History of the Pride flag

Pride Flag - Gilbert Baker original design used in Key West PrideFest 2003
Tim Firmager
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During LGBT+ History Month 2023 we at Vada explore the history of the Pride flag, which includes a milestone point in Key West – a travel destination we’ll be covering in an upcoming series.

1978 – Creation of the Pride flag

The first known Pride flag was sewn by Gilbert Baker, an early gay activist who was urged by Harvey Milk to construct a flag to symbolise the value and dignity of what was then called “the gay community.” The first iteration of this flag debuted at the June 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade, and featured eight stripes, each a separate colour of the rainbow plus hot pink. Demand for flags increased after Milk’s assassination in November 1978, but sometime after the hot pink stripe was removed due to unavailability of the colour.

In 1979, the San Francisco Pride parade organisers removed another stripe (turquoise) from the flag featured in their parade, leaving a six-stripe version that many are familiar with, with each stripe having a separate meaning. This iteration would become the standard of the Pride flag for the next several decades.

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In 1994, Baker made a mile-long version for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. By the 90s, this six-stripe rainbow flag was an international symbol for LGBTQ+ pride all around the world.

2003 – PrideFest Key West

On the 25th anniversary from its creation, in 2003 a milestone to place in Key West, Florida, celebrating Baker’s original eight-stripe Pride flag design (with hot pink and turquoise added back). The highlight of PrideFest Key West 2003 was the unfurling of this 1.25-miles long and 16 feet wide — from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico along the entire length of Key West’s famed Duval Street – see the title image of this article, credit to Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau. This took Baker three months to sew more than 17,600 linear yards of fabric weighing some three (imperial) tons, and nearly 3,000 people to unfurl its full length. Baker said of the event “My dream is a reality today.” “We’ve made a great moment in gay history, and I know everyone has a smile on their faces as big as the rainbow.”

Incidentally, the 2023 Pride event in Florida Keys will celebrate the 20th anniversary of this sea-to-sea flag event, produced by the Key West Business Guild – visit gaykeywestfl.com to read more about the upcoming Pride events.

2017 – Representation of people of colour in the Pride flag

In 2017, the Pride flag was updated to reflect the desire of the queer community to become more inclusive. In the city of Philadelphia during Pride Month 2017, the city unveiled a rainbow flag with black and brown stripes added to the traditional six to represent people of colour in the queer community, whose voices and concerns were often disregarded. This design continued for two further years.

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2019 – Trans representation in the Pride flag

Then in 2019, the Pride flag evolved once again to embrace trans members of the community through the inclusion of light blue, pink and white stripes. These stripes incorporate the transgender Pride flag created by Monica Helms in 1999. The continued evolution of the Pride flag is a testament to the strength and diversity of the queer community.

2021 – Intersex inclusion in the Pride flag

A further two years on from the addition of the light blue, pink and white stripes, Valentino Vecchietti of Intersex Equality Rights UK made a further update to incorporate the intersex flag into the main Pride Flag. This design added a yellow triangle with a purple circle in it to the chevron of the Progress Pride flag.

Many people immediately recognise the six-stripe rainbow flag, partly because of the design’s longevity and because of their own experiences with its expression. However it is clear that iterations over its 55 years so far that the Pride flag encourages us to keep examining who we are and to continue to represent everyone within the LGBTQ+ community. The flag has transformed a long way since Baker’s original design.

Pride flag evolution from 1978 to 2021

In writing this article, we acknowledge that there have been other iterations of the Pride flag developed over the years, notably the ‘New Pride Flag’ design in 2018 by two-spirit design Julia Feliz, and the ‘Social Justice Pride Flag’ designed by Moulee which was used in Chennai Queer LitFest in 2018.

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For those wanting to find out more about events for LGBT+ History month, visit lgbtplushistorymonth.co.uk.

About Tim Firmager

Tim divides his time being a Digital Consultant in The City and as a food and travel writer across the globe. When he's not working as one of the Lifestyle Editors here at Vada, he's planning his next trip, or on the lookout for the latest food crazes or unusual foods in London's markets.