It is no secret that colours speak volumes. Life is art and colours are its lifeblood. This is the very thought that ignited American gay rights activist Gilbert Baker’s creation of the vibrant Pride Flag. The striped flag has become a symbol of unity, diversity and equality for the LGBTQIA+ community all around the world. Moreover, it is an example of impeccable design. In this article, The Artment takes you through the history of the Pride Flag, its renewed significance in the modern era and why it is so immensely popular.
Good design springs out of need, and great art, out of times of distress. Brilliant paintings and illustrations are becoming the face of art in Covid era. The Pride Flag too, stemmed from a need to unite against a common enemy, but in this case, it was violence and homophobia.
In June of 1969, nine New York policemen barged into the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York. Many were arrested and this led to what is now called the Stonewall riots. This event was instrumental in sparking off the Gay pride movements which is now celebrated each year in June.
A year later, in 1970 a gay rights activist named Gilbert Baker was discharged from the army and taught himself how to sew. Then, he met the famous gay community leader Harvey Milk and together, they created the rainbow-coloured Pride Flag we know today.
However, the 1960s was an altogether different era. The 1960s America sang songs of freedom and lived life king-size. It is also possible that the idea for the Pride Flag emerged from busy college campuses in the 1960s on which students dreamed of freedom and colour.
Who designed the Pride Flag?
Although the Pride Flag has seen many amendments and alterations through the year, it is said to have been designed by queer artist and designer Gilber Baker. Baker, who died as recently as 2017, became a reputed artist and hero owing to his contribution to the LGBTQ+ community - an international symbol and colour palette that would become the face of Pride.
Baker was committed to his project. Harvey Milk thought it was important to get rid of the malignant “Pink Triangle”, a sign the Nazis used to identify and ostracize the LGBTQIA+ community back in Nazi Germany. He was adamant that Baker undertake the project to pave way for "the dawn of a new gay consciousness and freedom", the simple but significant rainbow-stripe flag. And so, Baker took the project for a mere $1000 back in 1978!
Baker was inspired by history - the thirteen stripes and stars in the American flag and the colours that symbolized the French Revolution. He understood the need for a powerful symbol for the marginalized LGBTQIA+ community so that they could unite under one banner. The Pride Flag is just that, a call for unity, diversity and power.
Also see: The Art Of Unity: #BLM Through Art
What does the Pride Flag signify?
The first designs for the Pride Flag were hand-dyed and hand-stitched with eight multi-coloured stripes - pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and purple. Soon, it began hanging in balconies, showing up at rallies and demonstrations and became a universal symbol that represented the gay community everywhere.
Later, designers realized that not all colours and fabrics used in the original Pride Flag were available in all parts of the world. So, the flag was altered down from eight stripes to six stripes as we know it today. The six-colour version became the official symbol for gay pride in 1979.
The topmost colour - resplendent Red - signifies life. The bright Orange stands for healing, especially important because of the many atrocities like the Stonewall riots committed against the gay community. Yellow stands for sunshine, emphasizing the importance of always being true to yourself and never hiding in the shadows.
The Green in the flag is representative of nature - not only nature in terms of the environment we live in but the nature of human biology and our physical constitution. The turquoise and indigo that succeeded the green in the original flag were replaced by blue in the six-colour version to signify calm and serenity. Finally, the lilac at the bottom of the flag represents spirit.
Why is the Pride Flag so popular?
Good design often goes unnoticed because it does its work quietly. It functions on multiple levels, bringing meaning and dynamicity to the viewer’s experience of it. Good design is often minimalistic and simple.
One can argue that the Pride Flag is so simple in its design that it is brilliant. If you look through it, you’ll see six colours stacked on top of one another and nothing more. In isolation, they all represent individual qualities and ideas. Together, they form a rainbow that is so bright and beautiful to look at.
Collectively, the flag has layers of meaning but nothing is complicated. Understanding the design does not require intellectual labour. So, it’s accessible to everybody. It is for everybody and popular everywhere.
Perhaps that’s why the Pride Flag is so popular. It does its job well and its design goes unrecognized while the appearance of it becomes insanely popular everywhere in the world. The Gay Pride symbol - a six-coloured rainbow - is instantly identifiable anywhere you go. So much so that it is officially off limits for any other community, organization, company etc. to use as part of their own brand.
The Pride Flag and its rainbowed symbol is exclusively for the gay community. It gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of ownership over our identities. We feel the need to wear it as a badge of honour and pride, to paint it on our faces at Pride processions, attach it to merchandise and clothing and parade it as something of our own. Good design is impeccably simple and makes a place for itself in people’s hearts. That’s exactly what The Pride Flag does.