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Original Rainbow Pride Flag Returns To San Francisco

A person waving the rainbow flag. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)
A person waving the rainbow flag. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty Images)


In 1978, the original pride flag was created by artist, activist and drag queen Gilbert Baker. And now, 43 years later, a fragment has been discovered and is coming home to San Francisco.

Charles Beal, president of the Gilbert Baker Foundation and friend of Baker’s, recalls how Baker came up with the idea.

At the time, there wasn’t a strong symbol within the LGBTQ community, leading many to express the desire to create one. Among them was Harvey Milk, city supervisor of San Francisco and the first openly gay official in the U.S.

Milk, along with friend Cleve Jones, approached Baker to get his thoughts on creating a potential symbol.

It was Baker, Beal says, who proposed that the symbol actually take the shape of a flag. Later, Baker was out dancing at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco when he became inspired for how the flag should look.

“He just was so impressed by the diversity of the crowd that this idea of this rainbow of humanity hit him like a brick,” Beal says. “And he said, ‘Our flag should be a rainbow.’ ”

A few months later, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated. Milk had been in office for less than a year.

Following Milk’s death, Beal says many people had a hard time coping with the loss. But there were some like Jones and Baker who continued to work and fight for equal rights.

The following year, Baker asked the committee for the 1979 Gay Parade to hang 400 pride flags on the light posts along the parade’s route on Market Street.

The flag served as a beacon of hope, which is what Milk had tasked Baker with designing.

“That flag is a beacon and it’s shining,” Beal says. “They’re saying take that first step from darkness out into the light.”

To this day, the symbol continues to be used in protest. Last month, an Iranian man was beheaded by his family for coming out. In reaction, LGBTQ activists waved pride flags through the streets of Iran in protest. It’s an example that shows the significance of the flag.

“That flag has power,” Beal says. “It has meaning, and it gives people hope all around the globe.”

Watch on YouTube.

Mark Navin produced this interview and edited it for broadcast with Tinku Ray. Jeannette Muhammad adapted this interview for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.