“Flags are about proclaiming power” – Gilbert Baker (June 2, 1951 – March 31, 2017), Gay Rights Activist and creator of Rainbow Flag
Lots of movements have used the symbol of the rainbow throughout history, and it is widely associated with the themes of peace and unity.
Gilbert Baker is credited with creating the rainbow flag in 1978. The idea behind the flag emerged in 1976 whe the USA recognised the bicentenary of its independence as a republic. At the time the backdrop was political turmoil with the nation affected by the withdrawal from the Vietnam War, the Watergate Scandal and political and social turmoil due to inequities across socio-economic and political frameworks.
Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person elected to public office in California, urged Gilbert Baker to come up with symbol for the gay community – an insignia of pride capable of affirming social independence. Baker wanted a flag that would uplift the community which, until then, had emblems such as the pink triangle which were reminders of historical violence, destruction and persecution (please note that the pink triangle has been reclaimed as a symbol of resistance and survival by some sections of the queer community).
For Baker the flag was seen as natural – coming from the sky.
The first flag, stitched by a team of volunteers had the following colours which were chosen to signify different aspects of life, applicable to all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity:
- hot pink (representing sexuality)
- red (which stood for life)
- orange (for healing)
- yellow (sunlight)
- green (nature)
- turquoise (magic)
- indigo (serenity)
- violet (spirit).
Due to design issues the colours hot pink and turquoise were later dropped. By the early 1980s the flag could be seen at major events and was used to mark affirmation within the LGBTQ+ community.
Over the years the symbol of the rainbow flag has been used to incorporate issues around inclusion of LGBTQ+ people of colour and trans and non-binary people.
You will still see rainbow flags used as symbols of peace all over the world.