The flag of the LGBT movement is an American invention that became a worldwide phenomenon. What started as a symbol of pride and protest for a fringe group in society is now part of the U.S. cultural and political mainstream.
The Rainbow Flag was designed in 1978 in San Francisco, California by the activist and artist Gilbert Baker. It had eight horizontal stripes: pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue and violet. A year or so later the eight stripes were reduced to six due to the fact that it was difficult for manufacturers to get hold of pink and turquoise.
The colors of the rainbow represent the diversity of the gay community and the fight for a tolerant society with many expressions of love, sexual orientations and gender identities. In the beginning the flag was also known as The Freedom Flag and The Gay Pride Flag.
In 1977, Gilbert Baker had been challenged to design a flag for the movement by Harvey Milk, member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the first openly gay person elected to public office in the United States. Baker may have been inspired by other multicolor and rainbow flags used by the peace and Hippie movements of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Rainbow Flag was first flown on June 25, 1978 at the San Francisco Pride parade. After the murder of Harvey Milk on November 27, 1978 the flag became more well-known and sought-after. Today, it could be considered one the most succesful advocacy flags ever.
In 1994 in New York City, at the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Baker created the world’s largest rainbow flag. It was 30 feet (9 m) wide and 5,280 feet (1609 m) long and was carried by 5,000 people. Again in 2003, at the 25th anniversary of the Rainbow Flag itself, he created a mile-long flag to reach from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West, Florida.
The Stonewall Riots were violent demonstrations by members of the gay community against police raids and anti-gay laws in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, New York in the summer of 1969. It is considered an important moment in the history of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people in the U.S.
Today, half a century after Stonewall, LGBT Americans face fewer prejudices and less discrimination. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court made sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex legal nationwide. The fight for gays and lesbians to be able to marry reached its goal in 2015 when the Supreme Court held that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples.
Since 1978 the Rainbow Flag has been there at gay pride events all over the U.S. and worldwide. It is a political flag, and it is highly commercialized at the same time. The flag indicate LGBT pride and is a sign of welcome for LGBT customers and consumers. In many countries the world over it is, however, still a controversial symbol in the fight for the right of LGBT people to love and to live.
This is part 4 in a series on American flag culture, November 2016. Read also:
The Thin Blue Line
The NFL Quarterback Who Took A Stand By Not Standing
Remarkably Few U.S. Flags At Protests, Flag Burnings Reported