A Colourful History

The LGBTQ+ Movement is primarily assosciated with its infamous symbol: the rainbow flag. The flag is showcased a symbol of gay pride for LGBT+ marches worldwide, with the numerous colours used to reflect the amazing diversity of the community. Over the years, there have been other flags devised to represent specific people within the LGBTQ+ community – such as a blue, red and purple flag for Bisexuality. However, the rainbow flag was the original symbol of the LGBTQ+ community and continues to be utilised as such to this day.

San Francisco-based artists Gilbert Baker and Lynn Segerblom was the orignial creators of the flag. Baker was an activist, who was openly gay. He was challenged by influential gay rights leader Harvey Milk to create a symbol of pride for the community.

The flag was debuted on June 25, 1978, marking this year as the 30th anniversary of the symbol.

It is unclear as to where Baker originally got the idea for the flag, with some attributing the influence to Judy Garland’s Over The Rainbow and the Stonewall riots of June 28, 1969, which occurred a mere 3 days after Garland’s death. Others have suggestsed that the rainbow flag was inspired by the Flag of the Races, a flag used to call for world peace in the 1960s.

Baker’s original flag had eight colours (pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, purple, violet) with each colour given a specific meaning:

Sex, Life, Healing, Sunlight, Nature, Magic/Art, Serenity and Spirit (in order of colours).

The first two flags for the San Francisco parade were hand-dyed and stitched by thirty volunteers. The demand for the rainbow flag was quite substaintial in the beginning but it greatly increased following Harvey Milk’s assasination on November 27, 1978. The Paramount Flag Company, based in San Francisco, sold a version of Baker’s flag that only had seven stripes, stripping away the pink colour due to a lack of availability of the pink frabic. Baker also dropped the pink stripe from his version of the flag soon after as well.

The flag was remodified in 1979, with the turquoise stripe being stripped away in order to hang it vertically. This led to a six-stripe version of the flag that we see today. The rainbow flag and colours are used for solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. There have been modifications to the flag in different ways to identify with different sections of the LGBTQ+ community, with one particular addition being a black stripe to commemorate those lost to AIDS. Others have added both black and brown stripes to bring attention to LGBTQ+ people of colour (POC).

Just a few weeks ago, on February 12th, 2018, a 9 stripe flag was debuted at Love Fest Festival during Carnival in Brasil. It put turqoise and pink stripes back in and added a white stripe in order to represent the full gender and sexual spectrum, as espoused by the entire LGBTQIIAA+ acronym.

Gilbert Baker sadly died in March of last year, unable to mark the anniversary of his infamous creation later this year. However, his work and legacy will carry on and will continue to represent everyone in the LGBTQ+ community for years to come.

By Michele Theil

Michele Theil is a freelance journalist based in London, specialising in investigative journalism and pieces relating to the LGBT+ community, women, race and culture – and their intersections. She is a bisexual woman of colour, and passionate about social justice, diversity, inclusion, writing, reading and swimming. Read her other work at micheletheil.com.

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