The Rainbow Flag’s Origin Story, 1 Year After Section 377 Verdict
(The Quint is republishing this story in the run-up to the anniversary of Section 377 being read down. It was originally published on 24 June 2019.)
Graphics and Edit: Prashant Chauhan
Camera: Shiv Kumar Maurya
Rainbow flags are seen everywhere because it’s pride month. So this pride month, we are bringing you the story of the Rainbow flag. The queer community uses this as a symbol of pride, read on to know why!
The Rainbow Warrior
In the 1970s, post the stonewall riots, the queer community was no longer requesting equal rights, but demanding them.
Gilbert Baker, also known as the gay Betsy Ross, was a San Francisco-based queer rights activist, Vietnam War veteran, artist and then drag queen. He created the rainbow pride flag.
Harvey Milk, who was a rising queer activist at the time, urged Baker to design a symbol of pride that the community could identify with.
The aim was to replace the pink triangle conceived of by Adolf Hitler, intended to be a badge of shame. This homophobic badge was later embraced by the LGBTQIA+ community as a symbol of pride. Baker wanted to shed the depressing history the triangle carried. He wanted something which was positive and celebrated love.
So, in 1976, Baker realised that flags signify rebellion, revolution and power. A flag fit the mission of the community to live truthfully, to be visible and proudly proclaim 'This is who I am'.
But where did the rainbow come from?
Well, it was just like in the movies… Gilbert explains:
He was dancing with his friend Cleve Jones there were many people around. His arms raised overhead, fingers snapping. Dance thrilled him. A swirl of colour and light consumed him like a rainbow. Yes, a rainbow!
That was the moment he knew what flag he would make.
Baker Designed The Flag With Eight Stripes of Colour
Hot pink for sex, Red for life, Orange for healing, Yellow for sunlight, Green for nature, Turquoise for magic, Indigo for harmony and Violet for spirit.
Stitching A Rainbow
With thirty volunteers, Baker hand-stitched and hand-dyed the first two flags. They were raised at the Pride Parade in San Francisco on 25 June 1978.
In November 1978, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay San Francisco city supervisor, was assassinated. Protests grew and so did the demand for the Pride flag. Since the fabric supply was short for mass production of flags. Hot pink and turquoise stripes had to be dropped.
In 2003, 25 years after Baker first unveiled the flag, he set a world record. He stitched a 1.25-mile long flag with all 8 colours to mark its anniversary. The flag was cut into sections and distributed across 100 cities around the world.
The Rainbow flag became more than just a flag, it gave people hope.
Back to Eight Stripes
In 2017, to make the flag more inclusive, brown and black colours were added which reflect black and brown members of the queer community.
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