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The Story of the Pride Flag

Although it's presence has become very familiar, few of us are aware of how the rainbow became the symbol of the gay community, and what it really means.

The rainbow itself has long been a symbol of various things for as long as there have been people to look into the sky. An early representation of the rainbow appears in the Buddhist symbol for good luck - a wish of success in all your endeavors.

Our six-banded rainbow flag, with it's saturated jewel tones in red - orange - yellow - green - blue - purple order, is intended to represent our diversity: We are everywhere, we are everybody. Every class, religion, race, educational level, occupation - you name it, we're there. The flag as a whole has come to represent pride in the diversity of our community.

The rainbow flag design dates to 1978, when Gilbert Baker was asked to design a symbol for the San Francisco gay and lesbian Freedom Day Parade. As Gilbert described his design, "The idea of a flag the color of the rainbow hit me as a natural symbol from nature ... There's an implied multiculturalism to it, an all-encompassing aspect ..."

The six bands (red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet) traditionally represent, respectively, life, healing, sun, nature, art and harmony. Baker's original flag, however, also included two additional bands: Hot pink (sexuality) and indigo (spirit). The hot pink stripe vanished almost immediately because Baker's flag was hand-dyed, and when the flag began to be produced by others, hot pink fabric was nearly impossible to find. The indigo stripe disappeared when a grief-stricken community turned out to mourn the assassination of Harvey Milk (San Francisco's first openly gay supervisor) and the coordination of the parade route required six colored bands go down six streets. The elimination of indigo was the most practical.

The official names for the current colors are: Old Glory red, orange, Spanish Yellow, Irish green, royal blue and pansy purple. Apparently, Baker chose that particular purple because of the name - a slur in many other contexts, is humorous here.

Jesse Jackson's "Rainbow Coalition" adopted the Rainbow as a political symbol during his first run for president in 1984. It was meant to be a symbol of inclusion of people from many different races, though Jackson's campaign was very clear that the coalition also embraced the gay/lesbian community as a full-fledged member.

Originally posted June 20th, 1998

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