Up until 1978 the pink triangle had been the symbol for the gay movement. But it represented a dark past. Adolph Hitler had created the pink triangle during World War II as a stigma on homosexuals. It was a tool of Nazi oppression.
Artie Bressan Jr., a filmmaker, and Cleve Jones, a writer, pressed their friend and artist Gilbert Baker to design a new, empowering symbol for the movement. Bressan and Jones had suggested this to Baker several times but Baker brushed them off. That is until 1976 when he observed how important and symbolic the American flag was for the Bicentennial celebrations. The flag was everywhere, printed on thousands of different items. That was when he started to think seriously about designing the flag for the gay community.
Later, at the Winterland Ballroom, Baker observed how all the dancers were like a swirl of color and light. That’s when the idea of the rainbow came to him. A rainbow flag seemed like the natural choice. The rainbow came from the earliest history as a symbol of hope. It is found in the Bible and in the history of the Chinese, Egyptians, and Native Americans.
Baker’s creation, the rainbow pride flag, was first flown at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade in June 1978. The flag originally had eight stripes but over the two years following its’ creation, the design was changed to its’ current, 6-stripe version. It still assigns a meaning to each color: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for harmony and purple for spirit. Baker did not copyright the design because he wanted it to belong to everyone.
The flag has become a symbol of the LGBTQ+ movement, not only in the U.S., but around the world.