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May 27, 2009

Iridescent California.

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Originally made with eight stripes – pink for sexuality; red for life; orange for healing; yellow for sun; green for nature; blue for art; indigo for harmony; and violet for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.

Gwendolyn Horton


I wasn't aware that DWR was GLBT friendly until I saw the flag and read the article. I was very touched by the content. Given the decisions recently made in California I think it goes without saying that the GLBT community appreciates your thoughts and support. For future reference I'll make more of an effort to know who I purchase goods from. Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts!

very touching and relevant. the intelligencia get the struggle, it's the ignorant we need to educate (isn't it always?). thank you for a poignant, well researched, honest article. this is why i shop dwr. your blog is as meaningful as your wares.

Not only was this such an interesting history on the rainbow flag, but a completely beautiful and different way to bring up this issue. Stop the H8....

Thank you for taking the time to email me with the pressing issue of rainbow design. I agreed to view emails from dwr because I want the products you sell--not propaganda. I really don't care what a designer thinks of gay marriage. If you want to design for political causes, how about designing something celebrating the third amendment.

Reconsidering doing business with DWR.

I am most impressed with DWR and for learning of your social awareness. I have ordered online but look forward to visiting your location in Providence in the coming days. And I feel saddened to learn that there is such a lack of intelligence and an obvious lack of understanding of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights as was just demonstrated by the California supreme court. There is nothing supreme about this court. New England is far ahead of California these days. Larry Lufkin

Great history lesson and lesson in humanity. Thanks for posting this!

I cancelled my subscription in protest to this article.
Marriage is between a man and woman, period.
Gay advocates are trying to push their agenda and ignoring the other side opnion.
I feel unconfortable with so many people on the media trying to convince me to believe in gay marriage.
Yes, I believe in opposite sex marriage!

Thank you for this Gwendolyn. Brightened the day here.

Dear Ms. Horton;

I enjoyed your history of the rainbow flag. I like the current arrangement of colors, because I always considered indigo a pretender, included just for mnemonic purposes (Roy G. Biv).

But I must quibble with your demotion of the California Supreme Court to lowercase. Yes, they upheld Prop 8. However, these were the same folks who discovered the right to gay marriage in the first place. (I prefer "discovered" to "created" or "decided", because it indicates that this right was always there, just waiting for someone to find it.)

They really had little choice but to rule the way they did this time (as evidenced by the 6-1 vote). It's the boneheads that created the California constitution, and the proposition process in particular, that bear the blame here. They set it up so that the state constitution could be amended by a simple majority vote. Compare that to the federal Constitution, which requires both houses of Congress and 3/4 of the states. Here in Iowa, thank goodness, it takes the votes of two consecutive legislatures plus a vote of the people. That will give us at least a couple years to show people that gay marriage will not destroy our way of life.

I'm confident that gay marriage will be un-overturned in the next couple years by a new proposition overturning Prop 8. After that, someone should figure out how to fix the California system so that constitutional changes are made in a more thoughtful way. Good luck with that.

Many thanks for this perspective today. Much appreciated!

Thanks very much for this. Learning the history of the flag has given it even more meaning to me. I do wish they'd been able to keep the hot pink, though. I mean, what's a pride flag without the sexuality stripe? Thanks again, and best wishes.
. . . jim strain in san diego.


As a fellow Californian I feel the need to respond. Firt of all, yes you can use lowercase when referring to our Supreme Court Judges but it is silly and childish of you. Their decision was not based on personal feelings but on the letter of the law, the constitution, that which give us ALL freedom.

While I voted in favor of gay marriage on the ballot in November I must say that the majority has spoken twice now and that is how a democracy works...majority rules. I do resent the time and tax payer dollars being wasted on the continued fight over this matter. Place it on the ballot again and see what happens; until then relax and enjoy the fact that you do live in a free country and that change has happened and that you do have legal rights as partners that were granted many years ago. That was the first step, this is the next one. My feeling, since you are able to enjoy all the legal rights of a married couple, the ceremony is between you and your God. Find another word for it and you may win next time.

Thank you for this. It is inspiring that there still is hope for change in America and specifically California. Unfortunately, I've had to rethink moving there because my marriage would not be recognized there. Too bad. Myself and other gay and lesbian individuals and couples have a lot to offer.

Don't despair. In truth, some aspects of the decision represented huge steps forward for equal rights.
We're on the right side of history here - the next vote will see marriage equality delivered by the hand of the majority. That's powerful stuff. More powerful, certainly, than a judges ruling.

Love rainbows! I'm remind of God's covenant to never again flood the earth.

and I will remember my covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The RAINBOW shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. Genesis 9:15 NKJ

Good way to lose customers. Not simply dragging politics into your marketing space, but deeply divisive moral issues as well. Pretty silly when you think about it. The GLBT community and their friends are likely already a strong component of your market. So what purpose does it serve to potentially tick off the bulk of the buying public? None.

Sam Maloof, one of the most signficant design influences and craftsman/artists in California died last Thursday, and not a word at DWR. Sad that a political brouhaha merits more attention at a DESIGN blog than the passing of a man considered to be the finest American woodworker of the 20th century, a man who redefined the lowly rocking chair, and was by all accounts, a truly warm and humble man.

Design Notes? I think not...

very moving and informative

Please cancel my subscription to your not design blog. While I respect your views, let's stay focused in our shared interest in design.

What a fine way to GAIN customers, as I would want to buy products from a company promoting diversity of design and ideas. I'm so very proud to know the writer of this article, and extremely appreciative of Design Within Reach for supporting the message. This is a civil rights issue, and not the first time that California has stumbled on such issues for those of us who were here in the 1960's. It will change, but California has stumbled again. Bravo Gwendolyn Horton!

It takes pretty big stones to write a not-so well veiled left leaning post on such a divisive issue during a time when clearly sales at DWR are hurting. I applaud your courage, but I recommend you shelve the "ProChoice" and "Medical Marijuana" entry you may have planned for next week. ;-)

DWR thank you for your comments today in support of the freedom of marriage for all no matter what color or sex you are. God made many different colors and many different types of individuals and he/she made no mistakes! We all are beautiful and special.

Thanks Gwen,

Excellent article, it is well researched and obviously given lots of thought. The rainbow flag was new when I lived in California; I was proud of it then and I am proud of it now.

I now live in Maine where we recently passed a law that will soon allow gay marriage. Our Governor struggled with the law but he decided to not employ the power of a veto. The new law will bring happiness to many as it expresses equal rights and validates love between any two humans.

I will be unsubscribing from your company's mailings. I do not subscribe to a commercial mailing that sells home furnishing products to be bombarded with homosexual propaganda. This is a completely inappropriate forum for the expressing of your social and political views. There are blogs and other issues sites where you could do that.

Regarding gay "marriage" I am vehemently opposed to this as Christian. Gay people can marry to do but they do not wish to. They are not asking for the "same" rights, but rather are asking to redefine an institution that needs no redefinition. This is the reality that few will admit to in the public debate.

I am delighted to respond to this beautiful essay. Indeed, the writer's statement would make me far more likely to buy from Design Within Reach, as I like to support a company that has new ideas, especially about civil rights, as well as new designs. California has stumbled again with civil rights for gays, just as it stumbled with race issues in the 1960's. I hope that California will again find its soul.

Homosexual propaganda? I thought it was a nice history lesson on the rainbow flag. And I thought the comments were yours not DWR's, then I read the comments and thought how sad. I thought all the comments would be lollipops and sunshine. Then (as usual) I get my heart broken. When I was younger, I thought that my protesting and voicing of my views would change the worlds opinion on gays and lesbians. Now sadly at 53, we are still not equal, in some peoples eyes. Two questions: how many times have the "christian" commentators been married? and how in the world does my getting married ruin or lessen your marriage? I may be 53 but I will fight the good fight until we are all equal. Propaganda?

wonderful article. thank you for posting.

It must have been a difficult decision to publish this essay. You would never want to offend any of your customers and yet we all want to be in the world in a way that expresses our truth and deeply held convictions. As a small business owner I applaud your willingness to take that risk. I suspect the fear of speaking out and the ensuing fallout was greater than the reality. Because of this I have a stronger connection to your company, thank you for the history and the beautiful essay.

I was stunned to see this article on DWR's blog and, as a gay man, at first divided on whether or not I thought it appropriate. Then I realized that it was my own, internalized homophobia that prevented me from immediately embracing it - not just because it is an issue so relevant to my life but because civil rights transcend this political pigeon hole that some posters would like to assign it. Like most important things in life, it is complex and cannot be compartmentalized.

And if you lost customers (and I would imagine they would be few) I give them a warm and full-throated goodbye! If only we could eliminate this bigotry from our real life by simply telling our history.

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