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Rainbow Flag Creator to Raise Flag at Pride

Artist and activist Gilbert Baker will be raising the flag at WorldPride's opening ceremony on June 20.

On June 20, WorldPride’s opening ceremony will be taking place at Nathan Phillips Square. It will feature fireworks and free concerts from musicians like Steve Grand, Deborah Cox, and Melissa Etheridge. The City of Toronto will issue the official proclamation of Pride Week. And the rainbow flag will be raised above City Hall.

This year, the man entrusted with this honour will be one with a very special and specific relationship to the rainbow flag: he created it.

Kansas-born artist and civil rights activist Gilbert Baker designed the flag in 1978, after San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk challenged him to devise a symbol of pride for the gay community. It was raised for the first time that same year at San Francisco Pride—by Baker himself. The original flag had eight colours, each invested with symbolic significance (hot pink stood for sexuality, for example, and orange for healing). Over the years, considerations related to fabric availability and the manufacturing process—hot pink, apparently, was not a colour commonly used in flag-making—led to revised versions. But flag-production methods appear to be changing, and the original eight-stripe flag can now be seen more frequently—in 2003, Baker produced an eight-stripe flag more than two kilometres long to mark the flag’s 25th anniversary.

“The flag is an action,” Baker once said. “It’s more than just the cloth and the stripes. When a person puts the Rainbow Flag on his car or his house, they’re not just flying a flag. They’re taking action.”

CORRECTION: May 22, 2014, 4:45 p.m. This post originally stated that Harvey Milk was San Francisco’s mayor; he was, in fact, a city supervisor. We regret the error.


  • The Girls on Bloor

    “And the flag will be raised above City Hall” ….Take that Rob Ford!

  • Joe Clark

    This garish undesigned object not only can be but has been improved through the simple application of the fundamental principle of graphic design (1+1=3).

    • tyrannosaurus_rek

      Those are all terrible flag designs and concepts. Some are difficult to reproduce (gradient flag fabric? learn from the ‘hot pink’ problem of the original), others are conceptual mis-fires (isolating rather than unifying, literal rather than open to interpretation, and such), and others are branding nightmares inconsistent with their earlier concern of other organizations claiming the rainbow motif – I’m sure the United Kingdom owns the Union Jack design whatever the colours, just as the National League of Families owns the POW/MIA flag even if you make it pink. And the less said about a mash-up of a Nazi symbol with a heart, the better.

      • rich1299

        I agree most of those flags were fairly hideous but it is quite common to modify the flag’s of various nations to represent different things like the rainbow version of the Canadian flag as well as the Maple Leaf blue version, and there’s an all black version though I forget offhand which group used that one and some others as well. I’ve seen the Union Jack done in rainbow colours as well as the USA’s flag. I don’t think national symbols like flags are copyrighted especially when altered by citizen’s of the country the flag represents.

        The rainbow flag as is works well and looks good, how many people ever really understood the full colour code of the original one anyways?

        • tyrannosaurus_rek

          I know it can be done and has been done, but if you read the rationale behind the project it doesn’t make much sense to complain about the rainbow being co-opted and then introduce options that just co-opt other flags as a solution to that problem. Besides, pink has other specific connotations this solution blunders into, potentially creating confusion – POW/MIA families against breast cancer?

          (“Owning” here is in the branding sense – a company or service can “own” a colour in their industry, though few places recognize a colour on its own as a copyrightable or trademarkable property. Similarly any design derived from the Union Jack will step on the toes of that “brand”, and ultimately derives its meaning from it.)

      • dsmithhfx

        Joe is confusing with design. An uncommon mistake.