For years the rainbow has become synonymous with the fight for equal rights in the LGBT community. It has created a common identity and helped to build a strong alliance between different groups all fighting for the same equality… pretty cool for a colourful little arch!
The story of the rainbow flag goes right back to 1978 – quite the year, as it’s the same year that our founders, Ben Cohen & Jerry Greenfield, purchased an old gas station and turned it into a scoop shop, concocting ice cream with locally sourced ingredients (joy for the belly and the soul!). At Ben & Jerry’s, we’ve always believed that love (just like ice cream) comes in many flavours, and people should be free to love who they love…so it’s great to think that at the same time as Ben & Jerry’s were spreading the ice cream love in their converted gas station, San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker was creating the very symbol that would go on to be a driving force in the gay rights movement!
The First Flag
After coming up with the idea for the rainbow flag, Baker was encouraged to develop it by local politician and gay rights activist, Harvey Milk – whose heart-breaking tale you may recall from the film “Milk”. So Baker set to work and with the help of a legion of friends and many barrels of dye, created the first rainbow flag in the attic of the Gay Community Centre.
A Symbol Speaking To All
In a recent interview with the MOMA (Museum Of Modern Art) in New York (where the flag now proudly hangs), Baker stated that, as it’s flown to represent entire nations or people, he saw a flag as more of a powerful symbol than a logo or sign. “We are people; a tribe if you will. And flags are about proclaiming power, so it’s very appropriate.”
The rainbow flag first flew in downtown San Francisco on June 25th, 1978, and quickly spread as the symbol for the growing gay rights movement in the US. As a symbol that can work across any language, the flag soon became a strong unifying identify for the global gay rights movement!
Whilst there have been many breakthroughs for the LGBT community in recent years (not least the Supreme Court decision in the US to allow marriage equality and the first marriage equality law brought in by popular vote (go Ireland!), there are still many struggles ahead before we can say our society truly believes that you should love who you love. But for now, lets celebrate the rainbow as a beautiful symbol of an incredibly worthy cause!
To keep up to date with the latest campaigning on equality for all in the UK, visit our friends at Stonewall.
And remember, love who you love!