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LLCC Alliance - Rainbow Flag History Page

Rainbow Flag History

Many Styles of Rainbow Flags have been designed to represent our gay community, but few know the actual origin.


Use of the rainbow flag by the gay community began in 1978 when it first appeared in the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade. Borrowing symbolism from the hippie movement and black civil rights groups, San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in response to a need for a symbol that could be used year after year. Baker and thirty volunteers hand-stitched and hand-dyed two huge prototype flags for the parade.


The flags had eight stripes, each color representing a component of the community:  

  1. Hot Pink for Sex    2. Red for Life    3. Orange for Healing    4. Yellow for Sun 
 5. Green for Nature   6. Turquoise for Art   7. Indigo for Harmony    8. Violet for Spirit 

The next year Baker approached San Francisco Paramount Flag Company to mass-produce rainbow flags for the 1979 parade. Due to production constraints the hot pink and turquoise were removed and blue replaced the indigo.


This six-color version spread from San Francisco to other cities, and soon became the widely-known symbol of gay pride and diversity it is today


The rainbow flag has inspired a wide variety of related symbols such as the freedom rings, the RainbowCoin, Rainbow Triangles and Color Bars.


The Victory Over AIDS Flag modifies the rainbow flag by adding a black stripe at the bottom. Suggested by a San Francisco group, the black stripe commemorates those we have lost to AIDS.. Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, a much-decorated Vietnam Veteran dying of AIDS, proposed that when a cure was eventually found the black stripes should be removed from all the flags and ceremoniously burned in Washington, D.C.


The multicultural symbolism of the rainbow is nothing new -- Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition also embraces the rainbow as a symbol of that political movement. The rainbow also plays a part in many myths and stories related to gender and sexuality issues in Greek, Native American, African, and other cultures.