Baker Played No Role in Rainbow Flag Design
Until last week, I had no inkling that there was a dispute about who created the original gay rainbow flag.
A vexillologist is someone who collects or studies flags, and one vexillologist in the Bay Area tipped me off to an article in the May/June 1997 newsletter of the North American Vexillological Association challenging the story (myth?) that Gilbert Baker was the sole creator of the rainbow flag.
Luckily, the association's web site contains their archives so I was able to cut-and-paste excerpts from the article written by Steve Tyson, pictured. I'm sure Baker disagrees with what Tyson wrote and I believe it's important to put the info below out to the San Francisco community, as the control issues over the rainbow flag at Harvey Milk Plaza are far from settled.
Since the Merchants of Upper Market Castro put so much stock in what Baker wants regarding the flag and pole on public property, they might also benefit from reading Tyson's article:
Jim Ferrigan, Master Flagman, came to work at Paramount Flag in late 1978. Jim became the manager of Paramount Flag Company's retail flag outlet "The Flag Store" in 1979 and one Saturday morning he was at the factory picking up some stock for the store. I was cleaning up some drawers in an old green cabinet and I found a few flags of the "Rainbow Girls."
These flags have seven stripes with two different colors of blue. The Rainbow Girls are an organization of young women associated with the Masons Fraternal Order. Their flag dates from the nineteenth century, and is very similar to the flag of the Cooperative Movement of 1900. The difference being in the shade of the lighter blue stripe. The Rainbow Girls flag used a UN. blue stripe while the Cooperative Movement's flag used
a royal blue stripe . . .
Jim called the Rainbow Flag, the "First Flag of Fun."
Time went on and the flags were selling well enough to proceed to a production model, so one afternoon at five p.m. I took the samples of the flags into the office and spread them out. In attendance were myself, Ferrigan, Jeff Sutter, Production Manager, and Ken Hughes, Partner and General Manager.
The flag made of six rectangles did not sell well. The vertical stripes did not do well either, but the horizontal stripes were a hit . . .
A few weeks later, Gilbert Baker, flamboyant artist, came up to me in front of Paramount Flag. He told me that he was the decorations monitor for the "Sexual Freedom Day" parade. Gilbert asked me if it was okay with me if he used the rainbow flags for decorating the event. I told him that I did not own the rainbow and to go ahead. Gilbert designed an eight stripe flag . . .
Gilbert Baker had designed large eight stripe flags for the big poles on United Nations Plaza, but played no part in the design of the six stripe flag that has become the standard of the homosexual community.
Gilbert did come up with a nice variant when, after ten years of rainbow flags, he said he was tired of looking at it so he flipped the stripes for the 1988 parade . . .