Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Know Your Mo"...The LGBT Flag

The Rainbow flag has been a symbol of gay rights for as long as I can remember being aware of there being such a thing as "gay". It has been a source of comfort and pride as well as a source for derision. Whatever your feelings about the flag there is no denying that it is forever linked with the gay rights movement. You can't go two steps at a pride march without running into a booth hawking a zillion different rainbow colored items from keychains and tiny flags to rainbow colored vodka bottles. But what do we really know about this ubiquitous symbol of the GLBTQ community?...I was surprised to find out...

I have to admit that I knew nothing about this until our Christmas party, when Sean Chapin, a fellow YouTuber, brought it up. I Always knew he was a font of gay wisdom but I didn't realize just how much gay history was locked away in there just waiting for a couple of peppermint martini's to let it out. So you have him and the Wikipedia to thank for todays post and sending us down the road of discovery.

The original flag, as seen above, was created in 1978 by artist Gilbert Baker. The flag was made from hand dyed fabrics and is rumored to be inspired by Judy Garland's "Over The Rainbow". Other rumored Inspirations include "The Flag of the Races", used to demonstrate for world peace in the 1960's. "The Flag of the Races" was also horizontally stripped in red, black, brown, yellow, and white.  The first Rainbow flags were hand stitched by over thirty volunteers for the "Gay Freedom Day Parade" in 1978. Humble beginings for such an instantly recognizable symbol. Another interesting fact is that Mr. Baker assigned each color a meaning:

According to the Wiki:
After the November 27, 1978 assassination of openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk, demand for the rainbow flag greatly increased. To meet demand, the Paramount Flag Company began selling a version of the flag using stock rainbow fabric consisting of seven stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet. As Baker ramped up production of his version of the flag, he too dropped the hot pink stripe because of the unavailability of hot-pink fabric. Also, San Francisco-based Paramount Flag Co. began selling a surplus stock of Rainbow Girls flags from its retail store on the southwest corner of Polk and Post, at which Gilbert Baker was an employee.[6]
Since that day the flag's design was again altered to drop the turqoise stripe in 1979 because the stripe was blocked when hung vertically on lamp posts. The final design that we know today has been incorporated into the striped portion of the U.S. flag as well as many other variations of the current rainbow design. Mile long flags have also been produced, as well as a host of flag related merchandise.

Its funny that, in all the years that I have been attending gay events and waving those tiny little flags, I never knew the path that it had been on itself to become a symbol of the gay rights movement. It had just been there all along. I had always taken its meaning to be that all of us as GLBTQ people come from everywalk of life and blend together into a single community a sentiment that  extends outward to all humanity as well. Even the designation "GLBTQ" is itself representative of the spectrum of lives present withing the gay community.

Like most symbols and metaphors, the meanings often contain layers and connections that can lead us into uncharted territories of thought. That rainbows are seen as the promise at the end of a storm is another such layer of the meaning. What is that meaning? If the rainbow represents us, are we that promise? or is that message meant for us?...that for all the  things that can happen to us in life...all the struggles and all the challenges...that one day these things will pass...and the sun will shine on all of us. I do not know. But I will never look at the gay flag in quite the same way ever again...


  1. I never even tried to find out anything about our rainbow flag, because for me it was never a question. From the very first moment I found out that this is our flag, I knew — this is it, 100% precise, absolutely right, without a doubt. I immediately imagined all those layers and metaphors in my head, and for me it was one of those moments when you have no doubt to say to yourself, “Yes, honey, you're GAY!
    I like to think that I have this my very own understanding of "Why the rainbow?" Because this is who we are: bright, colorful, joyful, loving, passionate, kind, benevolent people who's flame burns brighter than anyone else's, who can survive anything and only become stronger and better, who can create beauty out of ugliness, who can make the impossible possible, who never lose hope and always find the magic in life, and who's not just equal to everyone else but better than everyone else, even though it comes at much too high a cost!

    Hell, they say all the greatest artists had to struggle and overcome the impossible to achieve greatness...
    Maybe, this is our price for being fabulous?
    Maybe, this separation from the gray majority is essential for us to be who we are and the way we are — of all the rainbow colors?
    Or, maybe, I'm too emotional because I've just finished all 5 seasons of “Queer as Folk”? H2IK.

  2. wow...I and I thought I overdid it this holiday night.

  3. I love the arbitrary meanings he gave all the colours! Magic FTW!

    Merry Christmas!

  4. I too had heard about the history of the flag; I did enjoy reading it again and being reminded of the vibrant history of the gay community.
    I also appreciate that he assigned each of the colours a meaning showing that, while sex is a part of the gay community, there are many other facets.
    Wishing you all peace and love,

  5. Thanks for the info Bryan. I was completely clueless about the flag.
    I hope Santa was good to the Leffews!!

  6. There are also those who say the flag was originally representative of the layers of male sexuality and sexual expression. (I'm told things were different in the 70's. Sexuality trumped any celebration of diversity.) ;)