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How did the Rainbow Flag become the symbol for Gay Pride?

During June - Pride Month, we see the rainbow flag being proudly displayed as a symbol of the LGBTQ rights movement. 

It goes back to 1978, when Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the U.S., urged the artist, designer, Vietnam War veteran, gay man, and drag performer Gilbert Baker to create a symbol of pride for the gay community. 

Two years earlier, Baker was inspired by the American flag during the bicentennial, when the constant display of stars and stripes made him realize the cultural need for a similar representation of the gay community.

The flag was a natural symbol since it was the most powerful and widely used way to represent pride.

As he later said in an interview, “Our job as gay people was to come out, to be visible, to live in the truth, as I say, to get out of the lie. A flag fits that mission because that’s a way of proclaiming your visibility or saying 'This is who I am!’” 

Why the rainbow? 

Rainbow flags have been used before in 1525 (Reformation), 1919 (Armenian independence), 1921 (International Cooperative movement), 1960 (Peace movement), and 1973 (Andean Indigenism).

Some say that he was inspired by the hippie movement of the 60s when the Peace flag was used in demonstrations against nuclear weapons and that he saw the rainbow as a natural flag from the sky.

Baker said that his inspiration was "more about the Rolling Stones and their song 'She's a Rainbow."

Whichever influence it was, the different colors within the flag were to represent togetherness. 

He chose eight colors for the stripes, With each color having its special meaning: (hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit).

The first versions of the rainbow flag were flown on June 25, 1978, for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade. Baker and a team of volunteers made them by hand. 

The idea took off like wildfire, so he wanted to mass-produce the flag, but due to production issues, the pink and turquoise stripes were removed and indigo was replaced by basic blue, 

The end result is the current 6-striped rainbow flag. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, with the red stripe on top, as in a natural rainbow. The various colors came to reflect the immense diversity and the unity of the LGBTQ community.

After the assassination of Harvey Milk on November 27, 1978, demand for the flag increased. 

1989 Its Popularity spiked again when a West Hollywood resident sued his landlord, and won, over the right to hang his flag outside his residence.

By 1994 The rainbow flag was officially established as the symbol for LGBTQ pride. 

In celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the creation of the flag itself, Baker made a mile-long version. 

In 2017 Gilbert Baker unveiled his final version of the original rainbow flag in response to the election of Donald Trump. Baker added a ninth stripe in lavender, above the hot pink stripe, to represent diversity.

Baker died on March 31, 2017, at the age of 65, just two years after the legalization of same-sex marriage.

His legacy lives on with the rainbow flag as an international symbol for LGBTQ pride and can be seen flying proudly all around the world.

Today the Pride flag has many versions with added colors and shapes.

2018 the Progress Pride Flag was developed with an added triangle of more colors. The black and brown stripes represent queer people of color. The pink, light blue and white represent trans, gender non-binary, intersex and those across the gender spectrum.

2021 The Intersex-Inclusive Progress Pride flag was designed with a field of yellow, an alternative to the traditional gender colors, and a purple circle symbolizing wholeness and the need for autonomy and integrity.

Progress Rainbow Pride Flag
The Rainbow flag representing Pride


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