Jun 11, 2021
How San Francisco Artist Gilbert Baker Made The Rainbow Flag An Enduring Symbol Of LGTBQ Pride
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by Betty Yu and Molly McCrea
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — In June 1970, gay rights activists gathered at Aquatic Park near Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. About 30 gay men, lesbians, and transgender individuals – then called by the press “hair faeries” – took part in San Francisco’s first Gay Liberation Movement Demonstration.READ MORE: 3.5 Earthquake Near Watsonville Shakes Southern Santa Clara, Santa Cruz Counties
The group marched down Polk Street to City Hall, where they defiantly entered a nearby straight bar and began to slow dance. The following day, about 100 supporters engaged in what was known as a “Gay-In” in Golden Gate Park. What they didn’t have would unfurl eight years later: the iconic Rainbow Flag.
To understand its origins, it’s important to remember the role of Harvey Milk, who moved to San Francisco’s Castro District and was a pioneering gay rights activist.
Another name to remember, Cleve Jones, who was a protégé of Milk’s and involved in the burgeoning Gay Liberation Movement. Also in the city during that time, Cleve’s roommate and best friend, artist Gilbert Baker.
“He has these big eyes, and big ideas and big hair and big dresses,” chuckled Jones.
“He was like this hippie drag queen activist who was just fearless,“ remarked fellow artist Mark Rennie.
“Gilbert was a true artist, and we forget that a lot of people in the early movement were geniuses in the art of political theatre,” noted LGTBQ advocate Jeff Sheehy and former San Francisco Supervisor.
In 1977, Milk became the first openly gay elected official in the state of California when he was elected a San Francisco Supervisor. Before the 1978 Gay Freedom Day took place, Milk and others turned to Baker.
“Harvey and a few other people just implored him, ‘You’re an artist. We need a new symbol. We need a new symbol. The pink triangle was such a downer!’ recalled Charley Beal, who now runs the Gilbert Baker Foundation.
The LGBTQ community at the time had been using an inverted pink triangle to symbolize their movement. The pink triangle was initially used at a badge of shame by the Nazis who forced homosexuals to wear it in concentration camps, designating them in the camp hierarchy as the lowest of the low. While the LGBTQ community decided to actively reclaim the symbol, for many it was depressing.
Baker took up the challenge.
“I remember him sketching out these very dramatic drawings of those rainbow flags that were to fly at the two giant flagpoles at the United Nations Plaza,” said Jones.
“The first flags were all hand-dyed. He buys the fabric for 99 cents on Mission Street at the cheap fabric store,” recalled Rennie, who was not initially convinced the flags were a good idea.
“I hated the rainbow flag. I really did. I said it’s too bright! It’s too tacky! I was very much ‘art world,’ right? And Gilbert said ‘No you’re wrong! It’s got to be bright! It’s got to be, Bam! In their face!'” said Rennie. “And you know what? Gilbert was absolutely right. It was brilliant. The rainbow flag was brilliant.”
A team of friends jumped into action, as detailed in Gilbert’s passionate personal chronicle, entitled “The Rainbow Warrior.” Sheehy knows the story well.READ MORE: With California Eviction Moratorium About to Expire, Tenants Ask for Relief
“They dyed mounds and mounds of tied dyed cloth into the colors of the flag, and stitched them together,” recounted Sheehy.
Early morning on the day of the parade, they brought the huge flags out.
“I helped him hoist them up the pole and was with him when the wind took them,” said Jones.
Rennie couldn’t believe what he saw – two giant flags unfurling above the city.
“I just walked up and these things were just going! Oh my God, this is insane!“ said Rennie, his eyes widening as he spoke of the memory.
“Tens of thousands of people marched beneath them on their way to Civic Center Plaza,” marveled Jones.
“And it was spectacular, and it just blew people’s minds,” added Rennie.
For the decades that followed, Baker spread the message of the rainbow flag near and far; from the mile-long flag carried by the crowd during a PRIDE parade in New York to presenting a framed Rainbow flag to President Barack Obama at the White House.
“Gilbert devoted his entire life to making these enormous flags and giving them away to communities all over the world,” noted Jones.
Baker passed away three years ago.
“Gilbert like to say, was famously quoted once, that you can’t design a flag. A real flag is torn from the soul of the people,” recounted Beal.
Beal pointed out that when anyone sees a rainbow flag, to try to remember the battle for equality and freedom for all in the LGBTQ community is far from over.
“There are places all over the world where they’re fighting and struggling just to put a rainbow flag on their apartment balcony or to carry a flag out in a parade,” said Beal. “And putting out that flag is an act of courage.”
The original flag had eight stripes. Each color held a meaning, but the hot pink and turquoise stripes were subsequently removed. The pink was taken off because it was difficult to source fabric of that color, and turquoise stripe was removed because the organizers wanted a flag with even numbers.MORE NEWS: Invasive Yellow Fever Mosquito Found in Stockton for 3rd Straight Year
For more information, visit the Gilbert Baker Foundation
News Source: cbslocal.com
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Couple who found love and acceptance in U.S. fights for same-sex marriage in India
Vaibhav Jain grew up "deeply closeted" in Delhi, India. He always worried about going to a Pride Month parade, fearful of being outed. But when Jain moved to Washington, D.C. in 2011, he decided to go to his first Pride parade.
"I heard through the grapevine there was a South Asian group marching and I was so excited, I was like, 'Oh my God, there are people like me, who are actually celebrating being LGBTQ,'" Jain told CBS News.
He decided marching in the parade was "too forward" so he went as a spectator – and his life changed forever.
Marching with the group was Parag Mehta. "He was holding this beautiful Pride flag, just walking around," Jain said, remembering how Mehta would go up to people in the crowd and dance to Bollywood music. "I was like, 'Who is this guy?' I was fascinated by this man."Vaibhav Jain snapped a photo of Parag Mehta at the Washington D.C. pride parade and later found him on social media. Vaibhav Jain & Parag Mehta
Jain sifted through Facebook groups until he found Mehta's page and sent a message. "He had actually attached a photo from the Pride parade," Mehta said.
"It wasn't of the whole float, it was just a close up of me – which is beyond stalkerish, with all due respect," Mehta said jokingly.Pride Month More Couple fights for same-sex marriage in India Facebook group helps dads navigate raising their LGBTQ kids Meet the mother-son TikTok stars shattering gender norms Pride lifeguard tower rebuilt Rainbow lights on Florida bridge turned back on More
That meeting started the two on the journey from strangers to husbands.
- See more LGBT love stories to celebrate Pride month.
Mehta read Jain's Facebook message, which detailed how he had just moved to the U.S. for school and how he was excited to see people who looked like him marching in Pride. The two decided to meet in person.
They soon started dating and Mehta, who had come out to his parents in college, helped Jain talk to his.
"He actually was such a big guide and role model to me as to how one could come out," Jain said.
Jain was fearful: "I had all these difficult scenarios planned in my head," he said. "Because my father was funding my master's education, what if he says, 'You know, I'm not funding your education anymore, come back to India with me?'"
"What if he forces and takes my passport like a dramatic Bollywood movie?" Jain said.
But Mehta told him not to worry. "If anything were to happen, I will support you. I will take care of your education if you need to do that. If he takes you to India, I will come rescue you," Jain recalls Mehta saying.
If Jain didn't know Mehta was the one yet – he did now. "He just made it all right for me. He made it safe," he said.
And while his parents were shocked, they were loving.
Jain said his mother told him she felt she failed as a parent. "And I cringed, and I was in tears. I said, 'Why would you say this, Mom? Are you saying this because I'm gay?' She said, 'No, I feel like you hid such a big aspect of your life for 25 years. And I feel like I failed as a parent because I couldn't give you that safe space.'"
When they got married in Texas in 2019, both sides of the family attended.Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta got married in Texas, where Mehta grew up, then had a reception in India, where Jain grew up. Vaibhav Jain & Parag Mehta
During the wedding, Mehta's father gave a speech that showed how far they had come. Mehta said he had no clue what his father was going to say, but his father, Dr. Vijay Mehta, spoke about how his son came out to him and how he found acceptance in a speech that later went viral after Jain posted it to YouTube.
Dr. Mehta decided to write a letter to friends and family, explaining his son's coming out. "I thought maybe 50% of the people [I sent it to] would not talk to me, and my life will really be isolated," he said in his speech. "I said, 'Vijay, if 50% of the people don't want to talk to you, maybe they don't need to be in your life.'"
But someone else at the wedding, a stranger to the couple, also touched their hearts.
Jain recalled received a Facebook message: "Hey, you don't know me but I had the pleasure of bartending last night at your wedding reception. I wanted to let you know I'm gay, but I'm very closeted. And I saw the love with which your family celebrated both of you and it just gave me so much hope."
The couple has received countless messages of support and admiration over the years, but their fight for acceptance extends far past their lives in the U.S.The couple is continuing to live out and proud – because they know how important Pride is. "I found my hope at a Pride Parade, walking with this guy," Jain said. Vaibhav Jain & Parag Mehta
After tying the knot in the U.S., Jain and Mehta went to the Indian consulate in New York to register their marriage so it was recognized in India. But as a same-sex couple, they were denied.
When a senior consulate officer came out, Mehta confronted him. "I said, 'Are you denying us because we're a same-sex couple?' And he looked me right in the eye and said, 'Yes,'" Mehta said.
That moment spurred the couple to try to make a change. They filed a lawsuit against the Union of India and are now, along with other couples, part of a legal battle to have same-sex marriage recognized in the country.
"If we win, that means 1.2 billion people in the entire world would suddenly live in a country with marriage equality," Mehta said. "Let me put that into context… The total number of people in the world right now who live in a country with marriage equality is 1.2 billion. This case could double the number by the stroke of a pen."
For now, the couple is continuing to live out and proud – because they know how important Pride is. "I found my hope at a Pride Parade, walking with this guy," Jain said.