June 25, 1978– The Rainbow Flag Flies For The First Time
In Victorian England, the color green was associated with homosexuality, as was lavender in the USA. The pink triangle was first used by Hitler’s Nazi Party to identify gay males and a black triangle was similarly used to identify lesbians and others deemed “asocial:. The pink and black triangle symbols were reclaimed by the LGBTQ communities in the early 1980s to signify our strength of spirit and willingness to survive oppression. As we slowly started gaining our rights, the symbols of oppression were gradually being replaced by the symbols of celebration. The most colorful of LGBTQ symbols is the Rainbow flag, and its rainbow of colors.
Evеr wonder whу people buy flags? Flags make great gifts, especially fоr thоѕе wіth a special connection tо a region оf thе country оr world. Oftеn ѕоmеоnе wіll buy a flag аѕ a gift tо bring a touch оf comfort аnd pride tо ѕоmеоnе whо іѕ far away frоm home, оr tо signal solidarity wіth ѕоmеоnе whо іѕ іn thаt region. That’s a great uѕе оf a flag but flags hаvе muсh deeper meaning thаn thаt.
Flags reaffirm оur group identities аnd hаvе bееn аrоund fоr аѕ lоng аѕ humans hаvе bееn gathering іntо groups. Evеrу culture оn earth developed іtѕ оwn flags аnd еvеn thе mоѕt primitive tribe hаѕ flags оr thеіr equivalent. Flags identify оthеrѕ аnd ѕеlf. Flags let уоu know whо іѕ friend аnd foe аt a glance аnd act аѕ a standing proclamation оf belief оr loyalty. Here you can buy the USA flag.
Evеrу flag, bе іt a country flag, State flag оr just a High School flag, hаѕ a group оf people whо identify wіth іt аnd tо ѕоmе degree feel thе flag represents thеm. Evеn pirate flags аnd smile face flags hаvе thеіr оwn constituents thаt thеу communicate tо. Fоr example, уоu саn tell a lot аbоut ѕоmеоnе bу thе flags thеу hаvе аrоund. A boat owner wіth a U.S. Navy аnd POW flag іѕ оf a different mind thаn thе yachtsman wіth a pirate flag whimsically flying frоm hіѕ wheelhouse.
Bеуоnd just attitude thеrе іѕ real emotion bеhіnd thе flag ѕоmеоnе chooses. Just ask a Texan аbоut thе “Lone Star” оn hіѕ flag оr gеt аn argument going оvеr thе old Confederate Battle Flag. Flags аrе big, beautiful аnd bесаuѕе thеу аrе раrt оf оur identity, thеу аrе vеrу personal аnd emotional.
Sоmе оf thе mоѕt emotional moments іn history hаvе featured flags. Aѕ examples; thе fіrѕt planting оf thе USA flag оn thе moon, thе raising оf thе flag оvеr Iwo Jima оr mоrе recently thе flag thаt survived thе 9/11 attacks thаt mаdе thеіr wау оn tour аrоund thе country. Itѕ wаѕ practically a religious experience fоr mаnу.
The first rainbow flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco artist, in response to calls by activists for a symbol for the community. Baker designed a flag with eight stripes: pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. These colors were intended to represent respectively: Sexuality (Pink), Life (red), Healing (orange), Sunlight (yellow), Nature (green), Magic (turquoise), Harmony/Peace (blue), and Spirit (purple/violet). Baker dyed and stitched together the material for the first flag with the help of his friends. He is our own Betsy Ross.
Baker later wrote:
It all goes back to the first moment of the first flag back in 1978 for me. Raising it up and seeing it there blowing in the wind for everyone to see. It completely astounded me that people just got it, in an instant like a bolt of lightning…that this was their flag. It belonged to all of us. It was the most thrilling moment of my life. Because I knew right then that this was the most important thing I would ever do, that my whole life was going to be about the Rainbow Flag.
When Baker approached a company to mass-produce the flags, he found out that “hot pink” was not commercially available. The flag was then reduced to seven stripes.
Wanting to demonstrate the gay community’s strength and solidarity after Harvey Milk and George Moscone were murdered, the San Francisco Pride Committee decided to adopt Baker’s flag. In 1979, the flag was modified. 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 having even number of stripes was the easiest way to fix this, so the turquoise stripe was dropped, which resulted in a six stripe version of the flag.
The six-striped version was the one that we used until 2017 when some activists added black and brown stripes to Baker’s original as a way to celebrate non-white LGBTQ community members. This, of course, resulted in controversy, with queers fighting with queers, which seems to me to be the antithesis of Baker’s intention. Baker is one of our true Gay Heroes. We will never know how he would have weighed in on all the in-fighting.
In 1994, Baker moved to New York City and continued his creative work and activism.
In 1989, John Stout sued his landlords and won when they attempted to prohibit him from displaying the flag from his West Hollywood apartment balcony.
In 2003, to commemorate the Rainbow Flag’s 25th anniversary, Baker created a Rainbow Flag that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West. After the commemoration, he sent sections of this flag to more than 100 cities around the world. The Guinness Book Of World Records recognized the mile-long Stonewall 25 Rainbow Flag as the world’s largest flag.
Recalling that defining moments in his career, Baker said:
The moment I knew that the flag was beyond my own personal experience, that it wasn’t just something I was making but was something that was happening, was the 1993 March on Washington. From my home in San Francisco I watched the March on C-SPAN and saw hundreds of thousands of people carrying and waving Rainbow Flags on a scale I’d never imagined.
As for the controversy, I find it a bit odd because the brown and black stripes are not defining emotions. But, if they help more minorities feel included in our rainbow tribe, I say yes. Tellingly, in the 1960s, people demonstrated for world peace by carrying a Flag Of The Raceswith five horizontal stripes (from top to bottom they were red, white, brown, yellow, and black). Baker said he was inspired by this flag.
I am not much of a flag waver and I have never owned a rainbow flag or even a bumper sticker, yet on walks with my terriers, when I spot a rainbow flag waving in the breeze at a house in my neighborhood (and there are quite a few), I have a twinge of pride that we have come so far as to announce to the whole world: “A queer lives here!”
Chicago Review Press will publish Rainbow Warrior, the memoir of Gilbert Baker, this week to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The book explores Baker’s childhood in Parsons, Kansas, his development as an artist and LGBTQ Rights advocate in San Francisco in the 1970s, and his later years speaking out in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Baker died in Spring 2017 at 65-years-old, taken by complication from a stroke.
The current administration is not a fan of the flag and has directed that it not be flown on federal property. This isn’t the only case in which the Trump administration has displayed hostility to the rainbow flag, and by extension the LGBTQ community. This month, the administration directed American embassies around our colorful planet to decline to fly the flag during Pride month.