Story at a glance

  • The rainbow pride flag was created in the 1970s by Gilbert Baker and other LGBTQ+ activists to represent their fight for equal rights.
  • One of the original flags, thought to be lost forever, was rediscovered and will now be displayed at a San Francisco museum.
  • The flag, now displayed as a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community and fight for equal rights, was unveiled earlier in June, which is celebrated as Pride Month.

After the original rainbow pride flags made their debut during the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day celebrations at United Nations Plaza, the flags were stored at the San Francisco Gay Community Center. 

But by the time Gilbert Baker, credited with designing and creating the iconic flag with the help of other LGBTQ activists, went to get them out from under the leaky roof, they were badly mildewed and Baker was only able to salvage part of one of those original flags. Almost half a century later, the president of the Gilbert Baker Foundation discovered that the ragged flag passed to him by relatives after Baker's death was indeed the original. Now, it will be on display once again at the GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Francisco. 


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“People are moved to tears because of how important and significant that first flag-flying in 1978 was to them,” Terry Beswick, the museum's executive director, told the Guardian. “Gilbert Baker dedicated his life subsequently to using the flag to propel the LGBTQ+ rights movement forward. And he chose deliberately not to trademark it. He died a pauper, despite the fact that millions and millions of dollars have been made using the rainbow as an LGBTQ+ symbol. Somebody had to keep pushing that.”

The flag — which is known for the rainbow colors representing sex, life, healing, the sun, nature, art and music, serenity and the spirit — is now ubiquitous with the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, which continues to this day. In recent years, the flag has evolved, with the now-common Progress Pride Flag highlighting the Black, brown and transgender parts of the community central to the rights movement. Still, the meaning remains. 

“I thought of flags in a new light. I discovered the depth of their power, their transcendent, transformational quality. I thought of the emotional connection they hold," said Gilbert Baker, according to the museum website. “This was our new revolution: a tribal, individualistic and collective vision. It deserved a new symbol.”


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Published on Jun 15, 2021