Colour has long played an important role in the way that the LGBT+ community celebrates its rich and diverse heritage. Most of us have at some point stood covered in glitter in the middle of a pride parade and waved the rainbow flag. But where did this glorious flag come from?
The first rainbow flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker. Baker had first arrived in San Francisco in 1970 as an Army draftee, but decided to stay in the city to pursue his dream of becoming an artist after he was discharged.
Four years after settling in the city, the course of Baker’s life changed forever when he met Harvey Milk, a man who would go on to become the first openly gay man elected to public office. Milk –an icon of the LGBT+ movement– had campaigned on a positive message of hope for young gay people, refusing to hide or apologise for his sexuality. After winning the election, Milk asked Baker to come up with a symbol of pride for the gay community – a positive alternative to the pink triangle which was once imposed by Nazis to identify gay men.
True to his word, Baker began working on a fl ag. He decided to create a banner using bright colours to symbolise significant parts of the LGBT+ movement. Hot pink stood for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise blue for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit. Hot pink was eventually removed from the design due to fabric unavailability at the time.
On the 27th of November 1978, the LGBT+ community was devastated by the shocking news that Harvey Milk had been shot and killed during a meeting at city hall. The grief and anger that followed his assassination galvanised the queer community to fight for change.
The Rainbow flag was soon proudly flown outside many San Francisco homes and businesses, and is now a worldwide symbol for hope and resistance. Wherever light is needed in darkness, the flag appears. Nowadays it is commonly seen at political protests and music festivals, or even on coffee mugs and key chains.
In 1988, John Stout of West Hollywood sued his landlords for the right to display a Rainbow Flag on the balcony of his apartment. He won, as have many others since who have defended their right to display the Rainbow Flag. In Washington, neighbours of anti-LGBT Vice President Mike Pence hilariously trolled the politician by hanging the flag outside their homes.
“The flag is an action – it’s more than just the cloth and the stripes. When a person puts the Rainbow Flag on his car or his house, they’re not just flying a flag. They’re taking action.”
– Gilbert Baker