The Making of the Pride Flag

By Sofia Pham

June 25, 1978. San Francisco.

A then 27-year-old Gilbert Baker was stationed in the attic of the San Francisco Gay Community Center, soaking eight fabric strips in trash cans filled with vibrant dye.

Hot pink for sex. Red for life. Orange for healing. Yellow for the sun. Green for nature. Turquoise for magic. Blue for peace and purple for spirit. 

The fabric strips were hand-stitched in that order, with sewing skills he’d learned from fellow activist Mary Dunn. The self-proclaimed “Gay Betsy Ross,” without knowing just yet, had created the first pride flag and launched one of the most iconic symbols of modern gay activism into soaring popularity. 

The flag debuted at the Gay Pride Day parade in San Francisco’s United Nations Plaza after urging from Baker’s friend Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay elected official in California after his election to the Board of Supervisors in 1977. 

Since then, the flag has changed subtly, going from eight colors to six to simplify mass production. Pink was removed to lower expenses, and turquoise was combined with blue. 

Baker died in 2017 at the age of 65, two years before the release of his autobiography Rainbow Warrior: My Life in Color. But it was the flag, his most famous creation, that continued his legacy.

Today, the six-color rainbow flag can be found on t-shirts and pins, posters and blankets. Its design, used largely from small hometown marches to the world’s biggest pride parade in São Paulo, Brazil, is a symbol of hope, acceptance, and activism for the LGBT communities around the world. 

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