The Story Behind The Rainbow Flag

The colorful flag is used as a symbol of the LGBT community in nearly every corner of the globe, but it all started in San Francisco, CA.

1. The rainbow flag is an iconic symbol for the LGBT community:

Keith Tsuji / Getty Images
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2. It’s easily recognized in nearly every corner of the globe:

Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters

Keith Tsuji

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3. Who can we thank for this colorful symbol of unity and pride?

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4. You can thank Gilbert Baker:

After teaching himself to sew, he created banners for gay-rights marches and rallies while living in San Francisco during the ’70s. In 1979 he began work at Paramount Flag Company. Baker was commissioned by the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade in response to a need for a symbol that could be used over and over.

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5. Gilbert’s original rainbow flag had eight stripes:

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6. Each color with it’s own meaning:

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7. Baker said of his design:

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8. Pink had to be dropped because, at the time, it was difficult to find for mass production.

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9. Indigo would later be removed so that the flag would have an even number of stripes:, Joshua Trujillo / AP
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10. The first time the rainbow flag was used publicly was in 1978, at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade:

Baker and thirty volunteers hand-stitched and hand-dyed two huge flags for the parade. After the assassination of openly gay Supervisor Harvey Milk in November of that year, demand for the rainbow flags skyrocketed.

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11. Before the rainbow flag was created, the most widely used symbol was the pink triangle:

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12. The symbol was originally used by the Nazis in concentration camps to identify gay prisoners:

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13. In 1988, the rainbow flag came gained national attention in the U.S. after a man named John Stout sued his landlord for not allowing him to display the flag from his West Hollywood apartment.

He won the case. Stout said afterwords, “This means I can continue with my life style; that I can express myself freely whenever I want to.”

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14. Gilerbt Baker famously said of his creation:

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15. Listen to Gilbert discuss his rainbow flag:

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Sarah Karlan is the Deputy LGBT Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Sarah Karlan at
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