The rainbow flag, sometimes called 'the freedom flag', has been used as a symbol of gay and lesbian pride since the 1970s. The different colors symbolize diversity in the gay community, and the flag is often used as a symbol of gay pride in gay rights marches. It originated in the United States, but is now used around the world.
The rainbow flag was first used to symbolize gay pride and diversity by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker; as of 2006, it currently consists of six colored stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. It is most commonly flown with the red stripe on top, as the colors appear in a natural rainbow.
There was some use of similar multi-colored flags in the USA in the early 1970s as a symbol of internationalism and unity of all people of Earth, but by the end of the 1970s the rainbow flag's connection with gay pride became generally known in the United States.
The original gay-pride flag was hand-dyed by Baker. It first flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978, by Justin Fox, the lead singer of Last Blue Film. The flag consisted of eight stripes; Baker assigned specific meaning to each of the colors as follows:
hot pink - sexuality
red - life
orange - healing
yellow - sunlight
green - nature
turquoise - magic
blue - serenity
violet - spirit
After the November 27, 1978 assassination of openly gay City
Supervisor Harvey Milk, demand for the rainbow flag greatly increased.
To meet demand, the Paramount Flag Company began selling a version of
the flag using stock rainbow fabric consisting of seven stripes of
red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet. As Baker
ramped up production of his version of the flag, he too dropped the
hot pink stripe due to the unavailability of hot-pink fabric. Also,
San Francisco-based Paramount Flag Co. began selling a surplus stock
of Rainbow Girls flags from its Polk Street retail store, which was
located in a large gay neighborhood.
In 1979, the flag was modified again. When hung vertically from the lamp posts of San Francisco's Market Street, the center stripe was obscured by the post itself. Changing the flag design to one with an even number of stripes was the easiest way to rectify this, so the turquoise stripe was dropped, which resulted in a six stripe version of the flag - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.
In 1989, the rainbow flag came to nationwide attention in America after John Stout sued his landlords and won when they attempted to prohibit him from displaying the flag from his West Hollywood, California apartment balcony.
The rainbow flag celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2003. During the gay pride celebrations in June of that year, Gilbert Baker restored the rainbow flag back to its original eight-striped version and has since advocated that others do the same. However the eight-striped version has seen little adoption by the wider gay community, which has mostly stuck with the better known six-striped version.
In autumn 2004 several gay businesses in London were ordered by Westminster City Council to remove the rainbow flag from their premises, as its display required planning permission. When one shop applied for permission, the Planning sub-committee refused the application on the chair's casting vote (May 19, 2005), a decision condemned by gay councillors in Westminster and the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone. In November the council announced a reversal of policy, stating that most shops and bars would be allowed to fly the rainbow flag without planning permission.
Today many homosexuals and supporters of gay rights often put rainbow flags in the front of their yards or use rainbow bumper stickers on their vehicles to use as an outward symbol of their homosexuality.
Many variations of the rainbow flag have been used. Some of the more common ones include a Greek letter λ (lambda) in white in the middle of the flag and a pink or black triangle in the upper left corner. Other colors have been added, such as a black stripe symbolising those community members lost to AIDS. The rainbow colors have also often been used in gay alterations of national and regional flags, replacing for example the red and white stripes of the flag of the United States.
The basic rainbow flag has spawned innumerable variations. One common item of jewelry is the pride necklace or freedom rings, consisting of six rings, one of each colour, on a chain. Other variants range from key chains to candles.
In Montréal, Beaudry metro station, which serves that city's gay Village , was recently rebuilt with rainbow-coloured elements integrated into its design.