The next time the rainbow flag unfurls at a Pride parade, you'll know exactly what it means
Have you ever wondered why did the LGBTQ community adopt the rainbow flag? What does the flag stand for and how did it come into being? With the Supreme Court hearing a clutch of petitions to quash Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), it is essential that we understand what the rainbow flag represents and how it became a symbol of the LGBTQ community.
How did the flag come into being?
The flag was created by a man called Gilbert Baker. Baker had moved to San Francisco as an army draftee in 1970. There, he became acquainted with Harvey Milk during the ongoing movement for gay rights. At that time, a wide variety of banners were used in the protests and marches. It was then that the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade commissioned Gilbert Baker to design a flag that can be used in Pride parades for years to come. And Baker came up with the original rainbow flag.
In the picture below, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is seen greeting Gilbert Baker as they take part in the annual Gay Pride parade in New York City, June 30, 2002. (Image: Reuters)
What does the flag signify?
The flag created by Baker was adopted by the LGBTQ community in 1978 after Harvey Milk, the city’s first openly gay supervisor, was assassinated. The flag had originally consisted of eight colours:
Pink – stands for sexuality
Red – stands for life
Orange – represents healing
Yellow – represents sunlight
Green – stands for nature
Turquoise – for art and magic
Indigo – for peace and harmony
Violet – for human spirit
However, by 1979, the flag was restricted to six colours for practical reasons. When Baker had approached the manufacturers to mass produce the flag, he found that the ‘hot pink’ dye was prohibitively expensive. Indigo was removed, and turquoise and violet were merged to form blue. The flag consisting of six stripes then came into being and became the most recognized symbol of the LGBTQ community across the world.
The flag is a symbol of LGBT pride, with the rainbow affirming hope to the community which is struggling for their rights in many countries. It is also a symbol of diversity and inclusivity of people identifying with a multitude of sexual orientations.
Why was a flag of different colour combinations used and not a solid colour, or a shape or a logo?
Historically, closeted people belonging to the LGBT community have used bright colours in order to signal their different sexual orientation. For instance, noted author Oscar Wilde used to wear a green carnation on his lapel, which later became a trademark of Londoners and Parisians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to secretly express their deviant sexual orientation.
Similarly, during the Holocaust, Nazis forced gay men to wear pink triangles; the symbol was later reclaimed by the gay community.
The rainbow flag took all these colours to make them into a coherent symbol that represents the community. The Insider quoted Gilbert Baker as saying, "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."
Baker died in March last year. He was 65.
What were the other symbols used by the community to express their sexual deviance?
According to a story on Slate, if an individual in Queensland wanted to attract a person of the same sexual orientation, they used to display a pair of bright yellow socks. Similarly, purple had become the colour of gay pride in San Francisco in the 1960s, when they came up with the symbol of the purple hand and gay Bostonians put up posters emblazoned with a purple rhino.
In the 1970s, New York’s gay activists selected the Greek letter ‘lamda’ as their symbol.
Did popular culture play a part?
As a matter of fact, it did. An icon belonging to the gay community, Judy Garland, who featured in the film, ‘The Wizard of Oz’, sung the song ‘Somewhere over the Rainbow’ in the movie.
Has this flag been adopted by the LGBTQ community across the world?The flag is popular across the world, but has been improvised and modified by various countries for the purpose of inclusivity. For instance, Philadelphia added black and brown stripes in the flag for racial inclusivity. Another variation of the rainbow flag had added a black stripe for AIDS awareness.