The first time Roy G. Biv flew in the name of LGBT rights was on June 25, 1978, in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. Reportedly inspired by Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow," artist Gilbert Baker hand-dyed a banner with eight stripes, each with symbolic meaning:
Hot Pink: Sexuality
I guess that technically means the first flag that flew for LGBT rights was H. Roy G. Biv. Anyway, Baker’s design became popular pretty quickly, but demand for the flag skyrocketed after Harvey Milk was assassinated on November 27, 1978. As more and more people wanted to show their support for Milk and the LGBT community, it became harder and harder to keep the supply of custom-created eight-striped rainbow banners up. It became easier to use premade rainbow-colored fabric even though it lacked the hot pink stripe. The flag was further modified the following year, when the turquoise stripe was dropped (it became obvious that it was obscured in the fold when the flag was hung vertically from lampposts on San Francisco’s Market Street).
The International Co-operative Movement Rainbow Connection
Flags with a spectrum of colors have been used for centuries to represent inclusion and diversity – and therefore acceptance. Italy and Greece both use rainbow-striped flags to symbolize peace. The International Co-operative Movement designed a similar colorful banner to show international unity in 1921. And there’s evidence to suggest that rainbow-colored acceptance flags date back at least to the German Peasants’ War in the 1500s.
During the Hippie movement of the 1960s, peaceful protesters brought the rainbow = peace concept back to the forefront.
Baker, by the way, has stayed busy since sewing the first flag in 1978. In fact, in 2003 he helped create the world's biggest LGBT flag ever—it stretched a mile and a quarter across Key West, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Afterward, sections of the flag were then sent to more than 100 cities around the world.
Photo: © Andrew Holbrooke/Corbis