the flagpoles holding the flags.
A second design of the original flag was created by Baker together with the original eight-colored version. This version supposedly mirrored the American flag by sporting a blue square in the upper left-hand corner with fifty stars, and the traditional red and white stripes were replaced with rainbow stripes.
One of the reasons behind the creation of the rainbow flag, according to many sources, was to replace symbols that the LGBTQ2Q+ emerging rights movement had been using to represent the cause: like the Greek letter Lambda, the pink triangle or the labrys.
The pink triangle, widely used during the 60s, was specifically controversial due to its original ties to the Nazi era. During WWII this triangle was used to signal gay males interned in concentration camps but could also include lesbians and transsexual individuals. The LGBTQ2Q+ community had decided to reclaim this symbol, but many had raised the question that its negative connotations were too heavy to remain linked to the rising rights movements.
In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots of 1994 Baker was commissioned to create the world’s largest rainbow flag. Utilizing the now basic six colors, this flag measured 30 feet and it was confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest.
In 2003 Baker was commissioned again to produce another giant flag to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the flag itself. This time utilizing the original eight colors and with a measurement of one and a quarter mile across Key West Florida, the flag was named “25 Rainbow Sea to Sea”, and it was spanned from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.
LGBTQ2Q+ communities in other parts of the world have also adopted the rainbow flag as a symbol.
The pride flag might keep changing as attempts of including new visions, feelings and perceptions add or modify colors to the original design created by Gilbert Baker, but its positive meaning as a symbol of strength, hope, and unity remains the same not mattering the many representations and forms it has taken along the years.
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