01 June 2018
jerry telfer / san francisco chronicle / polaris
jerry telfer / san francisco chronicle / polaris

GILBERT BAKER, an activist, artist and designer, created the gay-pride flag in 1978. He made its first prototype with the assistance of 30 volunteers, hand-dyeing it and piecing it together in the attic of the Gay Community Center in San Francisco, California. The flag, now used by queer movements around the world, made its debut at San Francisco’s annual pride parade on 25 June, 1978.

Initially, the flag had eight differently coloured stripes, each symbolising something central to queer communities. Pink stood 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 pink stripe was later removed, as it was too expensive to obtain fabric in that colour; and turquoise and blue were melded into one colour: royal blue. Before Baker created the flag, queer communities often represented themselves using a pink triangle—a symbol the Nazis had used to brand gay people and other “sexual deviants.”

Born in Kansas, Baker was drafted into the US Army, where he served as a medic and was posted in San Francisco—a centre of American queer life. He was honourably discharged in 1972, but stayed in the city, where he learnt to sew and began his career as a flag maker. He worked for the manufacturer Paramount Flag Company, which later supported mass production of the pride flag.