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40 years of the rainbow flag

A brief history of the Rainbow Flag

All around the world this summer, the rainbow flag will be waving in the streets as the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities celebrate Pride. But why did Pride adopt the emblem of the rainbow?

The use of bright colors to indicate sexual orientation is not new. Historically, homosexuals, forced to hide, would wear bright colors as a sign amongst themselves. Oscar Wilde wore a green carnation in his lapel in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a symbol that was used by Londoners and Parisians to discreetly signal their sexual orientation. In Australia, it was the wearing of bright yellow socks. During the Holocaust, homosexuals were forced to wear a pink triangle. In the 1970s, purple became the colour of choice in San Francisco, where the “purple hand” was proposed as the symbol of gay pride.

Gilbert Baker

Gilbert Baker (Photo : Spencer Platt —Getty Images)

Today the rainbow flag is, for many cultures, a symbol of peace, diversity and harmony, but the flag with six stripes is specific to the LGBTQ+ community. It began during the Pride Parade in San Francisco in 1978 when Gilbert Baker, American graphic artist and LGBTQ+ political activist, designed what is thought to be the first gay pride flag that would become a key symbol of Gay Pride for years to come. Baker used the symbolism of the rainbow because, he said, “We are all of the colours. Our sexuality is all of the colours. We are all the genders, races and ages.”

Initially, Baker’s had eight coloured stripes: pink for sexual liberation, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for serenity and nature, turquoise for art, blue for harmony and violet for the human spirit.

But in November 1978, when a march was organized to protest the assassination of Harvey Milk, Baker’s friend and the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, Baker worked with the Paramount Flag Company to produce a seven-striped version because the pink was not commercially available. Baker also removed the turquoise to maintain an even number of colours. Eventually, the indigo was replaced by royal blue, giving us the six-striped flag (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple) we know today.

375 years of lgbtq+ history

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