How did the rainbow become a symbol of gay pride?

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The rainbow, however, wasn’t popularized as an official symbol of the gay community until the 1970s. In 1978, San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker designed what is believed to be the first modern gay pride flag by combining eight stripes, each a different color with its own symbolism: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for the human spirit. When he wanted to manufacture the flag for sale, he found that hot pink wasn’t as available as the other colors, and so the flag dropped to seven colors. Baker later dropped indigo to maintain an even number, and the flag arrived at its contemporary six colors. When San Francisco gay activists marched to protest the 1978 assassination of city supervisor Harvey Milk, they marched with Baker’s flags.

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Of course, rainbows and rainbow flags carry significance outside the LGBT community. The rainbow is an important symbol in the Bible, representing a promise of peace from God to Noah, and some Christian groups have used that symbol in their iconography. The German anti-Lutheran leader Thomas Müntzer flew a rainbow flag during the Peasant War in an effort to show that God was on his movement’s side. Hippies sometimes used a rainbow flag when marching for peace in the 1960s and 1970s, which may have helped inspire Baker’s design.

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