First Published: April 2003
       This is an OutUK Archive Item and so some of the links and information may be out of date.
The Rainbow Flag will celebrate its 25th year as a symbol of gay and lesbian pride this year. To mark this anniversary, creator Gilbert Baker will be giving the familiar flag a wee bit of a makeover, as OutUK correspondent L.A.Vess reports.
In 1978, Gilbert Baker of San Francisco designed the flag that is now recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers and has become the most visible symbol of gay pride. No pride parade would be complete without the inclusion of a giant rainbow flag or 'Pride Flag' - usually being carried by dozens, if not hundreds, of proud GLBT folk.

The San Francisco artist who originally designed the rainbow flag a quarter of a century ago wanted it to be a symbol of pride in a time of rampant anti-gay sentiment. The flag as created by Baker, contained eight colours in its original form: fuchsia, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, purple and pink.

Creator of the Rainbow Flag Gilbert Baker.
Photo by Hank Donat. Courtesy
Each colour was meant to represent something about the gay community. For instance, green was often associated with homosexuality in Victorian England. In the post-Stonewall late 1960s, 'Purple Power' was a phrase often associated with the gay rights movement. The colour pink is a direct descendant of the pink triangles used to identify homosexual men in Nazi Germany. All of the colours woven into the flag are also meant to represent the diversity of the gay community.

Baker himself also tagged each colour with a spiritual meaning: pink-sexuality, red-life, orange-healing, yellow-sun, green-nature, blue-art, turquoise-harmony and violet-spirit. However, two colours were eventually dropped from the flag. The colour pink was the first to go as the colour could not be commercially reproduced. Baker had hand-dyed all the colours in the original flag and the 'hot pink' could not be duplicated by manufacturers at the time. The flag lost a stripe.

In 1979, the flag lost another stripe in honour of the loss of San Francisco openly gay city supervisor Harvey Milk. The 1979 San Francisco Pride Parade Committee wanted to use Baker's flag in the parade, but they decided to ditch the indigo stripe so that the flag could be divided evenly on each side of the street along the parade route. Parading the Rainbow Flag at Pride in London.
The six colour version of the flag soon became most popular and is the one now recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers.

Baker is currently working at his studio on a giant, reworked flag to be revealed in Key West on June 15th. The flag will once again contain all eight rainbow colours as Baker originally intended. “We lost two of the original colours, pink and turquoise, because they could not be commercially produced back in 1978," Baker said in a press release. "It’s time, however, to restore the original design. First, of all, it’s simply more beautiful, more authentic. Besides, when we lost the pink, we lost the symbol for sexual liberation. The missing turquoise honors Native Americans and the magic of life. Both colours are needed to embrace our history.”

The flag will be so large that it will stretch across the entire main island from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico. Unfurling the recording-breaking banner will be the finale of the PrideFest 2003 celebration, entitled “Sea-to-Sea Diversity.”

“This is about more than a flag,” said Baker. “It comes down to people making a statement about our struggle. When I heard about the opportunity to build the 25th anniversary flag in Key West, I knew I had to do it. Florida is a battleground state for gays and lesbians because of its negative political stance toward gays. Unfurling the world’s largest pride flag in this state will resonate throughout the GLBT community worldwide. Becoming visible in our respective communities is still the number one struggle of gays and lesbians.”

After it is displayed, more than a 100 sections of the 1.25 mile flag will be given to Pride organizations in cities across the U.S.

Gilbert Baker raising the first Rainbow Flag in 1978
"For Rainbow25, I will restore the Rainbow Flag to its original 8 colours and bring it to cities worldwide -- as my gift to the community that embraced it," Baker said. "When I raised the first rainbow in San Francisco in 1978 I instantly knew that my flag belonged to every lesbian and gay man."

Gay community leaders are especially thrilled that Key West was chosen for the unfurling of the restored flag.

“This is an enormous opportunity to refocus attention on Key West as a gay destination,” enthuses PrideFest co-chair Carruthers. “SPI Marketing, who helped Gilbert finance the mile-long rainbow pride flag in New York City to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Stonewall in 1994, has identified two major national sponsors to underwrite the entire cost of producing, displaying and documenting the creation of this historic flag. Locally, we’ve identified many volunteers to help Gilbert with the construction.”

“This is an enormous undertaking on many levels,” reflected Baker. “I figure that by the time we’re done, we’ll have sewn over 144,000 feet of seams, more than 27 miles. It’ll take between 2,000 and 3,000 people to unfurl the flag on June 15.”

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