1978-06-25

The RAINBOW FLAG is first displayed in the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. While Gilbert Baker is widely recognized as the creator of the Rainbow Flag, the origins of the flag remain controversial.

Activist and author, Lee Mentley asserts — we think correctly — that it was made by artists from Eureka Noe Valley Artist’s Coalition, The Hula Palace, and Gay Freedom Day community volunteers in Top Floor Gallery.

Mentley, in his recent book, The Princess of Castro Street [ISBN-10: 1533323844 – ISBN-13: 978-1533323842], disputes the origin story of the flag told by Gilbert Baker who claimed the flag design as his own. According to Mentley:

“…Gilbert Baker who could barely finish any project he ever started was the 1978 co-chair of the Gay Day Decorating Committee would later … claim he created the rainbow flags all by himself, at Harvey’s [Milk] request nonetheless—but the artists knew he was no Betsy Ross!

“Lynn Segerblon who was the other co-chair with Gilbert Baker of the Gay Day Decorating Committee, along with Hula Palace artist Robert Guttmann, presented their original idea to the Pride Board of the rainbow flag concept.

“The Pride Foundation requested and found funding through the Hotel Tax. Lynn was the rainbow artist for Capezio downtown and professionally known as Faery Rainbow Argyle. It was Ms. Faery who, working with others, chose the colors and mixed the dye for one thousand yards of bleached muslin and designed the Rainbow and Rainbow American Flag, with a sole star placed within the stripes symbolizing “The State of Consciousness.”

“More than one hundred artists worked on this amazing project.”

The flag consisted of eight stripes: hot pink: sexuality; red: life; orange; healing; yellow: sunlight; green: nature; turquoise; magic/art; indigo: serenity/harmony; and violet: spirit. After the assassination of Harvey Milk, there was an increased demand for the flags. To meet that demand, the Paramount Flag Company began selling a version of the flag using stock rainbow fabric consisting of seven stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet.

In 1979 the flag was modified again. When hung vertically from the lamp posts of San Francisco’s Market Street, the center stripe was obscured by the post itself. Changing the flag design to one with an even number of stripes was the easiest way to rectify this, so the turquoise stripe was dropped, which resulted in a six stripe version of the flag – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Naturally, in the modifications, the two color elements that were lost: sex and magic/art. In the early years of the AIDS epidemic, AIDS activists designed a “Victory Over AIDS” flag consisting of the standard six-stripe rainbow flag with a black stripe across the bottom. Leonard Matlovich, himself dying of AIDS-related illness, suggested that upon a cure for AIDS being discovered, the black stripes be removed from the flags and burned.

Whoever actually designed it, Daily GayWisdom pays tribute to the rainbow with the colors of every entry in GayWisdom.