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Rainbow flag

Flag Ratio: 2:3

Eight Striped (1978)

Seven Striped (1978-1979)


Six Striped (1979-present)

(larger version)

The rainbow flag has been a common symbol of gay and lesbian pride since the 1980s. Use of the flag to symbolize this cause originated in the United States and is now seen around the world.

The rainbow flag was first used to symbolize gay pride by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker[?], it currently consists of six coloured stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. It is most commonly flown with the red stripe on top, as the colors appear in a natural rainbow.

History This now well known flag was not the first flag patterned after the rainbow. Outside the United States, the rainbow flag has been seen as representing the international peace movement since the 19th century. In some countries this continues, particularly in Europe, and the rainbow flag was used by peace movements, including during the global protests against war on Iraq. (The most common variety has seven colours rather than six, and often is emblazoned with the Italian word pace, "peace".)

There was some use of similar flags with the rainbow colors in the USA in the early 1970s as a symbol of internationalism and unity of all people of earth, but by the end of the 1970s the flag's connection with gay pride became generally known in the United States.

The original gay pride flag was hand-dyed by Baker, and consisted of eight stripes of hot-pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet. Baker assigned specific meaning to each of the colors as follows:

  • hot-pink, for sex;
  • red, for life;
  • orange, for healing;
  • yellow, for sun;
  • green, for nature;
  • turquoise, for art;
  • indigo, for harmony;
  • violet, for spirit.

After the 1978 assassination of openly gay 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, indigo, and violet. As Baker ramped up production of his version of the flag, he too dropped the hot-pink stripe due to the unavailability of hot-pink fabric.

In 1979 the flag was modified for a final time. When hung vertically from the lamp posts of San Francisco's Market Street[?], the center stripe was obscured by the post itself. Changing the flag design to one with an even number of stripes was the easiest way to rectify this, so the turquoise stripe was dropped. At the same time, the indigo stripe was replaced with a blue stripe, which resulted in the current six stripe version of the flag.

The basic rainbow flag has spawned innumerable variations. One common item of jewelry is the pride necklace or freedom rings, consisting of six rings, one of each colour, on a chain. Other variants range from key chains to candles. Any number of national flags have been altered to include rainbows, and the flag itself has taken any number of shapes from inverted triangles to smiley faces.

In Montreal, Beaudry metro station (http://www.metrodemontreal.com/green/beaudry), which serves as that city's gay village, was recently rebuilt with rainbow-coloured elements integrated into its design - certainly a first.

See also Queer culture, pink triangle, black triangle.

For the bisexual pride flag see bisexuality.

An unrelated flag with a seven-striped rainbow design is used in Peru to represent Tawantinsuyu, the Pre-Columbian Inca empire.

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