The origin of the Rainbow flag

The summer is upon us and Gay Pride events will begin shortly, as iconic as the event itself, The Rainbow flag will be no doubt present in some form or another. The flag has evolved over time leaving its mark on LGBT history.

650X350-PrideGuide-LGBT1-550x296The first design of The Rainbow Flag was for a ‘Gay Freedom Day Parade’ in San Francisco back in 1978. It was designed, dyed and sewn together by Gilbert Baker. Baker designed it for the local LGBT activists who wanted a symbol to represent and identify with the cause and community. It had eight stripes, originally representing different meanings. It is thought the inspiration came from several sources, most notably from Black activist flags / ribbons from the 60s. It is also suggested that he drew some inspiration from Judy Garland and the song from Wizard of Oz, Over the Rainbow,  Garland died a few days before ‘The Stonewall Riots’ in 1969 and has always been a strong gay icon.

Gilbert-Baker-Rainbow-FlagBaker worked for a small flag-making company in San Francisco as his day job, and drew on his experience. It had taken thirty volunteers to hand dye and stitch two flags in the Gay Community building in San Francisco. He stated recently in an interview “As they were not supposed to use dye in public washing machines, we waited until late at night after the attendants had left”.

Baker has also stated “The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. During the height of the HIV / AIDS epidemic in the 80s, I volunteered with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and marched in the city’s Gay & Lesbian Freedom Parade behind a fluttering rainbow flag, one that unashamedly symbolized inclusion, equality and love.”

Two flags were raised on the civic building in San Francisco on June 25, 1978 and a gay icon was born.

Harvey%20Milk.jpgFollowing the assassination of Harvey Milk the sales of the flag rocketed in San Francisco, showing the city’s defiance and solidarity. Baker approached the Paramount Flag company he began to work for to begin mass production. It was at this point changes began in the flag. The hot pink was removed, owing to the rarity and expense of this dye to begin with, and over time it changed until the one we see today that has been popular since 2008.

In 2003, to commemorate the Rainbow Flag’s 25th anniversary, Baker created a rainbow flag that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in Key West. It was then the world’s longest flag. After the commemoration, he sent sections of this flag to more than 100 cities around the world. Baker was also approached to design the rainbow flags in the 2008 film Milk.

In 1989 John Stout successfully sued his landlords for prohibiting him flying his rainbow flag. This made national headlines in America and helped to solidify the popularity of the flag, not just in America but eventually on a global scale.

south african rainbowOver time there have been many variants on the LGBT rainbow flag theme. In 1994 a hybrid of both the LGBT rainbow and the South African flag was launched. Designed by Eugene Brockman, it was created to shed light on same-sex relationships, while indicating the new South Africa’s stance against discrimination, homophobia and hate crimes.

Individual communities within the LGBT family now have their own versions of the original flag in order to give the other communities their own symbols.

On the coast of Australia there is an island that is now a proclaimed independent from Australia and uses a rainbow flag as its national flag.

As symbolic as the rainbow flag is today, there are still those that wish to oppose it, and protest it flying majestically. In the UK there have been occasions where the councils have tried to stop the flag being flown, however, other councils  have flown them proudly on  public buildings.

The rainbow flag symbolises so much for our LGBT family, showing love diversity, defiance against homophobia but it also shows the history of the last almost forty years.

Email your own Rainbow flag pictures to or your thoughts on this iconic flag. Contact us on twitter at @MattersofPride and we will add your thoughts to this page.

Other articles on LGBTQIA flags.

The origin of the Rainbow flag

The Transgender Flag

Bisexual Pride Flag

The Asexual Flags

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