June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender pride month, and the rainbow flag — that iconic symbol for gay pride — is flying from Athens to San Francisco to Brazil.
Enter artist Gilbert Baker, the man who first came up with the flag’s design some 34 years ago. After being discharged from the Army during the Vietman War, Baker settled in San Francisco, where he taught himself to sew and soon began crafting banners for gay marches and events, CBS Chicago reports. He eventually befriended Harvey Milk, the city’s first openly gay elected official. Given Baker’s influential role in the gay community, in 1978 the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade commissioned him to design a new symbol that could be used year after year. Hoping to represent diversity and acceptance, Baker soon settled on the image of a rainbow.
“The rainbow is a part of nature and you have to be in the right place to see it,” Baker told CBS.
“It’s beautiful, all of the colors, even the colors you can’t see. That really fit us as a people because we are all of the colors. Our sexuality is all of the colors. We are all the genders, races and ages.”
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So Baker set to work, originally producing a version of the flag with eight stripes, each color with a distinct meaning: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for the human spirit. The color pink was not widely available for commercial use at the time, so it was dropped — as, eventually, was indigo — to give the flag an even six stripes.
Although Baker’s design that has seen consistent recognition and served as a worldwide symbol of the LGBT movement, he said flags are “something that everyone owns and that’s why they work. The Rainbow Flag is like other flags in that sense, it belongs to the people.” And indeed, the flag is in the public domain, thus enabling infinite commercial reproduction on everything from beach towels to neckties to dog collars.
Despite the progress the LGBT movement has made since Baker originally created the flag in the 1970s, he said the community still has much work ahead. “Let’s remember that in 80 countries it’s still illegal to be gay and in ten countries or so it’s a death penalty,” he told CBS. “Our oppressors, our enemies if you will, the people who are trying to stop us, are formidable with their religions and their laws and their hatred.”
Baker now resides in New York, where he’s penning a book about his experience as the creator of the Rainbow Flag.