Cornett: Rainbow flag marks 35 years as gay pride symbolWritten by Rick Cornett | | CountryConnection@toledofreepress.com
Thirty-five years have passed since the rainbow flag debuted as the symbol of gay pride. Today, the colorful flag is the international welcome sign for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker was asked to create a flag for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade. He wanted to create a symbol that was easily recognized and could be used year after year without becoming outdated. He borrowed symbolism from the tie-dyed hippie movement and black civil rights groups of the day. The multicultural symbolism of the rainbow was nothing new. Jesse Jackson’s National Rainbow Coalition also embraced the rainbow as a symbol of its political movement. The rainbow also plays a part in many myths and stories related to gender and sexuality issues in Greek, Native American and other cultures.
The original flag was designed, dyed and sewn by Baker and 30 volunteers, in the true spirit of Betsy Ross. The first prototype had eight stripes, with each color representing a component of the gay community: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit. When Baker sought to mass produce the flag, he approached San Francisco’s Paramount Flag Company and was informed that hot pink was not commercially available and mass production of the eight-striped version was impossible. The flag was thus reduced to seven stripes.
In November 1978, San Francisco’s gay community was stunned when the city’s first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, was assassinated. Wishing to demonstrate the gay community’s strength and solidarity in the aftermath of the tragedy, the 1979 pride parade committee decided to use Baker’s flag. The committee decided to eliminate the indigo stripe so they could divide the colors evenly along the parade route, three colors on one side of the street and three on the other side. Soon those six colors were incorporated into the six-striped version that is still used today.
Color has always played an important role in the gay community’s expression of pride. In Victorian England, for example, the color green was associated with homosexuality. The color purple became popular as a symbol for pride in the late 1960s; a frequent post-Stonewall Riots catchword for the gay community was “Purple Power.” And, of course, we can’t forget the pink triangle. Although it was first used in Nazi Germany to identify and humiliate gay males in the concentration camps, the pink triangle only saw widespread use as a gay pop icon when we reclaimed it in the early 1980s.
Without question, the most colorful of our symbols is the rainbow flag and its rainbow of colors — red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple representing the diversity of our community internationally.
Long before the wave of social acceptance toward LGBT people, the rainbow flag was used as a silent means of communication within the LGBT community to let others know you were family. A rainbow-colored flag in a bar window or door let you know that establishment was a gay or lesbian bar.
Thirty-five years later, the rainbow-colored pride flag has been mass-produced on everything you can think of, including T-shirts, caps, mugs, pins, calendars, bumper stickers, neck ties, mouse pads and hundreds of other festive merchandise. Thank you, Gilbert Baker, for creating such a beautiful and colorful expression of our pride in being gay.