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Who Designed the 'Rainbow Flag' and How Did it Come to Represent Queer Pride?

Representational photo via Canva.

Representational photo via Canva.

In 2018, graphic designer Daniel Quasar has added a five-coloured chevron to the LGBT Rainbow Flag to place a greater emphasis on 'inclusion and progression.'

June is celebrated as ‘Pride Month’ all over the world. ‘Pride’ is synonymous with a flag, whether you identify as gay, lesbian, bi, gender non-conforming, trans, or various other versions that really make you feel, truly you. The flag, is a reflection of all the diverse spectrum of gender it encompasses: and is the colours of the rainbow. If you’ve seen pride symbols, they usually also rainbow in color. The pride marches, pride parades are usually adorned with the rainbow flags. The flag in a sense, is a reflection of the larger community, and how varied and colourful the marches look. But where did the pride flag really originate from?

In 2015, when the Museum of Modern Art acquired the flag, they credited it to artist Gilbert Baker. “We’re thrilled to announce that MoMA has acquired the iconic Rainbow Flag into its design collection, where it joins similarly universal symbols such as the @ symbol, the Creative Commons logo, and the recycling symbol. Artist Gilbert Baker created the Rainbow Flag in 1978 in San Francisco," they wrote.

In Gilbert Baker’s own memoir, ‘RAINBOW WARRIOR’ he in detail mentions the origin and the idea behind it — He writes about how when he came up with the flag, the symbol was a pink triangle for the gay movement. “But it represented a dark chapter in the history of same-sex rights. Adolph Hitler conceived the pink triangle during World War II as a stigma placed on homosexuals in the same way the Star of David was used against Jews. It functioned as a Nazi tool of oppression. We all felt that we needed something that was positive, that celebrated our love." Queer iconography once included pink and black triangles—re-appropriated by the LGBT community after the Nazis used them to label gay men and lesbians in concentration camps—and the labrys—a double-headed ax associated with the mythological, matriarchal Amazons.

" I thought of the vertical red, white, and blue tricolor from the French Revolution and how both flags owed their beginnings to a riot, a rebellion, or revolution. I thought a gay nation should have a flag too, to proclaim its own idea of power," wrote Baker.


The visual idea came to him, while dancing in a crowd. “North Beach beatniks and barrio zoots, the bored bikers in black leather, teenagers in the back row kissing. There were long-haired, lithe girls in belly-dance get-ups, pink-haired punks safety-pinned together, hippie suburbanites, movie stars so beautiful they left you dumbstruck, muscle gayboys with perfect mustaches, butch dykes in blue jeans, and fairies of all genders in thrift-store dresses. We rode the mirrored ball on glittering LSD and love power. Dance fused us, magical and cleansing. We were all in a swirl of color and light. It was like a rainbow," he writes. “A rainbow. That’s the moment when I knew exactly what kind of flag I would make."

Curator Michelle Millar Fisher, who interviewed Baker when MoMA acquired his original flag, says there’s utility in continuously interrogating its symbolism.

A Los Angeles Times article dispelled the popular belief that artist Gilbert Baker was solely responsible for the design of the symbol that came next—the rainbow. In collaboration with other volunteer members of San Francisco’s 1978 pride parade decorations committee—among them tie-dyer Lynn Segerblom (also known as Faerie Argyle Rainbow) and seamster James McNamara—activists departed from the most popular queer symbols of the time to create the original, eight-color flag (complete with pink and turquoise stripes), who Baker does mention in the interview.

In 2018, graphic designer Daniel Quasar has added a five-coloured chevron to the LGBT Rainbow Flag to place a greater emphasis on “inclusion and progression". In a project called “Progress: A PRIDE Flag Reboot,” Quasar introduced four extra symbolic hues in the existing six-color pennant. Quasar’s Progress Pride Flag adds five arrow-shaped lines to the six-coloured Rainbow Flag, which is widely recognised as the symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities. The flag includes black and brown stripes to represent marginalised LGBT communities of colour, along with the colours pink, light blue and white, which are used on the Transgender Pride Flag. Quasar’s design builds on a design adopted by the city of Philadelphia in June 2017. Philadelphia’s version added black and brown stripes to the top of the Rainbow Flag, to represent LGBT communities of colour. In addition to the black and brown stripes – which Quasar says also represent those living with AIDS, and those no longer living – he introduces the colours used on the Transgender Pride Flag. While a lot more inclusive, Quartz termed the new update “a design disaster."

In pride parades and marches, and even in the online community, the flag is now a dominant presence - showing just how diverse and inclusive the community is.

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first published:June 23, 2021, 12:05 IST