(A Brief) History of the LGBTQ+ Flag

Gilbert Baker, a political activist, designer & flag-maker, created the Rainbow Flag in 1978. Born in Kansas in 1951, Gilbert became a medic in the United States Army (1970 – 1972). His military career would bring him to San Francisco, where he would make his home while using his artistic abilities to fuel his passion for political change.

At the request of his friends, including Harvey Milk (the first openly gay man elected to office in California), Gilbert created an eight-striped rainbow flag to serve as the new symbol for the gay rights movement, replacing the pink triangle.

The flag would soon fly for the first time on June 25th, 1978, at the United Nations Plaza in honor of the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. 

“The flag is an action – it’s more than just the cloth and the stripes. When a person puts the Rainbow Flag on [their] car or [their] house, they’re not just flying a flag. They’re taking action.” – Gilbert Baker

At this point, in 1978, the pink triangle was the symbol for the gay movement.

“But it represented a dark chapter in the history of same-sex rights. Adolph Hitler conceived the pink triangle during World War II as a stigma placed on homosexuals in the same way the Star of David was used against Jews. It functioned as a Nazi tool of oppression. We all felt that we needed something that was positive, that celebrated our love.” – Gilbert Baker

The original eight-striped flag by Gilbert Baker, on display in the Oakland Museum of California.

“We all felt that we needed something that was positive, that celebrated our love”  – Gilbert Baker

Each of the 8 colors Gilbert used in the 1978 original flag have a distinct meaning.

  • Pink – Sexuality
  • Red – Life
  • Orange – Healing
  • Yellow – Sunlight
  • Green – Nature
  • Turquoise – Art
  • Indigo – Harmony
  • Violet – Spirit

Two events contributed to the original flag’s transition into the six colors known today.

After the assignation of Harvey Milk in 1978, the popularity of the rainbow flag skyrocketed. The hot-pink stripe was dropped since the fabric was not readily available.

In 1979, the flag was changed again, and the turquoise stripe was dropped. This created an even number of stripes, allowing the flag to be hung vertically on lamp posts on Market Street without a center stripe being blocked by the poles themselves.

Harvey Milk was one of America’s foremost LGBT+ activists and political pioneers. 
(PHOTO: Dan Nicoletta)

Below are just a sampling of the different flags created to represent
different groups within the LGBTQ+ community.

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