I learned with great sadness yesterday that Gilbert Baker, the designer of the LGBT Rainbow flag, has died at the age of 65.
The rainbow flag has been an incredibly important symbol for me throughout my life. In the 1980s and '90s, it meant safety. If I saw the flag flying outside a bar, or displayed on a card or sticker in a coffee shop window, my heart leapt for joy, because it meant I could be myself. It meant I wouldn't have to modify my behaviour, or put up with judging looks and raised eyebrows. The beautiful thing about the flag is that it's used by my community the world over, so weather you're American or British or Chinese or Nigerian, if you're gay, and you see it, you know you've found your family.
One of my pet hates is the rampant homophobes who disguise their distaste for gay people by saying, "why should a rainbow be just about gay people? It's really unfair that the gays have hijacked it to mean something political, beyond the realm of peace and beauty." What few people seem to realise is that the LGBT rainbow flag only has six colours in it. Violet is missing. It therefore can't be confused with the peace symbol, or anything an old hippy might collect alongside unicorns and snow globes!
Baker designed his rainbow flag, in San Francisco, in 1978. Some say he was inspired by Judy Garland singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow. It was initially conceived as an eight-coloured flag, with a vibrant pink stripe and a turquoise one where blue would have been on a conventional rainbow. Each colour had a meaning. Pink represented sex. Red was for life. Orange was for healing. Yellow meant sunlight. Green meant nature. Turquoise represented art. Indigo represented harmony and violet was for the spirit.
The hot pink was almost immediately removed, due to fabric unavailability, and to prevent the centre stripe from becoming obscured by a flag pole when hung (which apparently happens to flags with an un-even number of vertical stripes - who knew?), the turquoise was dropped and violet was replaced by royal blue.
And there we have it: the potted story of our much-loved rainbow flag. Gilbert Baker, I salute you. Your flag has meant much to many. Your legacy is assured for years to come.