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It’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month and many of us are flying the rainbow flag high. But how many of us really understand why the rainbow flag is used as a symbol to represent the LGBTQ+ community?
As it turns out, it’s more than just a pretty array of colors.
In 1977, Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco-based queer artist, was encouraged by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, and writer Cleve Jones and filmmaker Artie Bressan to create a symbol of empowerment for the LGBTQ+ community. The symbol was considered a necessary rallying point given the community’s battle for equal rights and the trials it had suffered along the way. Additionally, community leaders wanted to nix the pink triangle that was commonly associated with the movement, given its origins in Nazi Germany.
Looking to other established flags as inspiration — including the original American flag as well as the French flag born out of the French Revolution — Baker came up with a rainbow flag that included eight colors: hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo and violet. It was this flag that Milk rode under at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade in June 1978.
Over the next two years, the flag underwent some changes. The hot pink color disappeared as, at the time, it was too difficult (read: too costly) to reproduce on fabric. The turquoise and indigo stripes were combined into one royal blue stripe, due in part to a request from the Gay Freedom Day Parade organizers. By 1979, the six-colored flag was established, consisting of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple.
Each Color Has Meaning
- Red: The top color of the flag represents life.
- Orange: The second stripe represents healing.
- Yellow: Through the middle, the yellow stripe represents sunlight. It was meant to serve as a message that you don’t have to hide yourself in the shadows.
- Green: This color represents nature.
- Blue: A cool, calm color, the blue stripe represents serenity.
- Purple: In both the original and the widely accepted six-color flag, purple is the last stripe. The color stands for spirit.
The Flag Evolves
Unlike most flags, which tend to stay the same for a very long time, the symbol of gay pride has evolved to be even more inclusive over the years.
For instance, in 2017 the city of Philadelphia kicked off Pride Month by flying a rainbow flag with two additional colors: black and brown. Those colors were added as a nod to the people of color within the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2018, Daniel Quasar launched a Kickstarter campaign to give the flag another reboot, called the “Progress Pride” flag. His vision kept the six-color flag but added a striped triangle on the side. The stripes in the triangle included the aforementioned black and brown to represent people of color, as well as light blue, pink and white to represent the transgender community.
Pride Lives On
Baker, the creator of the original Pride flag, died in 2017. Many rainbow flags were flying at that time, but he never made more than the $1,000 he originally got for his work. To Baker, the flag, as a symbol of the community he hoped to proudly represent, was bigger than him.
“He purposely never copyrighted the flag because he wanted it to be owned by everyone,” said Charles Beal, a longtime friend and manager of creative projects for Baker’s estate.
Today, members of the LGBTQ+ community and their allies sport their rainbow flags — in whatever iteration delights them — with pride. It’s become a symbol that is recognized all over the world, a symbol of struggle, of passion, of spirit, and, of course, of diversity and inclusion.
We needed something to express our joy, our beauty, our power. And the rainbow did that. — Gilbert Baker
About the Author
Stephanie N. Rotondo is a writer/editor with WorldatWork.