Rainbow People Celebrating 50 Years Of Stonewall

Scarve with the rainbow colours. Quito, Ecuador, 2002. Scarve with the rainbow colours. Quito, Ecuador, 2002. TRC 2019.1996

3. Rainbow colours

From the red and black sarong of a Karen woman, signifying that she is married, to the yellow only worn by China’s imperial rulers, colour in clothing has always carried meaning. Colours can show membership of a certain group and convey a political view, like the yellow jackets of France’s gilets jaunes or the black clothes of the USA’s Black Panther Party. “Throughout history, colour has been used as a tool of self-expression and peaceful protest,” Hannah Craggs, senior colour editor at the WGSN trend-forecasting agency, said in a recent interview (TeenVogue, May 2019, click here).

Crosswalk in northern Dutch town of Alkmaar, painted in support of LGBTQ+ equality.


Rainbow colours were everywhere during 2019’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Today the six-striped rainbow flag is an internationally recognized symbol of LGBTQ+ rights. The flag is waved during Pride parades, while its rainbow colours are printed on T-shirts and trainers, and painted on city streets to show support for LGBTQ+ communities. A special 2019 Pride T-shirt was designed with rainbow colours by design duo Viktor & Rolf for the Dutch department store chain HEMA. The footwear and apparel company Converse produced a limited edition sneaker featuring rainbow coloured laces and soles, with “special-edition Pride patches” and “colours inspired by rainbow and transgender flags”.

The rainbow flag was designed in 1978 by the American artist, Gilbert Baker (1951--2017), for San Francisco’s (USA) Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade. “We needed something to express our joy, our beauty, our power. And the rainbow did that,” Baker later explained. He dyed and hand sewed together a 30 x 60 foot (approximately 9.14 x 18.28 metre) flag of eight colours, and assigned a meaning to each colour: pink (sex), red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunshine), green (nature), turquoise (magic), blue (harmony) and purple (spirit).

Commemorative 2019 Pride T-shirt created by the Dutch design duo Viktor & Rolf for the popular department store chain HEMA, with the slogan “Love is for Everyone” in rainbow colours (Netherlands). TRC Collection (TRC 2019.1994). For more information, click on the illustration.Demand for the flag was high by the following year’s 1979 Freedom Day Parade. Baker asked the Paramount Flag Company of San Francisco to mass produce the flag. The dye for pink was difficult to obtain, so that colour was dropped. Organizers wanted an even number of stripes, so the flag could be split and hung vertically as a banner, so turquoise was also dropped. The result was today’s six striped flag. The flag is still evolving. In 2019, Pride Parade organisers in Manchester (UK) added black and brown stripes to the rainbow flag, to be more inclusive of people of colour (click here).

Other flags followed suit. A flag for transgender pride was designed in 1999 by American trans woman Monica Helms. She explained the design: "The stripes at the top and bottom are light blue, the traditional colour for baby boys. The stripes next to them are pink, the traditional colour for baby girls. The stripe in the middle is white, for those who are intersex, transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender. The pattern is such that no matter which way you fly it, it is always correct, signifying us finding correctness in our lives."