While the rainbow flag is known to most as being the symbol of LGBTQ+ pride, the history behind it may not be as well-known. This article explores that very history and some of the most notable figures involved. We’ll also look at the flag as it stands today and its variety of colours.
What’s the history behind the flag?
In 1978, a man named Gilbert Baker was inspired to design the first pride flag. He was an openly gay man, a drag queen, and today is famous for having changed the image of the LGBTQ+ movement forever.
After being encouraged by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, to create a symbol of pride for the gay community, the rest was history.
Baker chose a flag for the symbol, as he believed flags inherently depicted a powerful form of pride. He famously said, “Our job as gay people were to come out, to be visible, to live in the truth, as I say, to get out of the lie. A flag really fits that mission, because that’s a way of proclaiming your visibility or saying, ‘This is who I am!’”
Almost two decades later, once Baker’s flag became established as the symbol of LGBTQ+ pride, he recreated the flag as a mile-long version to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
The colours of the flag.
Baker’s original flag consisted of 8 colours: Hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art and magic, indigo for harmony and serenity, and finally violet for spirit. Unfortunately, when mass production began there was a shortage of the colours pink and turquoise, which led to them being omitted entirely. The indigo stripe was also replaced by a basic blue colour. As a result, the 6-striped flag is the pride flag we are all now familiar with.
The evolution of Baker’s Rainbow.
While Baker’s flag will always bear significance in our society, over the years that followed there were stirrings to explore the representational scope of the flag for the LGBTQ+ community.
The first pivotal moment in the flag’s evolution was in 1999 when Monica Helms, a trans woman, created the Transgender flag, which consisted of the colours light blue, pink and white. She described the meaning behind the flag as follows:
“The stripes at the top and bottom are light blue, the traditional colour for baby boys. The stripes next to them are pink, the traditional colour for baby girls. The stripe in the middle is white, for those who are transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender”.
The redesign ideas of the pride flag did not stem from discontent with Baker’s flag, rather the intention to build inclusivity of the marginalised groups within the LGBTQ+ community. While the community faced historical discrimination and abuse, this has and continues to disproportionately affect minority groups within. With the goal to improve the visibility of these marginalised sub-groups, Philadelphia City Hall created a new version of the pride flag in 2017 with the addition of black and brown stripes to represent the POC (Person of Colour) sub-groups in the community.
Similarly, in 2018 Seattle revealed a new version of the pride flag with the same brown and black stripes, as well as the light blue, pink and white from the transgender flag. The stacking of numerous identity-related stripes on top of the original colours was, however, criticised for reducing the legibility and clarity of the community’s original message.
A man named Daniel Quasar found a solution to this perceived issue without removing the new additional colours. He added the black, brown and trans coloured striped in an arrow shape to be placed on top of the original colours from Baker’s flag.
"The arrow points to the right to show forward movement […] and illustrates that progress [towards inclusivity] still needs to be made”.
For Quasar the brown and black stripes represent the marginalised POC communities in addition to the black stripe’s alternative meaning intended for people living with AIDS, the past and present stigma around the disease and the lives lost to it. Quasar’s flag went viral and has since been featured at numerous pride events as well as appearing in a variety of publications.
Significance of the LGBT Pride Flag today.
After decades of fighting for LGBTQ+ rights, from the Stonewall Riots to the victory in Obergefell v Hodges, the rainbow pride flag is still displayed proudly all over the world to unite the many different members of the community. While there is still a long fight ahead of us to achieve true equality worldwide, the progress made since the days where any rights seemed unattainable has been revolutionary. The creation of the first pride flag will forever symbolise a significant step in that journey.
Today, the remnants of Baker’s original flag can be found on display at the GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Francisco.
The story behind the pride flag, as well as the colours and their meanings it incorporates, are important to know to understand the journey of the LGBTQ+ mission for equality.
As the rainbow pride flag evolves into flags that raise awareness of each part of the LGBT community, we are bringing out more LGBT flag accessories in those areas too.
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