The rainbow flag, an evolving symbol of LGBTQIA+ pride | The Optimist Daily
Today’s Solutions: July 19, 2024

During Pride Month, the rainbow flag, which represents LGBTQIA+ pride and solidarity, can be seen hung on homes, businesses, and bumpers. It’s more than simply a brilliant show; it represents safe spaces and constant support for the LGBTQIA+ community.

The origins of the rainbow flag

On June 25, 1978, at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade, the rainbow flag had its first appearance. Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, commissioned Gilbert Baker, an openly gay veteran, drag queen, activist, and artist, to design a symbol for the LGBTQIA+ community. Baker’s design, an eight-color rainbow-striped banner, was inspired by the American flag. “In the late 1970s, national pride was at a peak because of the bicentennial, and homophobia was rife in U.S. society. Using national symbols for queer pride resonated with many queer people,” explains Christopher Ewing, assistant professor of history at Purdue University.

Baker’s original design featured pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, blue for harmony, and purple for spirit. However, following Milk’s assassination in November 1978, demand for the flag increased, prompting the removal of the pink and turquoise stripes due to manufacturing difficulties. The six remaining colors become an iconic emblem of LGBT pride.

Evolution towards inclusivity

Over time, the rainbow flag has developed to reflect the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community. “The evolution of the rainbow flag reflects how the queer community continues to grapple with issues of race and gender. Recent iterations of the flag center queer BIPOC and gender nonconforming people who face discrimination in queer spaces,” notes Cookie Woolner, associate professor of history at the University of Memphis.

In 2017, the Philly Pride flag was unveiled in Philadelphia City Hall, with black and brown stripes to represent QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans*, Black, Indigenous People of Color), who have historically been disenfranchised within the queer community. “The involvement of QTBIPOC was central to the Stonewall rebellion. These additions pay homage to them and center them,” says Rebekkah Mulholland, assistant professor of history at CSU Sacramento.

A year later, Daniel Quasar, a nonbinary artist, designed the Progress Pride banner, which featured the trans* pride flag’s white, pink, and blue stripes. This design represents a dedication to greater inclusiveness. Ewing highlights, “The Progress Pride flag is about resisting the erasure of QTBIPOC within the movement. It reincorporates pink, one of the original colors that was jettisoned in a new context.”

Modern iterations: celebrating diversity

The Progress Pride flag’s black and brown stripes form a chevron shape, as do the trans* flag’s light blue, pink, and white colors. “It’s important to center trans* people because they’ve often been on the front lines of activism and faced the most repercussions due to their often-visible gender transgression,” Woolner states.

The Queer People of Color flag was created in 2020, but its designer is unknown. This flag has the Black Lives Matter motif of a raised fist in a variety of skin tones to emphasize LGBT and racial equity. “Political movement that led to the creation of the rainbow flag in the late 1970s is unimaginable without the contributions of QTBIPOC,” Ewing says, asserting the vital role of people of color in the LGBTQIA+ movement.

The most recent version is the Intersex-Inclusive Pride flag, which was introduced in 2021 by Valentino Vecchietti, an intersex journalist and media figure. “Pride flags exist not to contain or delineate us, but to reflect our diverse existence and to create inclusive visibility,” Vecchietti said. This flag combines a purple circle within a yellow triangle, expressing intersex pride, into its Progress Pride design. Its 11 hues are a subtle homage to the original rainbow pride emblem.

An ever-evolving symbol

Gilbert Baker’s flag has been revised multiple times, symbolizing the LGBTQIA+ community’s continual battle for inclusivity and acknowledgment. “The more we see how broad the spectrum of human identity is, the more iterations of the flag will be,” says Robert Kesten, executive director of the Stonewall Museum. “In a community as vibrant, creative, and [engaged in activism] as this one, the flag will continue to evolve.”

The rainbow flag’s ongoing growth highlights its significance as a living symbol, adapting to changing dynamics and increasing inclusivity within the LGBTQIA+ community. As society advances and our understanding of multiple identities grows, the flag will most certainly undergo several modifications, each one respecting and acknowledging the multidimensional essence of human identity.

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