History & Colors of the Rainbow Flag

From The Rainbow Flag by Steven W. Anderson which appeared in GAZE Magazine (Minneapolis), #191, on 28 May 1993.

“The first Rainbow Flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco artist, who created the flag in response to a local activist’s call for the need of a community symbol. Baker designed a flag with eight stripes: pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. According to Baker, those colors represented, respectively: sexuality, life, healing, sun, nature, art, harmony, and spirit. Baker dyed and sewed the material for the first flag himself – in the true spirit of Betsy Ross.

Baker soon approached San Francisco’s Paramount Flag Company about mass producing and selling his “gay flag”. Unfortunately, Baker had hand-dyed all the colors, and since the color “hot pink” was not commercially available, mass production of his eight-striped version became impossible. The flag was thus reduced to seven stripes.

In November 1978, San Francisco’s gay community was stunned when the city’s first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, was assassinated, Wishing to demonstrate the gay community’s strength and solidarity in the aftermath of this tragedy, the 1979 Pride Parade Committee decided to use Baker’s flag. The committee eliminated the indigo stripe so they could divide the colors evenly along the parade route – three colors on one side of the street and three on the other. Soon the six colors were incorporated into a six-striped version that became popularized and that, today, is recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers.”

The six-stripe rainbow, whether used on a flag or other symbols, is now an international GLBT Pride symbol. In 1994, the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion included a mile-long version of this flag. An aerial photo by Mick Hicks (a copy of which hangs at MGLCC) shows the full length of this flag which was one mile long. It was immediately cut up into sections as it reached Central Park and distributed to many individuals and places. This flag inspired Memphis Pride, Inc., officers to build the 100-foot flag which many Memphians cheered from 1997 to 2007.

In 1994, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original design, Gilbert constructed the Sea to Sea flag with eight stripes. It stretched a mile and a quarter and divided Key West down the middle with one end touching the Atlantic and the other the Gulf of Mexico. This flag also was divided among Prides and other organizations and has been touched to the important waters in America and Europe. A 100-foot section was given to Mid-South Pride by the artist and its sponsor, Absolut Vodka and appeared in the Pride Parade, at the Black Pride Picnic, and at the Prides of the Southeast Conference.

The colors of the rainbow flag are also the Primary and Secondary Colors taught to every child and the six visible colors of the Spectrum of Light which any prism will produce.