A brief history of the LGBT flag

A replica of the original LGBT rainbow flag in Bloomingdales, San Francisco (2014)When I visited San Francisco this summer, I was thrilled to be there over Pride weekend. I expected the parade and a whole lot of other fabulous goings on, but what I didn’t expect was to find an LGBT history lesson in a department store. Hanging in the atrium of Bloomingdales was a gigantic flag and it was only when I started to read the snippets of history displayed alongside it that I realised it was different to the flag we all recognise today. So, for anyone else who doesn’t know, here’s a couple of snippets from the Bloomingdales display on how the flag was first created, and how it changed into the version we all recognise.

1978 – San Francisco based artist, Gilbert Baker, creates the first LGBT Pride flag on San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk’s request. Baker heads up a group who hand dyed and sewed 2 flags for the 1978 Gay Freedom Day Parade. One was a rainbow tie-dyed traditional American flag with stars & stripes. The other is a simpler version with no stars and only 8 stripes, one for each of the 8 colours of the rainbow. Both are referred to as Harvey’s flags. These new flags fly at San Francisco Civic Center waving above 250,000 celebrants on June 25, 1978. The crowd attending is the largest single gathering of LGBT people in U.S. history. Two replicas of this flag hang in our atrium today.

After the assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, the demand for the LGBT Pride flag increases. To meet the demand, San Francisco’s Paramount Flag Company, who employed Gilbert Baker at their retail store, begins selling a version of the flag using stock rainbow fabric. As Baker increases production, the pink stripe is dropped due to the unavailability of hot pink fabric. The flag is now 7 colours – red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue and violet.

1979 – The LGBT Pride flag is modified again. When hung vertically from lamp posts on Market Street in San Francisco, the center stripe was obscured by the post itself. Changing the rainbow flag to one with an even number of stripes was the easiest way to rectify the issue, so the turquoise stripe was dropped. Resulting in a 6 stripe version of the flag – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

You can read more about the history of the LGBT rainbow flag on San Francisco Travel, and there is a video about the Bloomingdales exhibit (which ran last year during Pride Month as well) over on YouTube.