A Rainbow Flag was a conscious choice, natural and necessary. The rainbow came from earliest recorded history as a symbol of hope. In the Book of Genesis, it appeared as proof of a covenant between God and all living creatures. It was also found in Chinese, Egyptian, and Native American history. A Rainbow Flag would be our modern alternative to the pink triangle. Now the rioters who claimed their freedom at the Stonewall Bar in 1969 would have their own symbol of liberation.
Long before Pride Month, before vodka endorsements and parades and makeover shows, an individual that identified as LGBTQIA+ could not be celebrated- they were hated, they were feared, and they were oppressed. With cities burning down around us in response to yet another tragedy, we remember the protestors and individuals that put their lives on the line to make a difference not for themselves but for the generation to follow them. We remember the Stonewall Riots, the murder of Brendon Teena, the assassination of Harvey Milk.
It was Harvey Milk’s assassination that actually gave the movement a concrete cause to rally behind. The community, brought together to grieve the loss of an important figure as one, needed a symbol to organize around. A symbol of hope – one that cannot be killed, one that survives being burned, one that could never be snuffed out. This beacon of hope was created at the hands of none other than Gilbert Baker, a name you may not have heard, but you’ve definitely seen his work.
The original Pride Flag was sewn at the request of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk and flew at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade celebration on June 25, 1978, three months before Milk’s assassination on November 27, 1978. In the wake of Milk’s death, demand for the flags soared as the community rallied together mourning their loss, and the popularity of the rainbow flag has grown to today where it is immediately recognizable as the symbol of LGBTQIA+.
The rainbow flag was created in part to replace the previous symbol of the LGBTQIA+ community- the pink triangle, which was used by the Nazi’s during the Holocaust to identify prisoners as homosexuals. With such a dark past, it’s easy to understand why Milk advocated for a replacement. The colors were chosen intentionally to represent different important aspects of the movement for acceptance and equality. While the original flag featured eight colors, the current and best-known rainbow flag has six which, are as follows:
Red – Life
Red is the color of blood and represents life in the Rainbow flag. It is the first stripe and the top of the flag, and also serves as a reminder of the lives both gained and lost in the fight for equality and acceptance. Harvey Milk is just one example of thousands of LGBTQIA+ people who have been killed while working to benefit the community. Even today gay/queer people die younger and more frequently than their heteronormative peers, and the fight for life continues through the Pride Movement.
Orange – Healing
Like a sunrise or sunset, the second stripe in the flag is orange. Representing healing, the orange stripe symbolizes the forgiveness that will help the LGBTQIA+ community continue to grow through love and peace rather than violence. Healing can come in many forms: healing from personal trauma, healing from institutionalized discrimination, healing from heartache, and more. The orange stripe serves to as a reminder of the importance of healing.
Yellow – Sunlight
While it may be darkest before dawn, the fourth stripe from the top in the Rainbow flag is yellow and represents sunlight. Without sunlight, there’s no growth and no tomorrow. Therefore, the yellow symbolizes the hope the community has for a brighter future filled with love and acceptance rather than discrimination and hate.
Green – Nature
In the rainbow flag, green represents nature. There is nothing more natural than a person’s sexuality and the desire to be who you feel you naturally are. The Pride Movement has always had close roots in the peace and harmony of nature, and it’s important to remember nature’s role in the world around us. As LGBTQIA+ advocates continue to work and strive to eradicate discrimination against the community, nature continues to be an important aspect of what the community stands for.
Blue – Harmony
Peace and harmony are the ultimate goals of the Pride Movement and are represented by the blue stripe of the rainbow flag. The color blue is oftentimes thought to be calming or serene and is the perfect choice to represent harmony. This doesn’t just mean harmony between the LGBTQIA+ community and the rest of the world, but also harmony within the community itself and harmony within yourself.
Purple – Spirit
Passion and pride feed the spirit of the Pride Movement, which is represented by the final purple stripe of the rainbow flag. Historically associated with kings and royalty, purple is a bold color that symbolizes the passionate outcries of the LGBTQIA+ community in search of acceptance and equality. Protesters have marched for gay rights for decades, and will not stop until their goals are finally achieved. Like yellow, purple stands for hope, because without spirit there can be no hope for a better future.
It is only within the last 60 years or so that the Pride Movement has begun to get real traction and momentum. As countries (like the United States) begin to legalize gay marriage and recognize equal rights for LGBTQIA+ persons, it’s clear that change is beginning to happen on a global scale. The fight is far from over, but the paradigm is slowly but surely beginning to shift in a positive direction. By knowing the meaning behind the rainbow flag and its significance to the Pride Movement, allies all over the world are better prepared to keep fighting the good fight when it comes to gay rights.