February 1st is a date that resonates for many people. The first day of spring, the end of the eternal month of January, and the start of LGBT+ History Month. Several years ago, as my partner and I were walking to our parade meet up point for Pride in London we bumped into two colourful elders also proudly dressed up and carrying rainbow flags. Our parade meet up point was in an obscure side street some distance from the main route and so the proliferation of rainbows was slightly less evident than in the main thoroughfares and so we stopped to chat, always nice to connect with a kindred spirit. One of those incredible people was Sue Sanders, co-founder of LGBT+ History Month. Some people have passion and inspiration running through them, making them stand head and shoulders above the rest and Sue is one of these people. The impression she made on me that day has not faded in these intervening years and as I do every year on the 1st February I celebrate the work of Sue and the rest of the OUT UK team who have worked so tirelessly to bring LGBT+ history into the classroom, to give LGBT+ people a connection to their past, roots that nourish when times are challenging and help you to flourish as you reach your true potential, but learning history doesn’t stop when you leave school, it isn’t only young people who need to know that LGBT+ people have a proud recent and ancient history, and how that has contributed to, and been harmed by the greater pattern of world history, of prejudice, denial and discrimination. Today I salute those elders without whom so much change would not have been possible, the ground of inclusion and understanding would not have been so fertile and I take a look back at the history of our rainbow flag, how it has grown and adapted to fit the increasing awareness we have of our place in the world and our links to all others in our community.
LGBT+ Pride flag history
Back in 1978 Harvey Milk, California USA’s first openly gay official elected to office and a prominent campaigner for gay rights commissioned Gilbert Baker to create a symbol of pride for the gay community. They chose a flag because a flag in itself symbolises pride in identity, pride in self and pride in belonging and a flag is visible. LGBT+ people had long experienced the impact of being hidden, of secrecy, of needed to disguise who they were, of hiding and living in fear, using secret symbols to identify themselves to others and here was a chance to change all that. When I see the Pride flag being flown the sense of inclusion is overwhelming, it is a sense of safety, of ally ship of kin, that rainbow uplifts my spirits as no other flag can.
The original flag had eight colours: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit and they were hand made. The symbol took off and the next challenge was to mass produce it. But woe! Hot pink was a very difficult colour to dye and so it was dropped from the top of the flag. That made seven colours and thanks to the wonders of mass production an odd number of stripes were harder and more expensive to make than an even one and so turquoise became blue and indigo and violet were blended to make purple.
In 1994 a mile long version of the Pride flag was made by Gilbert Baker and unfurled during New York’s Pride marking the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots
But LGBT+ inclusion and understanding is ever evolving, each new challenge, each group who have always been inside but who now require additional protection and recognition from their found family are given their opportunity to come to the fore, to be recognised as part of the whole, part of the family and in whom everyone feels pride because everyone knows how powerful self acceptance and authenticity are, and in remembering the struggles of not very long ago that family are ready to hold a hand out to help out others. In 2018 the rainbow got a real makeover. Around the world it was becoming more necessary than ever to show that the family cares for all its members, and that all are welcome here. Growing awareness of the erasure of Black history and the exclusion of BAME people from LGBT+ spaces gave cause for reflection, cause for a change. Growing antagonism towards trans and non-binary people who were finally getting their chance for inclusion, understanding and acceptance made the issue political again. Pride should be there for everyone, pride in self and authenticity is not something that one group can take from another and so the new flag was born
There were some who said that the rainbow flag didn’t need a makeover, that it already stood for everyone and was inclusive, I think that now, in 2021 I am really proud of our history of inclusion, adaption and acceptance which gave birth to the flag and which has allowed it to change over the years. It is our symbol of Pride and I hope that now you know a little bit more of our history so that when you see our rainbow flying you too can feel that sense of love, acceptance and worldwide change that it symbolises. The true hope that we can live in a world where everyone is free to be their authentic self.
If you want to get Progress Pride facemasks and flags and all the wealth of gender identity flags then check out our webstore and check out some of the other links in this piece to dive into a world of LGBT+ history.