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 used the five-striped “Flag of the Races” as his inspiration and designed a flag with eight stripes; pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.
These colours were intended to represent respectively; sexuality, life, healing, sun, nature, art, harmony, and spirit. Baker dyed and sewed the material for the first flag himself – reminiscent of Betsy Ross and the creation of the U.S. 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.
In November 1978, San Francisco’s lesbian, gay and bisexual community was stunned when the city’s first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, was assassinated. Wanting to demonstrate the gay community’s strength and solidarity in the aftermath of the tragedy, the Pride Committee decided to use Baker’s flag.
The indigo stripe was eliminated so that the colours could be divided evenly along the parade route – three colours on one side and three on the other. Soon the six colours were incorporated into a six-striped version that became popularised today.
The flag has become an international symbol of pride and the diversity.
WHAT THE RAINBOW FLAG SIGNIFIES
The rainbow flag is symbolic of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride: pride at having not only survived, but thrived in a world which has often been a hostile place.
In addition to being the symbol of pride, the rainbow is a symbol of hope. Tremendous progress has been made in the fight for equal rights. Step-by-step, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people are obtaining recognition as equal members of society, all over the world.
Finally, the rainbow is a symbol of diversity. Although myths and stereotypes portray all gays and lesbians as having a single, monolithic “agenda”, the reality is that it is an extraordinarily diverse community. Indeed this community spans all races and cultural backgrounds, across all languages, with or without disabilities and across all religions and these communities continue to flourish.