It is in the late 60s and during the 70s that the LGBT movement developed in the United States, becoming both a political movement, fighting for one's rights and freedoms, and also becoming a group of people who marched in the streets to show they are there, they exist.
So we needed a symbol, something that unites us all, in the United States but also in the world.
Artist and activist Gilbert Baker has started working on this in 1976. Two years later, on June 25, 1978, the first rainbow flag fluttered in the air in San Francisco (see picture below).
Since, as you know, this flag has effectively become the symbol of our community and has been officially acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). In an interview found on the museum website, Baker tells why he had the idea of a flag and what it represents:
«I thought, a flag is different than any other form of art. It’s not a painting, it’s not just cloth, it is not a just logo—it functions in so many different ways. I thought that we needed that kind of symbol, that we needed as a people something that everyone instantly understands.
[The Rainbow Flag] doesn’t say the word «Gay,» and it doesn’t say «the United States» on the American flag but everyone knows visually what they mean. And that influence really came to me when I decided that we should have a flag, that a flag fit us as a symbol, that we are a people, a tribe if you will. And flags are about proclaiming power, so it’s very appropriate,» Baker said.
«It was necessary to have the Rainbow Flag because up until that we had the pink triangle from the Nazis—it was the symbol that they would use [to denote gay people]. It came from such a horrible place of murder and holocaust and Hitler. We needed something beautiful, something from us.
The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things. Plus, it’s a natural flag—it’s from the sky!»
This flag has undergone some changes since its conception. First, there were 8 colors and not 6 as now, economic reduction, 8 colors were just too expensive in 1978, Gilbert therefore reduced to 6 colors, and the colors order was also slightly changed as you can see below:
By being acquired permanently by MoMA, the rainbow flag joined symbols that marked human history.
Photo 1978 by James McNamara. Courtesy of Gilbert Baker.