The Pride Flag
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 one. 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.
REPLACING A SYMBOL OF THE PAST
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.
VARIATIONS INSPIRED BY THE PRIDE FLAG
LGBTQ2Q+ communities in other parts of the world have also adopted the rainbow flag as a symbol.
A South African Pride launched a combination of the country’s flag and the rainbow flag.
On June 26, 2015, the White House was illuminated with the rainbow flag colors to commemorate the legalization of same-sex marriage in all 50 US states.
A nine stripe LGBTQ flag was raised during the 2018 Sao Paulo carnival in Brazil. This flag showed a white stripe in the middle of it to represent the full gender and sexual spectrum, together with the hope of peace and union among all.
Other colors have been occasionally added to the standard design of the flag, such as black stripes symbolizing those members of the community lost to the AIDS epidemic. AIDS activists designed a “Victory over AIDS” flag that added a black stripe after the standard six colors; it was suggested by Leonard Matlovich, the first gay serviceman that outed himself to the military in order to protest the ban on gay men and who was dying himself of AIDS, that this stripe could be removed after a cure was discovered.
In 2017, Philadelphia presented another flag that had added two stripes, one black and one brown, to represent people of color who had previously felt ignored or marginalized by the community during pride celebrations. Some controversy was started by this, as some saw as disrespectful the adding of colors to the original pride flag design.
On October 2010, a Canadian teenager by the name of Brittany McMillan decided to promote an awareness day that she called “Awareness Day”. During this day people dress in purple color in order to show support for the LGBTQ youth who are or had been, victims of bullying.
A new flag called the “Progress Pride Flag” was created by Daniel Quasar after being inspired by the Philadelphia version of the rainbow flag. He added the white, pink and light blue colors of the transgender flag, together with the already added brown and black in order to add more emphasis to the design.
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 matter the many representations and forms it has taken along the years.