This story made me very emotional. I know that if we ever get to go to San Francisco, this will be my number one tourist goal. It will be one of those things that I so wish I could touch, know that I can’t, and be blown away just to be in its presence. Wow. There are tears in my eyes right now as I type these words. It is so important to preserve our history and past. And what better happy symbol than this….?
Original Rainbow Pride Flag Returns to its San Francisco Home After 43 Years
Peter-Astrid Kane in San Francisco – The Guardian – Sat 12 Jun 2021 06.00 EDT
The long-lost piece of queer history, with two extra stripes, was designed to represent ‘the full spectrum of the LGBTQ community’
After 43 years, a long-lost piece of San Francisco’s queer history is coming home.
The rainbow Pride flag, now a ubiquitous symbol around the world each June, was created in 1978 by the artist and queer activist Gilbert Baker. That year at San Francisco Pride – then known as “Gay Freedom Day” – Baker and a cohort of LGBTQ+ rights advocates stitched together and hoisted two giant versions above the city’s UN Plaza, near city hall.
Those original flags were considered to have vanished. But this April, a section of one of those two early flags came into the possession of the GLBT Historical Society’s museum, located in the famously gay Castro district. The museum’s executive director, Terry Beswick, said the flag, which was unveiled at a ceremony last Friday, was designed as “a symbol that would represent the full spectrum of the LGBTQ community”.
Measuring 60 ft by 30 ft, the two flags – one with stripes in the style of the American flag, and this one without – were later displayed and stored at a now-shuttered LGBTQ+ community center, where one was stolen.
“Who knows, maybe it’ll turn up someday,” Beswick said. “This one was also thought to be lost. It sustained water damage and it had mildew on it. Gilbert went back to retrieve them and took this one and cut off the damaged portion. The remnant we have now, it’s about 28 ft along the hoist and 10 to 12 ft of the fly – still quite large and beautiful.”
Its brief prominence in San Francisco is all the more poignant considering that 1978 was the only year that supervisor Harvey Milk marched in the parade; he would be assassinated five months later. Baker, Beswick adds, took the flag with him when he moved to New York in 1994 to execute a mile-long flag exhibit for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.
Upon his death in 2017, friends cleared out Baker’s apartment and shipped most of his effects to a sister in Texas, with some memorabilia sent to the GLBT Historical Society. When Charley Beal, president of the Gilbert Baker Foundation, contacted Baker’s sister on the eve of Stonewall’s 50th anniversary, she passed along the flag and marchers carried it at New York Pride in 2019, all unaware of its history.
“I actually saw a picture that showed a placard saying it was a replica,” Beswick said, comparing it to historical reproductions used in films like Milk or When We Rise.
But after examining its grommets, stitching and dye, a vexillologist (or flag expert) gauged its age and determined that it probably came from San Francisco’s Paramount Flag Company, where Baker worked in the late 1970s and early 80s.
Unlike the six-color Pride flags of today, the original included pink and turquoise stripes. They were removed because hot-pink dye was hard to come by and because seven stripes was cumbersome to reproduce, front-and-back.
Before its creation – and later the dozens of variations signifying various subgroups within the overall LGBTQ+ umbrella, from trans people to bisexuals to the agender community – the best-known emblem of queerness was the pink triangle, a reclaimed symbol from Nazi Germany’s persecution of gay men.
Both symbols have taken on extra visibility and resonance this year. In 2021, for the first time, the giant pink triangle installed on San Francisco’s Twin Peaks every Pride month will be illuminated with 2,700 LED lights each night.
They are “the yin-yang of the LGBTQ+ community, at opposite ends of the positive-negative spectrum”, says Patrick Carney, creator of the pink triangle display.
“The pink triangle is a remnant from one of the darkest chapters in human history. The rainbow flag is entirely new and positive, having been born out of hope and optimism.”
Calling the flag a “gay Shroud of Turin”, Beswick states that discussions over where it ought to reside took more than a year. Plans for a national tour are in the works, but he considers it to be “repatriated”.
“People are moved to tears because of how important and significant that first flag-flying in 1978 was to them,” Beswick adds. “Gilbert Baker dedicated his life subsequently to using the flag to propel the LGBTQ+ rights movement forward. And he chose deliberately not to trademark it. He died a pauper, despite the fact that millions and millions of dollars have been made using the rainbow as an LGBTQ+ symbol. Somebody had to keep pushing that.”
To read the original Guardian article CLICK HERE