The rainbow flag is a symbol of pride and community that was first unfurled at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978. Led by Baker, the flag’s designer, thirty volunteers gathered at the Gay Community Center in San Francisco to hand-dye and stitch rainbow flags for the parade, two of which were later hung in the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco to highlight the acceptance and equality of sexual and gender minorities as both a global struggle and a matter of civil rights. The contemporary, mass-produced version of the flag in MoMA’s collection celebrates the accessibility and worldwide adoption of this humble masterpiece of design.
Baker admired the universality of the rainbow, which he called a “natural flag in the sky.” He also was inspired by the way in which American flags had proliferated in popular culture as symbols of commemoration, power, and festivity during the United States’ bicentennial celebrations of 1976. Since its inception, Baker’s flag has undergone numerous revisions, but all variations maintain the rainbow scheme.
Two weeks after its formal entry into MoMA’s collection, the rainbow flag was hung for the first time in the Museum’s galleries on June 26, 2015, the day the US Supreme Court made its historic decision to legalize same-sex marriage in all states. The rainbow flag continues to stand as a powerful and evocative symbol of acceptance, community, diversity, and, above all, love.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
The Rainbow Flag—also known as the LGBT flag—is a symbol of pride and activism for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. The original flag was first unfurled on June 25, 1978, at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade. The design was conceived by Gilbert Baker who admired the universality of the rainbow as a “natural flag … from the sky.” Today the flag is most widely seen with six colored stripes, each imbued with meaning: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for serenity, and violet for spirit.
A gift of the designer, the timing in June 2015 of MoMA’s acquisition could not have been more serendipitous: on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its historic decision that legalized same-sex marriage across the country—and thirty-eight years to the day after the flag’s San Francisco debut—the Rainbow Flag was raised at MoMA as part of the design collection exhibition This Is for Everyone: Design Experiments for the Common Good.
Gallery label from 2015.