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The first Rainbow Flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco artist, who created the flag in response to a local activist’s call for the need of a community symbol.

It first appeared in the 1978 San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade. Borrowing symbolism from the hippie movement and black civil rights groups, San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in response to a need for a symbol that could be used year after year.

The Rainbow Flag originally had eight stripes (from top to bottom) symbolising the diversity of the gay community:

  • hot pink - sex
  • red - life
  • orange - healing
  • yellow - sun
  • green -  serenity with nature
  • turquoise - art
  • indigo - harmony
  • violet - spirit

After the November 1978 assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and openly gay Supervisor Harvey Milk the Rainbow Flag began to be used in San Francisco as a general symbol of the gay community. To meet demand, the Paramount Flag Company began selling a version of the flag using stock rainbow fabric consisting of seven stripes of red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and violet. As Baker ramped up production of his version of the flag, he too dropped the hot pink stripe due to the unavailability of hot-pink fabric.

In 1979, the flag was modified after it was hung vertically from a lamp post; the center stripe was obscured by the post itself. Changing the flag design to one with an even number of stripes was the easiest way to rectify this, so the turquoise stripe was dropped, which resulted in a six stripe version of the flag - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

In 1989 the rainbow flag came to nationwide attention in the USA after John Stout sued his landlords and won when they attempted to stop him displaying the rainbow flag from his West Hollywood apartment. The rainbow flag celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2003. During the gay pride celebrations in June of that year, Gilbert Baker restored the rainbow flag back to its original eight-striped version and advocated that others do the same. However, the eight-striped version has seen little adoption by the wider gay community, which has mostly stuck with the better known six-striped version which now has international recognition.