I never cared for the rainbow flag. I saw it as too flashy, gaudy even. Having only seen it mass produced and put on everything from t-shirts to coffee cups, by the time I came to understand that rainbow flag represented the LGBT community I tried my best to avoid it. Growing up biracial, queer, and a child of an immigrant in the heart of Texas, I attempted my very best to blend in. Rainbows have a tendency to do the opposite of that.
When I reached middle school I realized something was different about me. Therefore, the rainbow flag felt like a threat. That if I wore or owned anything resembling a rainbow I was in danger of being discovered. That it would indicate to the world that I was all of the things I was trying so desperately not to be. The rainbow flag, known as the pride flag, seemed dangerous to a kid just trying to fall under the radar.
To be honest I didn’t know much about the history of the flag until I was asked to write this post. I knew it had a deeper meaning than ending up on drink koozies and dog collars, but I wasn’t expecting it to be something that would resonate with me. It wasn’t until I read an interview with creator Gilbert Baker, who passed away in May of this year, speaking about his flag that I began to have a better understanding.
The pride flag first debuted in 1978 at the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade. Commissioned by the pride parade, Baker was asked to create a new symbol for the LGBT community to be used for years to come. Before the rainbow flag, our community really only had the reclaimed pink triangle used by the Nazis, used to identify gay prisoners. Baker’s vision was that the rainbow flag would serve as a beacon of hope and joy within the community not stemming from tragedy but from life and pride.
When asked why the colors of the rainbow, Baker had this to say:
“The rainbow is a beautiful part of nature, all of the colors, and even the one’s you can’t see. So that fit us as a people because we are all of the colors.”
As I think of the flag now as an out and proud queer transgender man, I realize that despite the fear I had of the flag growing up, it was still my flag. That the flag represents “all of the colors…even the ones you can’t see.” I was that unseen color growing up, out of fear and denial I hid and tried to hide in the shadows. It is comforting to know even then, for that scared closeted kid in Texas, the flag was meant for me.
As we enter the month of June, Pride Month, take time to recognize what this symbol means. That it is more than just cloth and stripes as Baker says but “an action.” Take time to honor the late Gilbert Baker as well each time you look at those colors. As we raise our flags, sport our t-shirts, affix the rainbow bandanna on our dogs, know we do so as an action. An action that says we as members of the LGBT community are here. We are strong. We are present. We are proud.