The rainbow flag, also referred to as the gay pride flag or LGBT pride flag, is a flag that is often seen flying at rallies, marches and other fist-pumping events. It’s a symbol of hope and its magnitude of colors convey a particularly open-minded and welcoming message that members of other groups can cling to as well. It literally says that people of all colors, all cultures and all sexual orientations should band together as one. And that’s a truly great message.
That’s all very nice and all though, but what does it actually mean? Where does the rainbow flag come from? And why does it look the way it does?
History of the Rainbow Flag
The rainbow flag was originally designed by an artist from San Francisco called Gilbert Baker. Version 1.0 was born in 1976 but since then, it has actually undergone a number of redesigns and revisions with colors being added, removed or re-added. This has nothing to do with specific groups falling out of favor thankfully, but was rather to do with the availability of fabrics.
Gilbert was an openly gay activist and was born in 1951. He grew up in Kansas and served in the US army in 1970. Following his honorable discharge, Gilbert learned to sew and shortly after met Harvey Milk – an influential gay leader at the time. Milk challenged Gilbert to create a ‘symbol of pride’ for the gay community and the rest, as they say, is history. It has been speculated that the flag was inspired by Judy Garland’s rendition of Over the Rainbow and the Stonewall Riots that followed a few days after Garland’s death (Judy Garland was one of the first prominent gay icons).
It has also been postulated that the flag is inspired by the ‘flag of races’ that was used at college campuses during 1960s demonstrations for world peace. This flag was also called ‘flag of the human race’ and featured five colors. Similar flags were also popular with the hippie movement during this time.
The Flag, It’s Meaning and Rise in Popularity
The most common variant today uses six stripes which are colored:
The nice thing about a rainbow though, is that you can swap out colors and still get pretty much the same message across. Usually, the flag is flown horizontally, so that the red stripe is on top – as is the case for a real rainbow.
The original version however consisted of 8 colors, which were:
- Hot pink
At the time of its creation, Baker assigned these colors meaning:
The flag rose massively in popularity after the 1978 assassination of Harvey Milk. In response to this increased demand, the Parmount Flag Company began to sell a version of the flag using tock rainbow fabric, hence the first change in colors.
In 1989, the rainbow became more popular still, after plaintiff John Stout successfully sued his landlords for attempting to prohibit him from displaying the flag from his apartment balcony in West Hollywood, California.
1994 was also a standout year for the flag. On the 25th anniversary of Stonewall Riots, Baker himself was commissioned to create the ‘world’s largest’ rainbow flag. He could probably have made a flag a few meters wide and won but decided to go for broke and created an incredible mile long flag. The creation took months of planning and many teams of volunteers working together.
And the digital age has celebrated the rainbow flag more recently too. When same sex marriage was legalized, millions of people across Facebook changed their profile pictures in support, literally painting the web in glorious colors.
What Does it Mean?
Like any symbol, the rainbow flag has different meanings for different people. That is the beauty of any flag or symbol.
What’s important is that when you fly your flag, you are making known your feelings and thoughts and refusing to be silenced by opressors.
To me, that’s one of the things that makes the rainbow flag so special. The flag is so colorful and bright, that it can’t help but draw attention to itself. A skull with a gun through it might be a more ‘aggressive’ flag but the rainbow flag would still always draw more attention! If you want to demonstrate your pride and if you want to be seen, then what better colors to adorn yourself in than… well all of them?
Color has always represented joy, creativity, fun and love. And wherever you see the colors of the rainbow, you can’t help but let it lift your spirits just a little.
When everyone changed their profiles on Facebook it was an absolutely spectacular affair. No offense to any other flags, but red white and blue just seems a little dull by comparison!
The non-aggressive nature of the flag also makes it perfect for a movement that is all about celebrating love in all its forms. Violence and aggression don’t change things: words and actions change things. Hopefully, when people see the rainbow flag flying high, they will never misconstrue this for an act of aggression or violence. No one could feel threatened by this flag – cementing it as a symbol of joy and love and ensuring that it can’t be misappropriated by other groups.
The Nazis stole their Swastika and turned it into something twisted. But I find it hard to imagine that any group could do the same thing with the rainbow flag!
The rainbow flag is welcoming thanks to its connection with the flag of races, it is peaceful and has even been used in peace rallies and it is joyous in nature. But it is also loud, proud and defiant. When the world is challenging you and trying to put you in your place, what greater defiance is there than to just smile? And to wave a multicolored, glorious flag?