How Did the Rainbow Flag Become an LGBT Symbol?

How Did the Rainbow Flag Become an LGBT Symbol?


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It’s not uncommon to see rainbow flags flying outside of homes and bars, pinned to shirts and on the back of bumpers—all with the universal and proud proclamation that #LoveIsLove. But who created the rainbow flag, and why did it become a symbol of the LGBT community?

The rainbow flag was created in 1978 by artist, designer, Vietnam War veteran and then-drag performer, Gilbert Baker. He was commissioned to create a flag by another gay icon, politician Harvey Milk, for San Francisco’s annual pride parade.

The decision to enlist Baker proved serendipitous, as the idea of a flag to represent the gay and lesbian community had occurred to him two years earlier. As Baker told the Museum of Modern Art during a 2015 interview, he had been inspired by the celebrations marking America’s bicentennial in 1976, noting that the constant display of stars and stripes made him realize the cultural need for a similar rallying sign for the gay community. And as a struggling drag performer who was accustomed to creating his own garments, he was well-equipped to sew the soon-to-be iconic symbol.

At the time, the most commonly used image for the burgeoning gay rights movement was the pink triangle, a symbol used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals. Using a symbol with such a dark and painful past was never an option for Baker. He instead opted to use a rainbow as his inspiration.

The different colors within the flag were meant to represent togetherness, since LGBT people come in all races, ages and genders, and rainbows are both natural and beautiful. The original flag featured eight colors, each having a different meaning. At the top was hot pink, which represented sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow signifying sunlight, green for nature, turquoise to represent art, indigo for harmony, and finally violet at the bottom for spirit.

With the help of close to 30 volunteers working in the attic of the Gay Community Center in San Francisco, Baker was able to construct the first draft of the now world-renowned rainbow flag. It was first showcased at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978.

After the design was unveiled, participants of the parade proudly waved the new symbol in solidarity. Baker then took the design to Paramount Flag Company, which sold a version of the flag without hot pink and turquoise, which were replaced with blue for practicality purposes. After the assassination of Harvey Milk on November 27, 1978, demand for the rainbow banner only increased. Popularity spiked again a decade later when a West Hollywood resident sued his landlord over the right to hang his flag outside his residence.

In the years since, the rainbow flag has only grown in popularity and is now seen around the globe as a positive representation of the LGBT community. A mile-long version of the flag was created to celebrate the 25th anniversaries of two landmark events; the Stonewall Riots and Baker’s creation of the flag itself.

Baker died on March 31, 2017, at the age of 65, just two years after the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the U.S. His legacy lives on in the six-colored flag that flies proudly every Gay Pride month, recognizing the lives, and loves, of LGBT people worldwide.


The history of the rainbow flag

Harvey Bernard Milk (1930-1978) was the first US civil servant to openly come out as gay. We all know the story, as told by Gus Van Sant in Milk (2008), in which Sean Penn plays the gay rights activist. Milk was brutally murdered at the San Francisco City Hall, together with the mayor George Moscone, by the former city councilman Dan White, who had resigned a few days earlier after a gay rights bill had come into force, which he had opposed to.

The original flag had 8 stripes

In 1978, before the tragic event, Harvey Milk asked the artist Gilbert Baker to design a flag representing the homosexual community worldwide. Baker (1951-2017), as Milk, was a gay rights activist and one of the most influential representatives of the modern LGBT movement. Arrived from Kansas in 1970 as an enlisted soldier, Baker remained in San Francisco where he pursued his dream of becoming an artist. He met Milk in 1974 and four years later, after his election as a city councilman in San Francisco, the councillor asked the artist to create a new symbol for Pride, an alternative to the pink triangle. The pink triangle — Winkel in German — was once used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals to be persecuted, then in the 1970s became the symbol of the community’s revenge against persecution.

Gilbert, the font created to honor Gilbert Baker

The American artist wanted to create a flag that would represent a positive message not only for the community, but also for those who still look at the homosexual reality with suspicion and hatred. This is why he chose the rainbow, a common symbol of peace and agreement and the new manifesto of gay love. In fact, in Genesis, the rainbow symbolizes a pact between God and mankind, which appeared for the first time after the flood myth in which Noah and his ark survived, as a promise that he would no longer flood the earth. Baker started working on the flag, along with a group of volunteers, by dyeing the fabrics and sewing the eight stripes. In the first version, the colours were as follows: hot pink (sexuality), red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), turquoise (art), indigo (serenity), violet (spirit).

After Milk’s assassination, the flag reached its peak of success and Baker, unable to find the hot pink fabric, decided to remove it from the flag, reducing the number of stripes to seven. In 1979, the flag was modified again and the turquoise part was removed, resulting in a version with six stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. In 2015, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) classified the rainbow flag as an internationally recognised symbol and purchased the original eight-colour flag, displaying it in the contemporary design gallery.

Philadelphia Pride flag adds two more colored stripes

Over the years the flag has been reinterpreted to better represent the new homosexual communities. In 1998, Michael Page designed the flag for bisexuals, using two colours and a third which is the combination of the two: pink (same-sex attraction), blue (opposite-sex attraction), lavender (attraction to both sexes). On the other hand, the asexual community identifies itself in a spectrum of colours that includes people who rarely experience sexual attraction, those who experience it only in a specific set of circumstances, and more. Black represents total asexuality, grey symbolizes demisexuality, white represents sexuality and violet symbolizes the community. In 2017, a new version of the rainbow flag was created by the City of Philadelphia (Philadelphia Pride Flag), which decided to add two new colours, black and brown, to represent the African-American community as well.


The Despicable Origin and Meaning of the ‘Rainbow Flag’

Want irony? Burning the U.S. flag is still protected under the First Amendment as "symbolic speech." But try burning the notorious rainbow flag of the so-called "LGBTQIA community," as Chicago priest Fr. Paul Kalchik just did? Your cardinal-archbishop, Blase Cupich, will try to burn you.

Coverage of Kalchik's brave act and Cupich's vindictive response is elsewhere &mdash but let's look at the rainbow flag itself and the diabolical and mocking message that its inclusion on a banner also featuring the very cross of Jesus Christ Himself is really communicating.

Did you know the rainbow flag was first adopted as a symbol for "gay pride" by way of a San Francisco artist named Gilbert Baker, who crafted the symbol at the behest of gay icon Harvey Milk, who himself, notoriously, is said to have had a 16-year-old boy as his live-in lover in the 1960s?


So at the very root of this diabolical symbol is its inspiration taken from Milk, an icon of the "LGBT community" who was, himself, while in his 30s, a perpetrator of same-sex sexual abuse of an underaged 16-year-old boy. Keep that in mind.

With Milk's encouragement, it seems that artist Gilbert Baker then set out to create a flag that was destined to fly for the first time at San Francisco's "Gay Freedom Day Parade" on June 25, 1978, which was just months before Harvey Milk himself was killed, forever weaving together the martyr figure and the rainbow flag as core elements of the "gay pride" narrative.

Why a rainbow? Some suggest overtones of the original "gay icon" Judy Garland and her signature song "Over the Rainbow." Others think it more likely that the then-popular rainbow "Flag of the Races" inspired the adoption of a multi-colored symbol, as the "gay rights" movement had directly borrowed much from its civil-rights counterpart. Another factor is that, even since the Victorian era, it was commonplace for homosexual men to wear brightly colored fabric or flowers to subtly advertise to other homosexual men that they were of a similar inclination.

In any case, it was Gilbert Baker himself, who would later use the drag-queen name "Busty Ross," who chose the original eight-colored horizontal-striped pattern, and then, significantly, assigned specific meanings to each of these colors.

What did each color actually mean to the "gay pride" devotees?

  • Hot pink = Sex
  • Red = Life
  • Orange = Healing
  • Yellow = Sunlight
  • Green = Nature
  • Turquoise = Magic/Art
  • Indigo = Serenity
  • Violet = Spirit

That is the version of the flag that started it all. That it first used eight stripes is significant, because it reveals clearly the now-obscured but then-accepted true intentions behind the meaning of this disturbing symbol.

In that first year of wildly popular demand for the rainbow flag, two things occurred that would result in the six-colored version that is now ubiquitously ever-present in our culture. It turned out that the "hot pink" flag fabric was just not available for mass production. The flag then became seven-striped for a while. But the odd number of stripes made it awkward to hang vertically from lampposts, which obscured view of the middle color. So turquoise and indigo were combined into one color &mdash royal blue. Now, three colors could be seen on each side of a pole when hung vertically.

So embedded in this symbol, which is now used universally and thought to merely represent "diversity" (as though the colors signify lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, queers, etc.), the true history is much, much more disturbing from an authentically Catholic point of view.

The original message conveyed by the flag was to affirm and celebrate "gay sex" &mdash the hot pink stripe.

The original message conveyed by the flag was to affirm magic &mdash the turquoise stripe.

The original message conveyed by the flag was to affirm "spirit" &mdash but what spirit?

Think about it &mdash were it not for the unavailability of hot pink fabric, the rainbow flag that has draped Catholic parishes, churches, sanctuaries and even altars would have been visibly expressing affirmation and approval for gay sex acts.

As it is, because the flag was changed, that aspect of the flag's meaning has never changed as far as its proponents are concerned &mdash gay sex is just fine, and the flag represents approval for it. This approval has only been made invisible to the viewer of the symbol.

Similar is the case with the inclusion of "magic" as a partial meaning &mdash the six-colored version of the flag now in vogue uses royal blue to denote "harmony/peace" rather than "magic/art" and "serenity" &mdash s till think this isn't diabolical and worth burning?

Well stay tuned &mdash the flag is still evolving, because six stripes just aren't enough anymore. Just this past February, months ago, at the "Love Fest" parade in Sao Paulo, Brazil, organizers decided to bring back that original eight-striped flag &mdash including the hot pink stripe designating "sex" &mdash while adding one more stripe.

This new version now has a ninth stripe of white, in the middle of the original eight, supposedly designating all possible "human diversity" (race, gender, orientation, ethnicity). "LGBT-friendly" Catholic parishes everywhere must be brimming with excitement at the prospect of budgeting for new nine-striped rainbow banners to adorn the altar upon which we celebrate the very Paschal Mystery of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.

Which brings us back to the recent incident in which a parish &mdash not just the pastor but faithful parishioners took it upon themselves to slice up and burn, with prayers of exorcism, a banner that included not just the rainbow flag, but also had the Holy Cross of Christ superimposed upon it &mdash both abomination and desecration, in one banner. But be careful, saying that out loud can get you burned.

Only one response suffices for the banner-burners' heroic act of prayer and reparation, ridding their community of a truly diabolical symbol: Well done, good and faithful servants.


Is the LGBT “rainbow” flag the same as God’s rainbow?

How does God’s rainbow differ from the “rainbow” flag used by the LGBT community? Are they the same?

Looking out the front door of Molokai Baptist Church.

We recently received a question about the LGBT flag and if it is the same as the biblical rainbow. Let’s take a look at that and see what we find.

First, let’s talk about the rainbow from a biblical perspective. In Genesis 9:8-17 we’re given the origin of the rainbow. There we’re told that God place the rainbow in the sky as a symbol of God’s promise to Noah and his sons that He would never destroy the earth by flood waters again.

That’s a pretty simple, straight forward history. Now let’s take a look at the way that man has used the rainbow.

In the late 1400s, a Christian reformer, Thomas Muntzer (1489–1525) preached holding a rainbow flag in his hand. A statue of Muntzer, holding a rainbow flag, stands in Stolberg, Germany. In the 16th century, during the German Peasant’s War, a rainbow flag with an image of peasants’ boots was used to represent hope for social change.

There’s also evidence of a pre-Columbian rainbow flag, a Buddhist rainbow flag, a rainbow flag representing the Cooperative Movement of the 1920s and the Peace Movement of the 1960s. Rainbow color flags were also used by the Bene Ohr Jewish movement, U.S.A. (1961), the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (1996) and Ecuadoran and Russian political parties.

In 1978 San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker created his version of the rainbow flag in response to a local activist’s call for the need of a community symbol. Baker dyed and sewed the material for the first flag himself and it had 8 colors. This multi-colored flag morphed into a banner of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement, which is commonly referred to today as LGBT.

Each of the colors had a specific meaning:

  • Hot Pink for sex
  • Red for life
  • Orange for healing
  • Yellow for sun
  • Green for serenity with nature
  • Turquoise for art
  • Indigo for harmony
  • Violet for spirit.

On November 27, 1978, the openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated. As a consequence the demand for the flag greatly increased. So, in order to meet the demand, the Paramount Flag Company began selling a version of the flag using stock rainbow fabric consisting of seven stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet. Baker eventually dropped the hot pink color because he couldn’t find the fabric.

In 1979 the flag was hung vertically from the lamp posts of San Francisco’s Market Street. Because of the width of the seven stripe flag the center stripe was covered up by the post itself. In order to fix this problem they changed the design to have an even number of stripes so they dropped the turquoise stripe. That left them with the six stripe version of the flag that we see today consisting of — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

So, even though the LGBT flag might be called by the name of God’s token of promise to all mankind, it’s NOT a true rainbow. God’s rainbow has always had seven colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

God’s rainbow doesn’t have to change colors because of a lack of “fabric” or not fitting on a lamp post. No, God’s rainbow still is a promise that He will not destroy man by flood waters ever again. Next time it will be by fire!

Seven has always been the number of colors used in rainbow flags throughout the centuries, so a flag with fewer than seven colors isn’t really a rainbow flag…it’s just a multi-colored flag.

Throughout human history, we find those things which are in opposition to God’s will and ways are often simply counterfeit copies. Such copies might come close, but they always fall short. All false religions have enough truth to sound good, but they all teach lies often using subtle twists of the truth. That was Satan’s ploy in the Garden. He tempted Eve not by presenting a totally false teaching but by twisting God’s Word. With subtle deception, he created confusion and caused Eve to forget God’s words and commit sin.

Satan never presents himself in truth, as the accuser that he is. Instead he is able to transform himself into an “angel of light,” and his minions are able to transform into “ministers of righteousness” (2 Cor 11:14-15), all with intent to deceive. They may “look” good, but they are nothing more than “copy-cat” appearances of that which is good, and their desire is to lead people away from the One True God who is omni-benevolent (all good).

God’s Rainbow

God created the rainbow and it belongs to Him. God’s rainbow has seven colors. Interestingly, according to Strong’s Dictionary, even the word “rainbow” has seven letters (qesheth). God’s rainbow represents His goodness, His mercy and grace, His love and longsuffering, and, most of all, it is a reminder that His promises are true and faithful. The true rainbow will never represent, nor can it ever celebrate, any sinful behavior.

I hope you’ll never look at the LGBT flag in the same way again. It is NOT a rainbow flag, falling short with only six colors. And it certainly does not represent God’s rainbow. The LGBT community uses a multi-colored flag that falls short in every way….especially in what it represents.


How Did the Rainbow Flag Become a Symbol of the LGBT Community?

Prior to 1978, the most common visual representation of the gay rights movement was a pink triangle, a symbol that had been used by the Nazis to identify homosexuals and was later reclaimed by the gay community. However, in 1978, San Francisco politician Harvey Milk commissioned artist Gilbert Baker to come up with a flag for the city’s annual Gay Freedom Day Parade. Although it has undergone some changes, Baker’s original eight-colored rainbow flag was meant to represent togetherness. In Baker's original design, hot pink represented sex, red was for life, orange was for healing, yellow signified sunlight, green was for nature, turquoise represented art, indigo was for harmony, and violet denoted spirit.

More about the rainbow flag:

  • A similar rainbow flag was often seen on college campuses during the 1960s. The flag was meant to represent world peace during the anti-war movement.
  • The current rainbow flag -- which typically has just six colors -- is recognized around the globe as a positive representation of the LGBT community.
  • Harvey Milk made history as the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California. In 1977, he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Tragically, only five months after the rainbow flag made its debut, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated by a disgruntled former colleague.

Rainbow Flag: Origin Story

The following paragraphs are from chapeter 5 “Stitching A Rainbow” where Gilbert describes the moments where he came up with the ideas behind the creation of the Rainbow Flag for the LGBTQ Community.

Here Gilbert recalls an evening with his friends Cleve Jones and filmmaker Artie Bressan in early 1978, after his Christmas breakup with Tandy Belew.

“To get over Tandy, I devoted myself further to activism and went to the movies. My friend Artie Bressan, Jr., was a filmaker who had just made a documentary of the 1977 Parade, titled “Gay USA.” He was a wild visionary who directed porn on the side to finance his 35mm documentaries. We went to see films several times a week.

One day, we went to the Strand Theater on Market Street to see Citizen Kane. It was Artie’s favorite. Cleve joined us. After the movie, we all walked over to Civic Center Plaza to look at the neoclassic buildings. Artie began to press me to come up with a new symbol for what he had called “the dawn of a new gay consciousness and freedom.” Both he and Harvey had brought this up to me before.

At this point, the pink triangle was the symbol for the gay movement. But it represented a dark chapter in the history of same-sex rights. Adolph Hitler conceived the pink triangle during World War II as a stigma placed on homosexuals in the same way the Star of David was used against Jews. It functioned as a Nazi tool of oppression. We all felt that we needed something that was positive, that celebrated our love.

As Artie implored, I looked at the flags flying on the various government buildings around the Civic Center. I thought of the American flag with its thirteen stripes and thirteen stars, the colonies breaking away from England to form the United States. I thought of the vertical red, white, and blue tricolor from the French Revolution and how both flags owed their beginnings to a riot, a rebellion, or revolution. I thought a gay nation should have a flag too, to proclaim its own idea of power.

As a community, both local and international, gay people were in the midst of an upheaval, a battle for equal rights, a shift in status where we were now demanding power, taking it. This was our new revolution: a tribal, individualistic, and collective vision. It deserved a new symbol.

In the past, when I had thought of a flag, I saw it as just another icon to lampoon. I had considered all flag-waving and patriotism in general to be a dangerous joke. But that changed in 1976. The American Bicentennial celebration put the focus on the American flag. It was everywhere, from pop art to fine art, from tacky souvenirs to trashy advertising. On every level, it functioned as a message. After the orgy of bunting and hoopla surrounding the Bicentennial, I thought of flags in a new light. I discovered the depth of their power, their transcendent, transformational quality. I thought of the emotional connection they hold. I thought how most flags represented a place. They were primarily nationalistic, territorial, iconic propaganda — all things we questioned in the ‘70s. Gay people were tribal, individualistic, a global collective that was expressing itself in art and politics. We needed a flag to fly everywhere.”

Later that week at the Winterland Ballroom…

“Cleve and I danced the same way we always raised our arms up over our heads, snapping our fingers like Diana Ross. We’d shake our hips like Tina Turner, acid cheerleaders twirling in psychedelic funkadelic circles.

The crowd was as much a part of the show as the band. Everyone was there: North Beach beatniks and barrio zoots, the bored bikers in black leather, teenagers in the back row kissing. There were long-haired, lithe girls in belly-dance get-ups, pink-haired punks safety-pinned together, hippie suburbanites, movie stars so beautiful they left you dumbstruck, muscle gayboys with perfect mustaches, butch dykes in blue jeans, and fairies of all genders in thrift-store dresses. We rode the mirrored ball on glittering LSD and love power. Dance fused us, magical and cleansing. We were all in a swirl of color and light. It was like a rainbow.

A rainbow. That’s the moment when I knew exactly what kind of flag I would make.

A Rainbow Flag was a conscious choice, natural and necessary. The rainbow came from earliest recorded history as a symbol of hope. In the Book of Genesis, it appeared as proof of a covenant between God and all living creatures. It was also found in Chinese, Egyptian and Native American history. A Rainbow Flag would be our modern alternative to the pink triangle. Now the rioters who claimed their freedom at the Stonewall Bar in 1969 would have their own symbol of liberation.”


Seven Stripes

It was after the assassination of Harvey Milk that the Flag was beginning to be used as a recognizable and official symbol of gay pride and community. A company under the name Paramount Flag Co., based in San Francisco, started selling striped flags as the Rainbow Flags, but their variety only had seven stripes, excluding the hot pink.

The flags made by Paramount were initially created for the International Order of Rainbow for Girls, which was an organization run by Masons. The Paramount company had many leftover flags in their store, which was conveniently located in a sizeable gay area, so they started selling it as a Pride Flag. Baker eventually spoke with the company to mass-produce the original flags but was informed that hot pink could not be used on a large scale, so he decided to remove the stripe from the design.


How the Rainbow Flag Became Associated With LGBTQ Rights

Flags with a spectrum of colors have been used for centuries to represent change. There's evidence to suggest that rainbow-colored flags date back at least to the German Peasants' War in the 1500s. The International Co-operative Movement designed a colorful banner to show international unity in 1921. Italy and Greece both use rainbow-striped flags to symbolize peace. And during the Hippie movement of the 1960s, peaceful protesters brought the rainbow equals peace concept back to the forefront.

But how the rainbow became specifically associated with LGBTQ rights goes back to San Francisco in the late 1970s, and to one artist in particular.

The flag was created by Gilbert Baker in 1978. Born in Kansas in 1951, Baker came out as gay to his parents one Christmas Day after he fell in love. "When I was young, they thought I was from outer space," Baker told CNN in 2015. "I was the only gay person they probably knew, and they struggled with that … I came out because I fell in love. It wasn't a terrible, horrible, damn thing. I was in love with somebody, and I wanted to scream it from the rooftops."

Baker worked as an Army medic in San Francisco in the early 1970s, and when his time in the Army was over, he decided to stay in the city. He occasionally performed as a drag queen and took part the queer liberation movement. He became friends with Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person elected to office in California, who urged his friend to create a symbol for gay rights.

In 1976, Baker noticed a proliferation of American flags around San Francisco—a celebration of the country’s bicentennial. "I thought, a flag is different than any other form of art. It’s not a painting, it’s not just cloth, it is not a just logo—it functions in so many different ways," Baker told the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). "I thought that we needed that kind of symbol, that we needed as a people something that everyone instantly understands. … It was necessary to have the Rainbow Flag because up until that we had the pink triangle from the Nazis—it was the symbol that they would use [to denote gay people]."

His reason for choosing a rainbow was simple: "We needed something beautiful, something from us. The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. Plus, it's a natural flag—it's from the sky!"

Parade during San Diego 2016 LGBT Pride in July 2016. iStock

Baker chose both where the flag was created and where it flew for the first time very carefully. "I decided the flag needed a birthplace, so I didn’t make it at home," he told MoMA. "I wanted to make it at [the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove Street], with my friends—it needed to have a real connection to nature and community."

Using huge garbage cans filled with natural dye, Baker and his volunteers dyed massive amounts of cotton in eight colors, each with symbolic meaning:

Hot Pink: Sexuality
Red: Life
Orange: Healing
Yellow: Sunlight
Green: Nature
Turquoise: Magic/Art
Blue/Indigo: Serenity/Harmony
Violet: Spirit

When it came time to sew, "it took four hands to move the fabric through the machine," Baker recalled. Ironing the two flags—which each measured 30 feet by 60 feet—required 10 people.

The first flags went up at the United Nations Plaza during the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978. "When the flag actually went up, it was a very important thing that we raised them—there were two of them—in the United Nations Plaza [in downtown San Francisco]," Baker told MoMA. "Even in those days, my vision and the vision of so many of us was that this was a global struggle and a global human rights issue."

"When it went up and the wind finally took it out of my hands, it blew my mind," Baker told CNN.

Rainbow Flag creator Gilbert Baker poses at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in January 2016 in New York City. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Baker’s design became popular pretty quickly, but demand for the flag skyrocketed after Harvey Milk was assassinated five months later, on November 27, 1978. As more and more people wanted to show their support for Milk and the LGBTQ community, it became harder to keep the supply of custom-created eight-striped rainbow banners up Baker switched to premade rainbow-colored fabric even though it lacked the hot pink stripe. The dye also had a tendency to run when applied to cotton, so they switched to nylon.

"The nylon caught on for two reasons: first of all, it’s very durable, and second, it lights beautifully," Baker told MoMA. "Dupont puts out a great product just for flags, it’s called Oxford Weave, and it lights rather like stained glass and in some of the photographs you’ll see the sunlight coming through and it makes a rainbow on the pavement. That’s something that I think really captured the public’s imagination."

The flag was further modified the following year, when the turquoise stripe was dropped. While accounts differ as to the precise reason, they all come back to a desire to be able to split it in half more easily for display purposes.

Since that time, the rainbow has become the popular symbol of the LGBTQ community. Baker stayed busy after sewing that first flag in 1978. In 2003, he helped create the world's biggest rainbow flag ever—it stretched a mile and a quarter across Key West, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Afterward, sections of the flag were then sent to more than 100 cities around the world.

Baker passed away at the age of 65 in 2017. His first rainbow flag is currently in MoMA’s collection.

A version of this story ran in 2017 it has been updated for 2021.


Who Designed the 'Rainbow Flag' and How Did it Come to Represent Queer Pride?

June is celebrated as ‘Pride Month’ all over the world. ‘Pride’ is synonymous with a flag, whether you identify as gay, lesbian, bi, gender non-conforming, trans, or various other versions that really make you feel, truly you. The flag, is a reflection of all the diverse spectrum of gender it encompasses: and is the colours of the rainbow. If you’ve seen pride symbols, they usually also rainbow in color. The pride marches, pride parades are usually adorned with the rainbow flags. The flag in a sense, is a reflection of the larger community, and how varied and colourful the marches look. But where did the pride flag really originate from?

In 2015, when the Museum of Modern Art acquired the flag, they credited it to artist Gilbert Baker. “We’re thrilled to announce that MoMA has acquired the iconic Rainbow Flag into its design collection, where it joins similarly universal symbols such as the @ symbol, the Creative Commons logo, and the recycling symbol. Artist Gilbert Baker created the Rainbow Flag in 1978 in San Francisco," they wrote.

In Gilbert Baker’s own memoir, ‘RAINBOW WARRIOR’ he in detail mentions the origin and the idea behind it — He writes about how when he came up with the flag, the symbol was a pink triangle for the gay movement. “But it represented a dark chapter in the history of same-sex rights. Adolph Hitler conceived the pink triangle during World War II as a stigma placed on homosexuals in the same way the Star of David was used against Jews. It functioned as a Nazi tool of oppression. We all felt that we needed something that was positive, that celebrated our love." Queer iconography once included pink and black triangles—re-appropriated by the LGBT community after the Nazis used them to label gay men and lesbians in concentration camps—and the labrys—a double-headed ax associated with the mythological, matriarchal Amazons.

" I thought of the vertical red, white, and blue tricolor from the French Revolution and how both flags owed their beginnings to a riot, a rebellion, or revolution. I thought a gay nation should have a flag too, to proclaim its own idea of power," wrote Baker.

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The visual idea came to him, while dancing in a crowd. “North Beach beatniks and barrio zoots, the bored bikers in black leather, teenagers in the back row kissing. There were long-haired, lithe girls in belly-dance get-ups, pink-haired punks safety-pinned together, hippie suburbanites, movie stars so beautiful they left you dumbstruck, muscle gayboys with perfect mustaches, butch dykes in blue jeans, and fairies of all genders in thrift-store dresses. We rode the mirrored ball on glittering LSD and love power. Dance fused us, magical and cleansing. We were all in a swirl of color and light. It was like a rainbow," he writes. “A rainbow. That’s the moment when I knew exactly what kind of flag I would make."

Curator Michelle Millar Fisher, who interviewed Baker when MoMA acquired his original flag, says there’s utility in continuously interrogating its symbolism.

A Los Angeles Times article dispelled the popular belief that artist Gilbert Baker was solely responsible for the design of the symbol that came next—the rainbow. In collaboration with other volunteer members of San Francisco’s 1978 pride parade decorations committee—among them tie-dyer Lynn Segerblom (also known as Faerie Argyle Rainbow) and seamster James McNamara—activists departed from the most popular queer symbols of the time to create the original, eight-color flag (complete with pink and turquoise stripes), who Baker does mention in the interview.

In 2018, graphic designer Daniel Quasar has added a five-coloured chevron to the LGBT Rainbow Flag to place a greater emphasis on “inclusion and progression". In a project called “Progress: A PRIDE Flag Reboot,” Quasar introduced four extra symbolic hues in the existing six-color pennant. Quasar’s Progress Pride Flag adds five arrow-shaped lines to the six-coloured Rainbow Flag, which is widely recognised as the symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. The flag includes black and brown stripes to represent marginalised LGBT communities of colour, along with the colours pink, light blue and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride Flag. Quasar’s design builds on a design adopted by the city of Philadelphia in June 2017. Philadelphia’s version added black and brown stripes to the top of the Rainbow Flag, to represent LGBT communities of colour. In addition to the black and brown stripes – which Quasar says also represent those living with AIDS, and those no longer living – he introduces the colours used on the Transgender Pride Flag. While a lot more inclusive, Quartz termed the new update “a design disaster."

In pride parades and marches, and even in the online community, the flag is now a dominant presence - showing just how diverse and inclusive the community is.


Here’s Where the Rainbow Flag Came From

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There is dancing in the streets today. This morning, America righted a wrong. No longer will anyone be barred from marrying the person they love because that person happens to be their same sex. No longer will loving families be barred from the rights and benefits of marriage. Love is now equal for everyone across all 50 states, so says the Supreme Court, which ruled 5-4 that marriage between same-sex partners is a right bestowed by the constitution.

As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court's opinion of the couples who brought the case, "Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right."

As you go out into cities and neighborhoods during Gay Pride weekend, you will likely see a familiar symbol of love flown at celebrations and parades and from porches and windows: the rainbow flag, long a powerful embodiment of hope and inclusion for the LGBTQ community.

Last week, writer Kyle VanHemert delved into the history of this powerful flag. He was writing about it in the context of tragedy rather than joy. But today, when love is the operative word, the story of the rainbow flag and all the hope it embodies is one of jubilance. Read about it below. We did it. We did it. We did it.

The Rainbow flag, an international symbol of LGBT pride, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, as part of the museum’s design collection last week.

The flag was created in 1978 by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker. As he told MoMa in an interview, the idea began to take shape in 1976. Baker was a Vietnam War veteran and a drag queen. It was the year of the United States Bicentennial, and the American flag was inescapable.

“I thought, a flag is different than any other form of art. It’s not a painting, it’s not just cloth, it is not just a logo—it functions in so many different ways. I thought that we needed that kind of symbol, that we needed as a people something that everyone instantly understands…that influence really came to me when I decided that we should have a flag, that a flag fit us as a symbol, that we are a people, a tribe if you will.”

Baker thought a flag would help his tribe be seen, something Harvey Milk, the influential gay leader, convinced Baker was critical to the cause. Milk stressed “how important it was to be visible,” Baker explains. “A flag really fit that mission, because that’s a way of proclaiming your visibility, or saying, ‘This is who I am!'”

Baker created the first Rainbow flag in the attic of the Gay Community Center in San Francisco with the help of nearly 30 volunteers. They soaked fabric in trash cans full of dye, fed them through a sewing machine, and laboriously ironed the strips at the other end. The massive banner flew for the first time in United Nations Plaza in downtown San Francisco on June 25, 1978. Following its debut, the Rainbow flag spread widely. “I hoped it would be a great symbol but it has transcended all of that,” Baker told the museum. “It became so much bigger than me, than where I was producing it, much bigger even than the US. Now it’s made all over the world.”

—Kyle VanHemert

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