With Pride month just gone, you may have noticed a lot more rainbows around your neighborhood or most likely scattered around social media. Many of us know the rainbow is the symbol of LGBT pride although not all of us know why or how this was even adopted in the first place.
This short article briefly looks into the origins of the Pride Rainbow so we can all have extra knowledge of our wonderful and caring community!
The origins of the LGBT Pride rainbow flag roots back to 1978 when gay rights activist and army veteran artist, Gilbert Baker created the flag for gay city politician Harvey Milk. The flag would be used as a sign of pride for the gay community at the Gay Freedom Pride Parade in San Francisco that year. The symbol immediately took a hold with the community. LGBT rights activist who attended the event told The New York Times "It needed no explanation. People knew immediately that it was our flag."
The first concept of the flag consisted of 8 colours, each having their own symbolic meaning:
- Pink – Sex
- Red – Life
- Orange – Healing
- Yellow – Sunlight
- Green – Nature
- Turquoise – Magic
- Blue – Peace
- Violet – Spirit
By 1979, the Pride flag had collapsed into the six colours we know today. The reason for this collapse was solely down to production issues, mostly pricing. Back in the late 70s, pink dye was prohibitively expensive. Baker told the Museum of Modern art (MOMA) "One of the reasons I had to adapt the eight-colour version to the six-colour version of the flag — the one we use today — is because in 1978 eight colours was expensive”.
With the removal of pink, blue and turquoise were then merged into royal blue. With now having an even number of 6, the flag could be evenly split to line two sides of the street and was first done so that year for the march in protest over Harvey Milk’s assassination.
It wasn’t until the early 90s that the rainbow flag we know today was truly established as the symbol for LGBTQ pride. In 1994, Baker created a mile-long version of the 6 colour Pride flag for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. Now the flag as we know it is an international symbol for the entire LGBTQ+ pride community and can be seen flying during our most promising times and the ones which challenge us the most!
The colours within the pride flag now reflect the immense diversity and unity of the entire LGBTQ+ community. As Baker told MOMA, the rainbow flag is the way of taking these various colours and turning them into a coherent symbol, reclaimed by the LGBT community.
"It was necessary to have the Rainbow Flag because up until that we had the Pink Triangle from the Nazis” [The symbol that they would use to denote gay people].
“We needed something beautiful, something from us. The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things."
Baker's original rainbow pattern has since moved on from just flags. It's used to symbolize solidarity within important LGBT movements. Most notably when the United States Supreme Court struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, the Empire State Building was lit up by rainbow colours. In addition, the White House was also painted with rainbow lights when the Supreme Court established the legality of gay marriage nationwide in 2015's Obergefell v. Hodges case.
Aside from LGBT pride, rainbow flags have other historic and political meanings that persist today. In Italy for example, the rainbow is used as a symbol of peace, often with the word ‘PACE’ written across the stripes of the flag in white.
Most recently during the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom have adopted the rainbow pride flag as a sign of solidarity and support for the front-line workers battling the virus to keep the country moving.
Although the thought behind this has been deemed great by many, it is also important to note that it has also had numerous negative impacts on the LGBTQ+ community, such as companies re-branding their Pride merchandise to NHS support merchandise. In addition, the fear of the flag’s erasure has also been massively noted.
Hopefully this article taught you something meaningful or increased your knowledge on how the Pride rainbow flag began!
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