The History of the Rainbow Flag

Last week’s landmark Supreme Court decision ruling that same-sex couples can marry nationwide occurred nearly 46 years to the day after the famed Stonewall Inn Riot. Supporters continue to show their elation with rainbow colored-everything – from banners and socks to layer cake and even a Facebook app that lets you shade your profile picture in iconic rainbow stripes with the click of a button. Federal buildings like the White House, and other iconic landmarks including the Empire Building and Niagara Falls, glowed rainbow lights to show support.

Courtesy: thinkprogress.org

Courtesy: thinkprogress.org

The rainbow flag – a symbol of love, celebration and inclusion – has long represented the LGBT fight for equality. Artist Gilbert Baker created the flag in San Francisco in 1978 after Harvey Milk hired Baker to create flags for the city’s parade. The emerging gay-rights movement had no symbol apart from the pink triangle — and few wanted to rally around a Nazi concentration camp badge.

Niagara Falls (Courtesy: thinkprogress.org)

Niagara Falls (Courtesy: thinkprogress.org)

Baker worked with a team of 30 to dye and stitch together strips of fabric to create the flag in the attic of San Francisco’s Gay Community Center. The two original flags had eight stripes each, with hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo and violet descending from the top. Baker soon took a job at Paramount Flag Co. in San Francisco, where he convinced the factory to produce the flags on a wider scale.

Baker states, “I thought, a flag is different than any other form of art. It’s not a painting, it’s not just cloth, it is not just a logo—it functions in so many different ways. I thought that we needed that kind of symbol, that we needed as a people something that everyone instantly understands…that influence really came to me when I decided that we should have a flag, that a flag fit us as a symbol, that we are a people, a tribe if you will.”

Gilbert Baker making flags for the 1998 Pride Parade (Courtesy: sfgate.com)

Gilbert Baker making flags for the 1998 Pride Parade (Courtesy: sfgate.com)

Ahead of last week’s ruling the Museum of Modern Art in New York City acquired the flag as a symbol and work of art. Baker says he had offered the gallery the two original flags from 1978, but ended up giving the museum a flag in the ubiquitous, six-colored style, that he created especially for the collection.

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Lauren Snetiker