All throughout Pride Month we have been looking back at the history of Pride and the LGBT movement. #TBT is dedicated all this month to bring to light the history that surrounds the now commonplace events of Pride. Last week The Pink Triangle was investigated, while the week before The Pride Parade was looked at. This week we examine the most famous LGBT symbol of all, The Rainbow Flag.
The Rainbow Flag is the most common and the most well known symbol of the LGBT Community. It is a symbol of love, a symbol of connectedness and a symbol of hope, that one day all the fighting will pay off. But what is the history behind this multicoloured flag, and how did it become the symbol of Pride?
The first gay pride flag flew on on June 25, 1978 in San Francisco for the Gay Freedom Day Parade. It was designed by artist Gilbert Baker. It is believed he got the idea for the flag from Judy Garland’s song Somewhere Over the Rainbow and the Stonewall Riots, which took place days after her death.
The original flag designed by Gilbert actually contained 8 colours, as opposed to the now synonymous 6 coloured flag. Each colour represented a colour of the rainbow and stood for the something.
The colours were as follows:
- Pink: Sexuality
- Red: Life
- Orange: Healing
- Yellow: Sunlight
- Green: Nature
- Turquoise: Art/Magic
- Indigo/Blue: Serenity/Harmony
- Violet: Spirit
When the flag was originally made volunteers hand dyed the various stripes and then stitched them together to make the flag.
On November 27, 1978 Harvey Milk was assassinated in San Francisco. After the death of the openly gay City Supervisor and gay rights activist, the demand for the Rainbow Flag increased dramatically. The Paramount Flag Company decided to sell their own version, ditching the pink colour as pink fabric was scarce. Gilbert did the same as he ramped up his production.
The flag underwent another change the following year, 1979. The flag was raised from lampposts in Market Street in San Francisco. However the middle colour – green – was obscured when hung vertically by the lampposts themselves.
It was decided that the easiest way to rectify this problem was to remove one of the stripes so an even number of stripes were present. It was decided that the turquoise stripe would be removed, and indigo replaced by Royal Blue, leaving the six coloured flag of today.
It wouldn’t be until 1989 that the flag would gain real prominence after John Stout sued his landlord over a refusal to allow him to fly the flag from his home in West Hollywood. The courts ruled in Stouts favour, and so started worldwide notice of the flag.
Over the years the flag has seen various things added to it. Some variations contain The Stars of the United States Flag, or the stars of the EU Flag. Some contain a black stripe to signify those lost to AIDS, while others have writing such as greek symbols on them.
On the flags 25th birthday in 2003 it was suggested by Gilbert that the original two colours be reinstated to the flag. While he did so to his own, his idea did not gain traction and the flag remains with six colours.
The flag is now officially THE symbol of LGBT people worldwide. This year it celebrates it 36th birthday. It has been extended from mile long ones for various anniversaries to pedestrian crossings in recent years.