A History Lesson With Booze ®

Raising the Pride Flag

In 1978, a former soldier with a sewing machine and his friend Harvey Milk decided it was time to craft a symbol of gay pride. The rainbow flag they made became recognizable around the world and changed Gilbert Baker's own life forever.

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RAUL ARBOLEDA / AFP / Getty Images
RAUL ARBOLEDA / AFP / Getty Images

One of the most recognizable flags in the world doesn’t represent a country.

It all began in the Seventies, with artist Gilbert Baker. After his honorable discharge from the Army, he settled in San Francisco and learned to sew. At first he just made himself cool outfits to wear to rock shows. But then he befriended gay-rights activist Harvey Milk. And started making banners for protest marches.

In 1978, he and Milk had an idea. The city’s annual gay pride parade should have a logo. Gilbert wanted it to be positive. Something natural, kind of magical, and multicolored to symbolize gay and lesbian diversity. He envisioned… a rainbow.

Gilbert and friends hand-dyed a thousand yards of cotton in homemade tubs, to create huge 30-by-60 foot rainbow flags. Pressing the things took hours and burned out iron after iron.

When they were unveiled before hundreds of thousands of paraders, according to Gilbert, “Everyone understood it. It was like a bolt of lightning. It changed my life forever.”

Within minutes, people asked where they could get a rainbow flag. Within weeks, demand was so high, Gilbert had to farm out production to a commercial company. It launched his career: he went on to design banners and displays for U.S. Senators, for state visits by the leaders of France and China, and for the 1985 Super Bowl.

The rainbow flag design is in the public domain but Gilbert still sells his own handmade versions. Occasionally, he makes one you could never hang from a flagpole; in 1994, he commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots by unfurling a rainbow flag a mile long. It broke the record for biggest flag ever.

Rainbow Pousse-Café

Layered by Johnny Raglan, bartender at Comstock Saloon in San Francisco, where the first Pride flag was made (but he won’t be making this complicated drink at his bar, so don’t ask).

1/2 oz Grenadine
1/2 oz Bols Yogurt Liqueur
1/2 oz Maraschino
1/2 oz Green Creme de Menthe
1/2 oz Yellow Chartreuse
1/2 oz Orange Curacao
1/2 oz Brandy

Layer each liqueur in order by density, pouring slowly and carefully over the back of a bar spoon. Drink slowly, layer by layer.