rainbow wars

No, this post isn’t about various parties’ reactions to Friday’s ruling, though maybe it should be. Rather . . .

And why a rainbow?

It occurred to me yesterday that I had no idea why, or when, a rainbow had come to symbolize gay pride. Growing up, and being raised Protestant Christian, I was taught that rainbows were God’s sign to Noah that he would never again destroy the earth. The next time the heavens would open — literally, anyway — would be when He returned during the Second Coming.

That’s what my Bible teacher said, anyway.

Rainbows, then, were a symbol of hope. They were a promise. “You’ll never have to go through that again, Noah. And, hey you — yes you, Man — I will return.”

Somewhere along the line, though, rainbows got mixed in with leprechauns and Lucky Charms, and then (I did a little research), in the 1970s, a man named Harvey Milk came along. Harvey Milk was the nation’s first openly gay politician, and, in 1977, San Francisco elected him to its Board of Supervisors. To celebrate, Milk challenged an artist friend, Gilbert Baker, to come up with a flag to symbolize the gay community. “The only thing they have to look forward to is hope,” he said. “We have to give them hope.”

And thus was born the rainbow flag. *”Hot pink stood for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.”

And here I’d been thinking rainbows were about Bible stories and unicorns.

The story does make me curious, though. The gay community was looking for a symbol of hope. The rainbow is a symbol of hope. Makes sense, but . . . Why not come up with your own symbol? Something a little different, something new? Why borrow from something that — originally, anyway — has nothing to do with you?

Thoughts? Anyone?


*Sources: A Brief History of the Rainbow Flag, milkfoundation.org
Image: Google

13 thoughts

  1. It’s a powerful image of hope (because most of us remember the story from Sunday School), and maybe, at the time, there weren’t many to choose from (I can’t remember many things about that time that made me hopeful). Maybe he was searching for something that would communicate the message of hope. Maybe, also, he didn’t think that some would see it as treading on sacred turf and resent he/them for it. Words and images get co-opted all the time. You can find/make the same argument/questions if you look at the Peace Symbol. You ask a fair question Jess but I don’t think there’s an easy answer.

    • You’re right, Dan. There is no easy answer, and, honestly, I don’t think it really matters. The phenomenon just struck me as curious — that’s all. I didn’t mean to attack anyone with this post, or mean to imply that Mr. Milk or Mr. Baker were trying to. It just seemed… curious.

      Happy 4th of July! (I am SO late responding to these comments!)

      • I’m glad you responded Jess. I was worried that I had offended you. I didn’t mean to, or to call your motives into question. I just wanted to offer a view from that time period.

  2. Well, if you research into Christian religious origins (and depending on what you want to believe about said research, not to get into a heated religious debate, here), there is a lot of imagery and info taken from pagan rituals and other pre-existent events, so…fair is fair.

  3. A quote from one of my favorite films…

    A building [flag?] is a symbol, as is the act of destroying it. Symbols are given power by people. Alone, a symbol is meaningless, but with enough people, blowing up a building [or creating a symbol] can change the world.
    — V, in the 2005 film “V for Vendetta”

    History, particularly violent history, has a plethora of symbols, i.e. Jesus on the cross, or the Nazi shwastika. For me personally, I LOVE the rainbow flag & other symbols of humanity, love, and hope. :)

    • Thanks for that link, Fraggle. I must admit my research didn’t go very deep. I think rainbows are pretty, too.

      Hope you’re having a great weekend!

  4. To me a good question would be, “Why not?” There are groups taking symbols and images from all sources in life throughout the age of man. If not the rainbow, my guess is the movement would have found some other fantastic symbol/image to use.

    When I see a rainbow created by nature, it is what it is. When I see a gay-pride flag, it is what it is. Never have I considered a rainbow anything religious, and not sure many people do (grew up Episcopalian…kind of :-) ) .

    If you are looking at one group taking a symbol from another religion, there is a great example of one of the oldest symbols in religion, the swastika, which signifies auspiciousness and good fortune as well as the Buddha’s footprints and the Buddha’s heart. However, I’m not sure that is the first thing that comes to mind when someone see’s it.

    Interesting thought ~ thanks for making me think about it. Cheers to a great summer Jess ~

    • Thanks, Randall. The same to you!! I agree that rainbows are what they are, and symbols often mean more than one thing. It was just a question and many of you have brought up some very good points.

      Hope you had a good 4th from afar!

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