In San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood there is a giant rainbow flag, and flying above it today is a banner in black, the color of mourning and judges’ robes. The mood in California is prickly, and as I work in my office, surrounded by swatches of fabric and leather in a spectrum of colors, I find that I’m thinking about rainbows. Not in a unicorn or pot of gold kind of way, but in a humanity kind of way, and in terms of the symbols chosen to express our beliefs.
The rainbow flag made its debut at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade in 1978. Gilbert Baker designed and hand-sewed the first flag for his friend Harvey Milk, who was assassinated later that year. “I will always remember Harvey riding through the streets under the giant rainbow flag waving to the crowds,” said Baker. “It was an incredible moment of joy and we all felt that we were going to change the world.”
Originally made with eight stripes – pink for sexuality; red for life; orange for healing; yellow for sun; green for nature; blue for art; indigo for harmony; and violet for spirit – the combination proved impossible to mass produce because hot pink (always the drama queen) was not commercially available in nylon. The flag was reduced to seven stripes, and then to six after Harvey Milk was murdered. Following that tragedy, Baker’s flag was the symbol needed to demonstrate the unity of the community, but because the Pride Parade Committee of 1979 wanted to hang the flag from light posts with the stripes divided evenly, the indigo stripe (sorry harmony) was removed so there would be three colors on each side.
Today, these six stripes are recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers (a colorful group, I’m sure), and used worldwide as a symbol of gay rights and LGBT pride. When researching this story, I came across a Leather Pride Flag which at first I thought would be a great idea to support our upholstery collections, until I realized that the pride that flag symbolizes has more to do with bedroom furniture.
No matter what your beliefs, or your feelings about this week’s decision by the California supreme court justices (I’m lowercasing them because I can), I encourage you to keep an eye out for rainbows. Even if you’re like a guy I saw waiting for the commuter ferry recently who, as a rainbow draped itself over our foggy city, called his wife and told her to look out the window. His right to marriage will never be challenged, but he recognized the beauty of a rainbow, and that gives me hope that people’s hearts and eyes are still open.