How the Rainbow Pride Flag Lost Its Pink and Turquoise Stripes

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

As people all over the US and the world celebrated the US Supreme Court’s landmark decision legalising same-sex marriage, it seemed like the whole internet was painted rainbow. There’s actually an interesting story behind the pride flag’s current colours.

Most pride flags consist of six colours: Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Yesterday on Refinery 29, we met the guy who designed it: One Gilbert Baker, an artist and activist who designed the flag in 1978 (according to the interview, Baker also has a drag persona named, awesomely, Busty Ross).

But Baker’s original flag actually had eight colours, including a pink and turquoise stripe. So why don’t we fly that one today?

How the Rainbow Pride Flag Lost Its Pink and Turquoise Stripes

There’s an interesting reason for each exclusion. Back when Baker first designed the flag, he went looking for a distributor who could manufacture his design for use in the 1978 Pride Parade in San Francisco.

He turned to Paramount Flag Co, a flag company that had been around since the 1930s (it no longer exists today). But Paramount had a problem: The hot pink fabric, which represented sexuality, wasn’t in high demand, as CRW Flags explains and as The New York Times confirmed a few years ago:

When Baker approached Paramount to make flags for the 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade, Paramount informed Baker that fabric for hot pink was not available for mass production, and Baker dropped the hot pink stripe.

It turns out Baker would later go to work for Paramount, and eventually design flags for countries and events all over the world.

So what about the turquoise? A history of the flag by San Francisco Travel explains the somber circumstances of its removal, which took place in preparation for the Gay Freedom Day Parade in 1979 after the assassination of Harvey Milk:

The Gay Freedom Day Committee (now called San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee) quickly decided that the Rainbow Flag should be flown from the light poles along both sides of Market Street for the 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade. They split the colours onto two flags, flying each of the three-striped flags on alternate sides of the street. They eliminated the indigo stripe to make an even six colours, and flag production began.

So the pride flag’s design was shaped by the circumstances of the gay rights movement—first, by necessity as Gilbert looked for a supplier who could produce them industrially for use in the early days of San Francisco’s pride marches. Then, by the widespread popularity of the flag and its evolution into a nation-wide symbol, which made its odd number of colours difficult to manipulate.

You’ll still see the original eight-colour design around, and you can actually buy one of Gilbert’s original eight-colour flags, which he stitches by hand. But these days, they’re art objects—and they’ll cost you. You can read Gilbert’s full interview here.

Lead image: AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin.