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Diversity Flag: Definition & Meanings

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The Diversity Flag can be found in most US cities today, but it wasn't always that way. In this lesson, we'll look at the history and development of this flag, and see how it became such an important symbol.

The Diversity Flag

Flags can be powerful symbols. If you've ever seen people wearing the American flag as clothing, burning a flag in protest, or saluting a flag in public, you understand this. Through simple symbolism, flags can become icons used to unite entire groups of people. In recent years the Diversity Flag, also called the Pride Flag or Rainbow Flag, has become the symbol of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ) community. With six stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple, this flag has become a beacon of gay and lesbian community pride. It has been recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers, which is the highest official honor a flag can receive. It can be found in homes, businesses, and demonstrations around the world.

The Diversity Flag
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Origins

In the 1970s, communities like San Francisco were starting to emerge as safe havens for openly gay Americans. Pride movements emerged to challenge the negative social stigmas against homosexuality, and gay political and social leaders emerged to fight for their LGBTQ civil rights. However, they lacked a uniform symbol. San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker thought he had a solution.

Gilbert Baker in 2012
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Baker envisioned a flag for the Gay Pride Movement, based on the Flag of Races used by the Republic of China in the early 20th century. This flag used five bands of color to represent the five dominant ethnic groups of China existing together in harmony. It was a symbol of pride in diversity, and Baker thought he could apply that to the diversity of the Gay Pride Movement.

The association between color and gay pride was nothing new. The Nazis branded homosexual males with a pink triangle, a symbol later coopted and transformed into a symbol of gay pride in the 1980s. The dominant color of pride in the 1970s was purple/lavender. In fact, the Gay Pride Movement was often united under the cry for ''Purple Power''.

But what colors should Baker use to represent the pride and diversity of the gay community? He eventually selected 8 colors for his banded flag. Pink represented sexuality, red represented life, orange was healing, yellow symbolized the sun, green represented nature, blue signified art, indigo was harmony, and violet was spirit. All together, however, the array of colors represented the diversity that united the Gay Pride Movement across lines of race, nationality, wealth, class, or sexual orientation.

The original, 8-striped version of the flag
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The Flag Develops

Baker hand-dyed and sewed the first flag himself, to be used by a local co-op of activists and artists. The flag was well received, and Baker went to the Paramount Flag Company to have it mass-produced. Unfortunately, commercial hot pink dye wasn't available yet, so the pink was dropped.

Then, in 1987, tragedy struck. Harvey Milk, the openly gay city supervisor of San Francisco and gay rights activist, was assassinated. The city's gay community organized a march in solidarity and Baker's flag was adopted as the symbol. However, the committee decided to drop indigo from the flag so that the parade route could be evenly decorated; three colors lined one side of the streets and three colors lined the other side. With that, the six-banded rainbow flag we know today was finalized.

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