The Story of the Rainbow Flag
The Story of the Rainbow Flag
Colour has long played an important role in our communities’ history and expression of pride. In Victorian England, for example, the colour green was associated with homosexuality. The colour purple (or, more accurately, lavender) became popularized for the lesbian and gay communities with “Purple Power”. And, of course there are the pink and black triangles. The pink triangle was first used by Hitler to identify gay males in Nazi concentration camps, and the black triangle was similarly used to identify lesbians and others deemed “asocial”. The pink and black triangle symbols were reclaimed by our communities in the early 1980s to signify our strength of spirit and willingness to survive oppression. As we gain acceptance of our rights, the symbols of oppression are gradually being replaced by the symbols of celebration. By far the most colourful of our symbols is the Rainbow flag, and its rainbow of colours – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple, which represent the diversity of our communities.
The first rainbow flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco artist, in response to calls by activists for a symbol for the community. Baker used the five-striped “Flag of the Race” as his inspiration, and designed a flag with eight stripes: pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. These colours were intended to represent respectively: sexuality, life, healing, sun, nature, art, harmony, and spirit. Baker dyed and sewed the material for the first flag himself – reminiscent of Betsy Ross and the creation of the US Flag.
When Baker approached a company to mass-produce the flags, he found out that “hot pink” was not commercially available. The flag was then reduced to seven stripes.
In November 1978, San Francisco’s lesbian, gay and bisexual community was stunned when the city’s first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, was assassinated. Wanting to demonstrate the gay community’s strength and solidarity in the aftermath of the tragedy, the Pride Committee decided to use Baker’s flag. The indigo stripe was eliminated so that the colours could be divided evenly along the parade route – three colours on one side and three on the other. Soon the six colours were incorporated into a six-striped version that became popularized and that, today is recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers.
The flag has become an international symbol of pride and the diversity our communities.
WHAT THE RAINBOW FLAG SIGNIFIES
A symbol of pride
The rainbow flag, symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered pride. Pride at having not only survived, but thrived in a world which has often been a hostile place. It is pride in being who we are, it is pride in becoming a full and equal citizen of Canada, it is pride in standing up for what we believe in.
A symbol of hope
In addition to being the symbol of pride, the rainbow is a symbol of hope. Tremendous progress has been made in the fight for equal rights. Step by step, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people are obtaining recognition as equal members of Canadian society, in big cities and in towns and villages across Canada. Our anti-gay opponents are becoming frustrated because their hate cannot defeat our love. Things are not perfect, but the progress we are making is extraordinary…and the rainbow affirms our hopes for an even better future.
A symbol of diversity
Finally, the rainbow is a symbol of diversity. Although myths and stereotypes portray all gays and lesbians as having a single, monolithic “agenda”, the reality is that ours is an extraordinarily diverse community. Across all races and cultural backgrounds, across all languages, with or without disabilities, across all religions, our communities continue to flourish. Sometimes, our own communities are divided between gay and lesbian, between “gay” and “queer”, between those in big cities and those in the suburbs and small towns, between “assimilationists” and those who want to live apart from the mainstream. While diversity poses its challenges, it is also enriching. There are as many opinions as there are people. There is no lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered “lifestyle”, there are only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. Millions of us, each one unique. This is our strength.
BY CELEBRATING PRIDE TOGETHER, WE REMEMBER OUR PAST, AFFIRM OUR FUTURE AND PROVIDE IMPORTANT VISIBILITY WHICH ADVANCES OUR STRUGGLE FOR EQUALITY.