This article was published on June 5th, 2021
Vibrant in its colors and a beacon of hope for many, the pride flag is once again in the limelight this June. Thought to be lost to history, a fragment of the original gay pride flag (which was created by Gilbert Baker and first raised on June 25, 1978, in San Francisco’s United Nations Plaza at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade) has been found and donated to the GLBT Historical Society this past April and has returned home to San Francisco to reside in the Gilbert Baker Collection at the GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives this month.
Baker’s original pride flag has eight colors that mean different things: 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. Many different versions have been developed over the years, most recently revision being the Progress Pride Flag, which has the six colors used on modern pride flags and their meanings (red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for harmony and purple for spirit), alongside the addition of five arrow-shaped lines that represent those in the community who are transgender people of color.
While many people see the pride flag as just another symbol, its history is rich and as vibrant as its colours. When Baker created the original pride flag, the pink triangle was the most widely used symbol for the LGBT community. In his memoir, Rainbow Warrior, Baker wrote:
“As a community, both local and international, gay people were in the midst of an upheaval, a battle for equal rights, a shift in status where we were now demanding power, taking it. This was our new revolution: a tribal, individualistic, and collective vision. It deserved a new symbol.”
Baker stitched the original pride flag by hand, and only later dropped two colours for it to be easier to mass produce. Now, you can see the six-color pride flag almost everywhere – in shop windows, as pins and patches and stickers, as company logos, waved at rallies, protests, and pride parades, and even on sex toys!
The pride flag has created a sense of community – from a shy I like your pin from one girl to another on a busy street, or the relief felt when walking through a door with a rainbow proudly on it, or the grin given from a tattoo artist to a nervous teen with a rainbow design, the pride flag, in any of its versions, allows for every LGBT+ person to feel a little less alone, and to find acceptance when it’s desperately needed.
Baker’s original pride flag coming home is significant – its history started in San Francisco, created with the help of Lynn Segerblom, James McNamara and thirty volunteers. Together, they transformed a thousand yards of white muslin into two flags approximately 30 feet high by 60 feet wide. Each had eight stripes in rainbow colors.
The two flags were first raised at in San Francisco’s United Nations Plaza at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, substituting for the usual U.S. and United Nations flag.
The flag segment donated to the GLBT Historical Society were cut from the plain flag with pink at the top and without the star canton. This fragment, 10 feet by 28 feet in length, is a testament to history finally coming home.
If you wish to see this important piece of history for yourself, you can visit the “Performance, Protest and Politics: The Art of Gilbert Baker” exhibit at GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives in San Francisco, where the fragment was unveiled on June 4, 2021. To learn more, visit the GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives website.