The rainbow flag, commonly the gay pride flag and LGBT pride flag, is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) pride and LGBT social movements. (Other uses of rainbow flags include a symbol of peace.) The colors reflect the diversity of the LGBT community, and the flag is often used as a symbol of gay pride in LGBT rights marches. It originated in Northern California, but is now used worldwide.
Designed by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, the design has undergone several revisions to first remove then re-add colors due to widely available fabrics. As of 2008, the most common variant consists of six stripes, with the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. The flag is commonly flown horizontally, with the red stripe on top, as it would be in a natural rainbow.
The original gay pride flag flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978. It has been suggested that Baker was inspired by Judy Garland‘s singing “Over the Rainbow” and the Stonewall riots that happened a few days after Garland’s death (she was one of the first gay icons). The flag also strongly resembles the ribbon colors of the WWI Victory Medal, though no connection is evidenced. Another suggestion for how the rainbow flag originated is that at college campuses during the 1960s, some people demonstrated forworld peace by carrying a Flag of the Races (also called the Flag of the Human Race) with five horizontal stripes (from top to bottom they were red, black, brown, yellow, and white).Gilbert Baker is said to have gotten the idea for the rainbow flag from this flag in borrowing it from the Hippie movement of that time largely influenced by pioneering gay activistAllen Ginsberg. The flag consisted of eight stripes; Baker assigned specific meaning to each of the colors:
|hot pink: sexuality|
Thirty volunteers hand-dyed and stitched the first two flags for the parade.
After the November 27, 1978, assassination of openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, demand for the rainbow flag greatly increased. To meet 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. As Baker ramped up production of his version of the flag, he too dropped the hot pink stripe because of the unavailability of hot-pink fabric. Also, San Francisco-based Paramount Flag Co. began selling a surplus stock of Rainbow Girls flags from its retail store on the southwest corner of Polk and Post, at which Gilbert Baker was an employee.
In 1979 the flag was modified again. When hung vertically from the lamp posts of San Francisco’s Market Street, the center stripe was obscured by the post itself. Changing the flag design to one with an even number of stripes was the easiest way to rectify this, so the turquoise stripe was dropped, which resulted in a six stripe version of the flag — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
In 1989, the rainbow flag came to nationwide attention in the United States after John Stout sued his landlords and won when they attempted to prohibit him from displaying the flag from his West Hollywood, California, apartment balcony.
For the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in 1994, flag creator Baker was commissioned to create the world’s largest rainbow flag. It took months of planning and teams of volunteers to coordinate every aspect. The flag utilized the basic six colors and measured thirty feet wide. Foot-wide sections of the flag were given to individual sponsors as part of a fundraiser for the Stonewall anniversary event once the event had ended. Afterwards additional large sections of the flag were sent with activists and they were used in pride paradesand LGBT marches worldwide. The Guinness Book of World Records confirmed it as the world’s largest flag.
In 2003 Baker was again commissioned to produce a giant flag. In this case it marked the 25th anniversary of the flag itself. Dubbed “25Rainbow Sea to Sea” the project entailed Baker again working with teams of volunteers but this flag utilized the original eight colors and measured a mile-and-a-quarter (2 km) across Key West, Florida from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf Coast Sea. The flag was again cut up afterward, and sections sent to over a hundred cities worldwide.