THE SAN FRANCISCO AIRPORT MUSEUM HOSTS “A LEGACY OF PRIDE: GILBERT BAKER AND THE 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE RAINBOW FLAG.” Shortly after the United States Supreme Court ruling on June 26, 2015, that guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry, civic buildings across the country and around the world were illuminated in the colors of the rainbow. And the rainbow flag, introduced nearly 40 years earlier at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade, was unfurled from apartment balconies, was attached to car windows, and appeared in the background for tens of millions of newly changed profile photos on social media accounts as a universally recognized symbol of pride and solidarity. The original flag, created by Gilbert Baker, was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art’s design collection in 2015. The story of this iconic banner is on display as San Francisco Airport Museum presents “A Legacy of Pride: Gilbert Baker and the 40th Anniversary of the Rainbow Flag.”
Gilbert Baker arrived in San Francisco in 1972 during the early years of the gay liberation movement. With sewing skills learned from crafting his own drag costumes, he was often asked to make political banners for street demonstrations. In the months leading up to the 1978 Gay Freedom Day celebration in San Francisco, City Supervisor and gay rights leader Harvey Milk and other local activists implored Baker to create a new symbol for the movement. Many found the Greek letter lambda, introduced shortly after the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York, too obscure. And many more were eager to supplant the pink triangle that the LGBTQ community had reclaimed from its original use by the Nazis to identify homosexuals. Baker seized on the idea of a flag as an appropriate symbol to proclaim power for his “tribe,” and chose a rainbow to represent his community’s diversity. He assigned symbolic meaning to each of the flag’s original eight colors — pink for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for peace and harmony and purple for spirit. Baker and a team of 30 volunteers soaked strips of cotton muslin in trash cans filled with dye. Then, with his friends Faerie Argyle Rainbow (known as the “queen of tie-dye”) and James McNamara (a Fashion Institute of Technology graduate), he stitched the sections together to create the first of a pair of rainbow flags measuring 30 feet by 60 feet, one of which resembled the American flag with tie-dyed stars on a blue field. The flags were raised on June 25, 1978, in San Francisco’s United Nations Plaza — a deliberate choice intended to reflect the worldwide struggle for gay rights. The flag was immediately embraced by the majority of the LGBTQ community and was in great demand following the assassination of Harvey Milk on November 27, 1978. In 1979, Baker joined the Paramount Flag Company, which supported his proposal to mass produce the symbol. At that time, the flag was reduced to its now familiar six-band format due to the unavailability of material supplies (pink) and a desire for a symmetrical presentation as vertical banners on lampposts for the 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade.
A Legacy of Pride: Gilbert Baker and the 40th Anniversary of the Rainbow Flag is on view at San Francisco Airport’s International Terminal, pre-security, through Jan 6, 2019.
PRIDE THROUGH MUSIC: SAN FRANCISCO GAY MEN’S CHORUS CONCLUDES ITS 40TH ANNIVERSARY SEASON WITH THE WORLD PREMIERE OF “UNBREAKABLE.” The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus concludes its 40th season with “Unbreakable,” a world premiere work by Tony Award-nominated composer Andrew Lippa (“I Am Harvey Milk,” “The Addams Family,” “Big Fish,” “The Wild Party”). Starring Lippa, soprano Lisa Vroman, Broadway’s Britney Coleman and tenor Marcus J. Paige — and backed by the 250-member San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and a 10-piece chamber ensemble — this musical unfolds the historical arc of the experiences of LGBTQ people over the last 12 decades, highlighting real-life stories and illuminating the impact of AIDS on a generation. 70-minutes without intermission. June 22 (8 p.m.) and June 23 (2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.) at the Nourse Theater, 275 Hayes St., San Francisco. Tickets $25-$99 at www.sfgmc.org or (415) 392-4400. For additional information on the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus and Unbreakable visit: www.sfgmc.org.