The Hippie History of OUR Flag

Under the Rainbow

The Rainbow Flag, Pride Flag, also known as the Freedom flag, flies at every Pride celebration, every Equality event, and at almost every LGBT event around the world. It is a symbol of diversity and unity. Though it is a just a few stripes of brightly colored fabric, it unites a global community.

The iconic flag was created by Gilbert Baker, dubbed the gay Betsy Ross.

In the 1970s, Baker, an Army nurse stationed in San Francisco, met visionary and local politician Harvey Milk. It was a tumultuous time, and Milk was leading a revolution. The nascent Gay Rights Movement was less than a decade old. Milk campaigned on equality for the gay and lesbian community in the Castro, a Mecca to the movement.

Baker, a drag queen in his off-duty hours, took a needle and thread and taught himself how to sew. After he left the army with an honorable discharge, he began his flag-making career at the Paramount Flag Company in the city. He attributes the creation of the famous flag to his political activist friend, Milk.

Baker said, “One day he [Milk] said to me that we needed a logo, a symbol. We needed a positive image that could unite us. I sewed my own dresses, so why not a flag? At Harvey’s behest, I went about creating our Rainbow Flag. I had never felt so empowered, so free.”

The flag first flew on June 25, 1978, at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. On November 18, later that same year, gay activist Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated. The grisly murders were famously depicted in the 2008 biopic “Milk.” Baker appeared in a cameo role (a man on the telephone).

Baker, also a political activist for the Gay Movement and anti-war protests, based his flag on the Flag of the Races, a horizontal striped flag that represents the colors of man, red, black, brown yellow and white, a symbol to the counter culture of the early 60s.

The flag is patterned after the multicolored arc in the sky for which it is named. While the spectrum colors are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (Roy G. Biv),the original flag colors were hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The availability of the pink fabric was difficult to find, and the color was eventually dropped. Indigo was sometimes substituted with turquoise, but the seventh color was dropped in favor of an even number of colors. The current iteration, red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, is recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers.

Baker was inspired by gay icon Judy Garland, who famously sang “Over the Rainbow,” in the 1939 classic film, “The Wizard of Oz.” Garland’s death in 1969 is sometimes considered to be the match that ignited the Stonewall Riots in New York City.

A crew of artists handmade and dyed the Rainbow Flags, and affectionately dubbed it, “New Glory,” a humorous poke at America’s red, white and blue flag, “Old Glory.”

In 1985, the Rainbow Flag became an internationally recognized symbol of LGBT Pride when it was accepted by the International Association of Lesbian and Gay Pride Coordinators (now InterPride).

In 1989, further down the Gold Coast Highway, the rainbow flag came to national attention when John Stout sued his landlords when they prohibited him from displaying a flag from the balcony of his West Hollywood apartment. Now, in the heart of WeHo, Santa Monica Boulevard is lined with the bright, colorful, flying flags. The flag flies high in LGBT communities all over the world.

In Pittsburgh, Richard Parsakian, owner of Eons Fashion Antique on Ellsworth Ave, owns two 30 ft by 30 ft Rainbow flags. His friend, fiber artist Bill Godfrey, sewed the enormous flags together more than fifteen years ago.

Parsakian said, “The first two years we held it over the street and people would walk under it, but now we carry it.” In the 90s, the flags were hung inside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, when the convention center housed the Steel Party, Pittsburgh’s short-lived circuit party.

The symbol of the community is also a fundraising tool. Parsakian said, “People would toss coins onto the middle of the flag.” The well of cash weighing down the center of the flag would be collected, counted and donated to various LGBT charitable organizations.

Parsakian added, “I would always get people at the parade registration to help carry the flag. It takes twenty to thirty people to carry it. Afterward, they would come up to me and tell me it was a very empowering experience.”

Waving a flag for freedom, equality and LGBT rights isn’t the only way to embrace the rainbow. The symbol can now be found on rings, bracelets, candles, bumper stickers and even tattoos. It is a glorious symbol of diversity, pride and freedom.

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)