Friday, July 1, 2011

Pride Meets Prejudice: We've Earned Our Stripes!

The Rainbow Flag was developed in 1978 by San Francisco-based artist Gilbert Baker in response to a suggestion by Artie Bressan who thought that the burgeoning Gay Liberation Movement required a more positive symbol.  Symbols have always been an important part of community recognition in an age of civil oppression.  Oscar Wilde wore a green carnation which epitomized homosexual love and the Gay community in his plays; this custom was already established throughout Paris, France where the green carnation was worn as a boutonniere by Gay men to identify each other.  Presently, the SoHo district of London houses an off-beat Gay bar called Green Carnation which holds Oscar Wilde-themed events and drinks.

However, up until the late 1970s, the pink triangle had been resurrected by early Liberation groups in order to identify themselves and our oppression; but, this symbol carried with it a negative and perverse stigma from the Nazi regime when we were targeted by Hitler's fierce party under the ideology that we would not give to Germany the children - contributing to the "Master race" - that we owed her.  Though, it has otherwise been demonstrated that the Rainbow Flag was ultimately borne out of the Hippie movement of the idealistic 1960s.  Indeed, it was common place to observe individual rainbow flags during this era, each signifying a different theme.  For example, one such "rainbow flag" that was characteristic of this period representing racial solidarity and community was fashioned from stripes of red, white, black, brown, and yellow fabric. The original colors of our own Flag, however, were each impregnated with their own unique symbolism: fuchsia or hot pink (sexuality), red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (serenity with nature), turquoise (art) or indigo (harmony), and violet (Spirit).

Our Flag, initially gigantic in scope, was hand-dyed and sewn by Baker in June of 1978 for the first San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, which was to assure its popularity.  At this time an employee of the Paramount Flag Company had found a cache of old rainbow flags each with seven stripes that had been made for some Masonic clients.  These quickly sold out to the local Gay community.  Working with the Paramount Flag Company Gilbert designed a six-striped variant of his original design because fuchsia textile dye was not, at that time, commercially available.  It was in reaction to the assassination of Harvey Milk one year later - the first openly Gay man to serve public office in the United States - that the San Francisco Pride Parade Committee organized a parade to protest his murder; they adopted Baker's flag as their symbol.  But, because the committee had wanted to divide this enormous flag evenly during the procession into two banners each of three colors, royal blue would come to replace both turquoise and indigo.  However, the spark of Queer flame always burns bright even in the darkest night, and our Flag continued to undergo alterations that were not always successful.  For example, during the mid-1980s of the HIV/ AIDS onslaught - chiefly ignored by the Reagan Administration - Leonard Matlovich, an AIDS-activist proposed adding a black stripe to our Flag as a somber reminder of the brothers we had lost to this dread disease; this stripe was then to be removed and publicly burned in Washington, DC. in an expression of victory and grief should a cure finally be discovered.

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