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Culture of Love

Rhodri Marsden's interesting objects: The rainbow flag


* A rainbow flag was first flown as a symbol of LGBT pride 36 years ago this week, when two such flags were hoisted at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. "From that first moment," said the flag's designer, Gilbert Baker, "I knew that this was the most important thing that I would ever do."

* Baker's skills as a vexillographer stemmed, he has said, from a realisation that he wasn't cut out to be a fashion designer. He was inspired by American politician and gay activist Harvey Milk to create a banner for the parade, an anti-flag that would "reach across borders". Baker also saw it as an answer to the pink triangle, a Nazi-designed symbol which, he felt, "represented homosexuals as victims".

* The original eight-colour flag featured pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue and violet, representing sex, life, healing, sunlight, nature, magic, serenity and spirit respectively. The difficulty of obtaining pink material ("I exhausted the very limited supply") saw him reduce the number of colours to seven, and then to six in 1979, when the organisers of that year's Parade in San Francisco expressed a desire to divide the flag in half and fly three stripes on either side of the street. The six-colour flag has since become standard, but Baker has expressed a desire to "bring the eight colours back".

* Baker's rainbow flags have twice broken the world record for the world's largest; firstly in 1994 at the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, and again in 2003 when a 1.5 mile version was unfurled down Duval Street in Key West, Florida to commemorate the flag's 25th birthday. Following the record attempt, Baker cut it into pieces and distributed them to gay communities around the world. "It belongs to everyone," he said. "That's what makes it wonderful"