If the pink triangle was the dominant symbol of the gay and lesbian movement of the 1970s and into the 1980s, the rainbow flag has become the symbol of the queer communities of the 1990s and beyond.
The flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978 for San Francisco’s annual gay pride parade. Baker had a long history of political activism, opposing the Vietnam War and later in the gay movement. He was a founding member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.
He came to doubt the value of the pink triangle symbol as something created by our enemies (it was used in Nazi concentration camps to identify homosexual prisoners – see Pink Triangle in this series). Baker wanted something that was a product of out own creative efforts and a symbol that expressed the positive aspects of the gay experience.
Our own special flag seemed to fit the bill and the rainbow’s cheerfulness appealed. The vibrant colours were seen as reflecting the diversity of the community.
Baker and his volunteers whipped up twenty flags to decorate City Hall in 1978 and such was the reception that he soon moved into mass production.
Although the rainbow now appears everywhere and is widely recognised as a symbol of the queer community, its high point was probably in 1994 when a mile-long version of the flag was carried by thousands of volunteers in the Stonewall 25 parade in New York.
Brought to you by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives