Have you ever wondered where the LGBTQ+ Pride flag came from? Yeah, me too. I actually had no idea until a few weeks ago when I started reading Gay & Lesbian History for Kids by Jerome Pohlen (which I plan to review soon!), which briefly discussed the history of our flag. This motivated me to do some more research, aaaand… I thought it would be fun to write a blog post to teach you all about it!
Who created it?
Gilbert Baker, a gay activist and artist, was challenged by Harvey Milk, another activist (and the first openly gay person elected to public office in California!) to come up with a symbol of pride for the community.
When and where was it first flown?
The flag was first flown the year it was created, in 1978, at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade – which would later be known simply as the Pride parade.
What inspired the design?
There are a few different ideas: One is that Baker was inspired by the song “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” because Judy Garland was one of the first gay icons and had died just days before the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
Another theory has it that the design was taken from a flag flown at hippies’ peace rallies on college campuses in the sixties. This flag consisted of five colors – red, white, brown, yellow, and black – with each color symbolizing a different race.
What is is the meaning of each color?
In the order that they appear on the flag:
- Red symbolizes life
- Orange symbolizes healing
- Yellow symbolizes sunlight
- Green symbolizes nature
- Blue symbolizes serenity or harmony
- Violet symbolizes spirit
Has the flag always looked as it does today?
I’m glad you asked! No, it has not. The flag originally included EIGHT colors, not six. Hot pink was originally the topmost stripe, and symbolized sexuality. Yes, sexuality…. an intriguing absence, right?
Also, I’m not at all sure about this but I have a theory that pink was used to symbolize sexuality because the Nazis forced gay male prisoners to wear inverted pink triangles on their clothes. I need to double-check whether or not that is actually true, but I could definitely see it being possible.
Turquoise was also part of the original flag, and symbolized magic or art.
Why was the design changed?
I was expecting a Very Deep Reason for the design change, but… basically, hot pink fabric was very expensive at the time and no one liked the seven-color flag.
Pink disappeared from the design almost immediately after the flag was introduced, in 1978, while turquoise was dropped in 1979 because the San Francisco Pride parade organizers wanted to hang the flag in two halves, one on either side of each lamppost in their city, and that just wasn’t possible with an odd number of colors. So no, there’s no deeper meaning behind the design change. It was all about what was most practical!
Baker has been urging the LGBTQ+ community to adopt the original eight-color flag since the early 2000s, but the idea hasn’t really caught on.
How is the flag meant to be flown?
If flown horizontally, red is meant to be on top in order for the flag to mimic a naturally occurring rainbow. I should add, though, that the flag is also often hung vertically. Some of my friends, for instance, fly their horizontally and some don’t. (Mine is horizontal
Well, I hope that was entertaining to read, and hopefully educational as well! I love history and have been working hard to expand my knowledge of LGBTQ+ history in particular because I like to know where we’ve come from and where we’ll be.
P.S. The real question is… how many Pride flags do you own? I own a large (3′ x 5′) one that I bought a few weeks ago at Iowa City Pride, in addition to two tiny flags that I picked up at MBLGTACC in February. And don’t even get me started on all the things I own that are emblazoned with the rainbow flag!