I know we all have seen it at least once, either on television or somewhere out in public and wondered what do those colors mean. Many of you from first glance probably guessed it was a representation of the "gays" but do you all really know the significance behind those colors?
If you haven't figured out what I'm talking about, it is quite clear that I'm talking about the rainbow flag. I know many people have no idea about the history of this particular flag, which is why I decided to write this week's entry on the meaning behind the rainbow flag.
The Rainbow Flag, also known as the pride flag, LGBT pride flag, or gay pride flag is a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender pride and LGBT social movements in use since the 1970s. The colors reflect the diversity of the LGBT community, and the flag is often used as a symbol of gay pride in LGBT rights marches. It originated in California, but is now used worldwide. Designed by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, the design has undergone several revisions to first remove then re-add colors due to widely available fabrics. As of 2008, the most common variant consists of six stripes, with the colors red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. The flag is commonly flown horizontally, with the red stripe on top, as it would be in a natural rainbow.
The original gay pride flag was hand dyed by Gilbert Baker. It flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Paradeon June 25th, 1978. It has been suggested that Baker was inspired by Judy Garland's singing "Over the Rainbow." Another suggestion for how the rainbow flag originated is that at college campuses during the 1960s. some people demonstrated for world peace by carrying a Flag of the Races(also known as the Flag of the Human Race) with five horizontal stripes (from top to bottom they were red, black, brown, yellow, and white). Gilbert Baker is said to have gotten the idea for the rainbow flag from this flag, in borrowing it from the Hippie Movementof that time largely influenced by pioneering homosexual activist Allen Ginsberg.
The flag consisted of eight stripes, in which Baker assigned specific meaning to each of the colors:
Hot Pink: Sexuality
Thirty volunteers hand dyed and stitched the first two flags for the parade.
After the November 27th, 1978 assassination of openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, demand for the rainbow flag greatly increased. To meet demand, the Paramount Flag Company began selling a version of the flag using stock rainbow fabric consisting of seven stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet. As Baker ramped up production of his version of the flag, he too dropped the hot pink stripe because of the unavailability of hot pink fabric. Also, San Francisco based Paramount Flag Co. began selling surplus stock of Rainbow Girls flags from its retail store on the southwest corner of Polk and Post, at which Gilbert Baker was an employee.
In 1979 the flag was modified again. When hung vertically from the lamp posts of San Francisco's Market Street, the center stripe was obscured by the post itself. Changing the flag design to one with an even number of striped was the easiest way to rectify this, so the turquoise stripe was dropped, which resulted in a six stripe version of the flag - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
In 1989, the rainbow flag came to nationwide attention in the United States after John Stout sued his landlords and won when they attempted to prohibit him from displaying the flag from his West Hollywood, California apartment balcony.
Many variations of the rainbow flag have been used. Some of the more common ones include the Greek letter 'lambda' (lower case) in white in the middle of the flag and a pink triangle or black triangle in the upper left corner. Other colours have been added, such as a black stripe symbolising those community members lost to AIDS. The rainbow colours have also often been used in gay alterations of national and regional flags, replacing for example the red and white stripes of the flag of the United States. In 2007, the Pride Family Flag was introduced at the Houston, Texas pride parade.
In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, AIDS activists designed a "Victory over AIDS" flag consisting of the standard six-stripe rainbow flag with a black stripe across the bottom. Leonard Maltovich, himself dying of AIDS-related illness, suggested that upon a cure for AIDS being discovered, the black stripes be removed from the flags and burned.
Other countries' LGBT communities too have adopted the rainbow flag. South Africa with one of the most liberal constitutions in the world, has recently adopted The LGBT flag of South Africa at one of the world's biggest costume parties the Mother City Queer Project 2010to a crowd of 10 000 party goers. The creator Eugene Brockman said "the flag honors every Gay Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered person as they make the Rainbow Nation dazzle".
It is quite phenomenal to see how a simple flag of rainbow colors has grown to become such a historical symbol. Today, the rainbow flag isn't just a symbol for the LGBT community but a symbol of equality for all. So with that said, do you wave your flag with pride? If not, you should :)