Friday, 10 October 2008

The History of Queer Pride Flags

I've been doing some research on the Queer Pride Flag. I had heard that there used to be 8 stripes, with a hot pink and a turquoise and that each colour meant something. The fact that there are a number of different colours also represents diversity I did however learn more than I expected...

The Rainbow (or Gay Pride) Flag was created by artist and vexillographer (fancy ass name for flag- designer) Gilbert Baker, a friend of the late Harvey Milk, who was an American politician who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California, as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was assassinated in November 1978-the same year the flag began to be used prominently in San Fransisco. Baker, dyed and sewed the first flag himself. The flag debuted at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade. It has since been used around the world as a symbol of LGBT unity in many variations, including adaptations such as bumper stickers and decals. The Rainbow Flag is frequently credited as being recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers (ICoFM). There is no such thing as the ICoFM but was actually a slip of the tongue in an interview where baker confused the organization FIAV (English version of FIAV, or the International Association of Vexillological Associations) and the event Flag Congress.

Changes made to the flag:

There is much debate as to how the flag went from 8 to 7 to 6 and some accounts state that it went strait from 8 to 6. Here are a number of the theories:
1. The pink stripe was drooped because Baker ran out of pink Dye

2. San Francisco-based Paramount Flag Co. began selling seven-striped (top to bottom: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet) flags from its Polk Street retail store, which was located in a large gay neighborhood. These flags were surplus stock which had originally been made for the the International Order of Rainbow for Girls, a Masonic organization for young women. As these were so readily available, they for a time became the 'gay pride' flag out of convenience.
Baker goes commercial...

3. Apparently after the pink was dropped by Baker and his volunteers, Baker desired an even number of stripes on the flag.

Baker asked Paramount to make vertical banners that would be split and displayed from the angular double bars of the old-style lamp posts on Market Street. Baker and Paramount’s vice president Ken Hughes agreed to drop the hot pink and turquoise stripes and replace the indigo stripe with royal blue — resulting in three stripes on one side of the lamp post and three on the other.

The reality was that the gay community at this time (1978-1979) used almost any flag with a rainbow of stripes. Here are some examples of other rainbow flags...

International co-operative alliance (Christian socialists)

Italian peace flag, same design as the Greek peace flag which reads "epihnh" -peace in Greek (

Flag of lingua Franca Nova

Jewish autonomous oblast in Russia (

Meher Baba -Indian spirituality


Anonymous said...

That's really interesting! And rather relevant considering Rainbow Week, I mean "day", is coming up.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of incurring Kath's distinctive wrath, I really don't like the garish, kitsch colours of the gay pride movement.
It's too late to change the colours, but had it been my way, I would have made a symbol - rather than a series of colours.
As for rainbow day at school, I don't feel particularly comfortable wearing rainbow colours considering my own personal colour tastes, my embarassment and the inevitable "Oh I didn't know you were Gay Reuben" from my iniquitous peers.

DISCLAIMER: I am actually straight, as of today.

Jess said...

as of today reuben????


cindi if you're reading this you should be cleaning your room... (:P)

V i don't know which of kath's friends you are, but you always have such nice things to say :)

and reuben the colours are fantastic, they're bold, they stand out and they're just fun!

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm aware, I've always been straight, Jess. It's just I'm aware of the multi-faceted nature of the English language.

I like nice 'tea coloured' or greying images the likes of which can be found in TV shows such as Ashes to Ashes and Life on Mars.
Conversely, the colours look as though somebody's killed a clown and spread them haphazardly across the eighties.

Jess said...

oh v=aviva!
sorry i have a friend called v, so i have a hard time associating it with anyone else.

but this v likes nachos, and has a hebrew name that is a feminised version of the word spring (aka aviv) which is suprisingly a good bakery on glenhuntly road!

Kath said...

Yes I was thinking of interweaving something like that into the display i hope to have put up on Rainbow day..with the intention of it staying around for a little longer than just rainbow day.

"We're OUT, we're LOUD, we're PROUD!" just wouldn’t have at the same impact against something dull.
The rainbow flag was the symbol of the pride movement as opposed to gay liberation which had an upside down triangle as its symbol. There are also a number of other queer symbols, none which have ever taken off quite so much as the rainbow flag. You mightn't like it but it has worked better than any other symbols and to be honest I don’t think you really get it.

"DISCLAIMER: I am actually straight"
*heavy sigh* what can I say? I don’t blame you personally Reuben, I understand that it's just the way society seems to work atm...but it is ever so disheartening to see you find it so necessary to qualify many of your statements with an "I'm straight" disclaimer. You're not the only one who does it, so don’t take this as a personal criticism.
No one is forcing you to wear rainbows, but I'm not going to lie on a personal level I would be disappointed if you refused to wear an "i support diversity" badge on rainbow day at school.

Yes that one

Anonymous said...

I'm aware of it's political meaning, Kath. And you are well-aware on my theory of pride (and how it makes an excellent political tool).

I can't please everyone. You know I support equality outright, so there's no need for me to clarify on this.

I will wear a badge, but nothing colourful or flamboyant.

As for Jess, your propensity to go off on tangents amuses me. And yes, Aviv is a good bakery. The bagels are superlative.

Ruby said...

Phoebe and I saw a PACE sign on Thursday. We thought it was a typo

Kath said...

The badges will be rainbow colours. Suit yourself.

Lol nah just peace in Italian, its cool

Anonymous said...

Oh yes...I definitely need a suit...for the formal anyway.

Kath said...

Lol. I can't spell..I assume ther's another suit?

Anonymous said...

Only if I buy three.
You see, the first one would act as a 'rough draft' to which its duty would consist of being set on fire.
The remaining two suits would exist, thus satisfying your calls for me to curb my smugness.

JahTeh said...

Kath, I wandered over from RVB and I hope you keep up your passion for the fight. I'm a great deal older than you and I can tell you that being gay today is a lot easier than 20 years ago and hopefully it will not take another 20 years for equality.
I'm a member of the VGLRL and you might say I'm their token straight grandmother.

Kath said...

Hi Jahteh
I mean no dissrespect, but I have at times been disspointed with the actions of the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. I beleive they have lost their conections to grass-roots movements. I have been disspointed with they way they have advertised the more recent queer rights demonstrations. It appears that too much time has been spent sucking up to the powers that be. A member of the governemnt came to our school and on being questioned by a queer allied student he informed us that the government would NEVER grant same sex marriage. I know you're lobbysts but as queers and queer allies we should not forget that it is us, the people who have made huge diffrences in events like stone wall and the pink bans.

JahTeh said...

You're quite right to question the validity of a formal lobby group but when you're dealing with a formal government who tend to look at credentials first then issues, it's necessary. In my case, being straight and a member, it makes the people I write to or talk to, stop and ask why I do it.

Anonymous said...

Something you might like to read, Kath:

Kath said...

erghhh who ever wrote that totaly lacks any understanding of queer politics and gender theory.

Anonymous said...

Kath, most people earnestly have no clue about this area. You have evidently done much research...but this is just a superficial opinion.

Kath said...

Well yes that’s true and I respect that. I think from what I've read that, this person was TRYING to be on "our side" but s/he was frankly rather insulting in their description of transgender. People like that would do well to do research before writing articles of such an important nature. I say this only because people look at those things as a way to educate themselves on such issues. Someone with such a lack of understanding should do some learning before they try teaching others.
With me, I come from a very clear socialist school of thought and have indeed done some research and engaged in queer student politics (at both high school and university level.) It is from this background that I draw my arguments. I think it’s important to know where you’re coming from, as I do.

Anonymous said...

I would rather concentrate my battles on hitting flagrant homophobes (such as those retards I emailed you about).