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culture

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.

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