The Pride Flag, by Scott Williams
The Rainbow Flag or Pride Flag has been in the local news quite a bit lately. In June 2017, our partners at the WRDSB decided to fly the Pride Flag at all of their schools to celebrate Pride Month. A few flags were vandalized or stolen and the flags triggered many discussions between those who applauded the action and those who opposed it. This month, Harold Albrecht MP made a statement that Pride flags should not have flown on the same masts as Canadian flags. At some schools this happened because the school only had one flag pole.
Here at KW Counselling Services, we proudly fly the Pride Flag year-round on our roof to signify that we offer a safe space for LGBTQ+ people. We stand firmly in solidarity with the WRDSB and, indeed, we applaud their decision to fly the Pride Flag at all of their schools. Our Executive Director, Leslie Josling, wrote a letter of support to the WRDSB, saying “It is important for LGBTQ+ youth to feel safe and included in their community which is why the gesture of raising the Pride flags is so important.”
We thought it might be interesting to look back at the history of the Pride Flag to help explain why it is so important.
The flag was originally created in 1978 by artist and activist, Gilbert Baker, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 65. Baker was asked to create a symbol of pride for the gay community by the influential Harvey Milk. The original Pride Flag created by Baker flew in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade in 1978. The flag originally included eight coloured stripes, each of which was assigned a meaning: hot pink (sex), red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), turquoise (magic/art), indigo (serenity), and violet (spirit).
After Harvey Milk’s assassination in November of 1978, demand for the flag increased but hot pink fabric was not widely available so a new version of the flag with only seven stripes (excluding hot pink) began to be manufactured and sold. In 1979 the turquoise stripe was also removed leaving us with the more familiar six stripe version we most often see today. When flown horizontally, the red stripe is typically at the top, mimicking a natural rainbow.
There are now many, many variations of the flag including versions that amalgamate the Canadian flag and the American flag with the pride stripes. In 2017, the city of Philadelphia adopted a new version that includes black and brown stripes to represent LGBTQ+ people of colour.
Though Baker originally assigned meanings to each colour, over time, the colours have come to represent diverse people who come together to form something beautiful (the rainbow). The symbol is the most common one to represent LGBTQ+ people across the world. It can be found in print and on a wide variety of products including pins and bumper stickers. Businesses often display it to show LGBTQ+ people that they are welcome. It is often used to indicate a safe space for LGBTQ+ people and allies often display it on their homes, vehicles, backpacks, etc.
We know members of our OK2BME Youth Group were deeply appreciative of the Pride Flags flying at their schools. It helped give them a sense of belonging. As reported in the KWCF’s Vital Signs Priority Report for 2014, only 36.9% of those in the community who identify as being LGBTQ+ have a “strong sense of belonging”. This is unacceptable to us and we will continue to work towards our vision of a community where no one is left behind. The gesture of flying a Pride Flag is a small step towards realizing that vision.