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history of the rainbow flag, lgbtq rainbow flag, gilbert baker, origin of rainbow flag, faerie argyle rainbow, woman who made lgbtq rainbow flag,LYNN SEGERBLOM, LEE MENTLEY, PAUL LANGLOTZ, ADRIAN BROOKS, JOHN SERRIAN, DAN NICOLETTA, BETHANY THE PRINCESS OF ARGYLE
Lynn Segerblom by James McNamara, 1978.

The following is an oral history about the origins of the LGBTQ rainbow flag featuring numerous people who were there. This story sums up The LGBTQ History Project: In real-time, we are seeing the lives and legacies of LGBTQ activists and elders being minimized or, worse, erased. This is hurting so many people. This oral history hits home: one woman who played a part in changing the world vs. the world. Lynn Segerblom (aka “Faerie Argyle Rainbow”) is the mother of the LGBTQ rainbow flag.

You can listen to this oral history in the QueerCore Podcast by clicking here.

—August Bernadicou, Executive Director of The LGBTQ History Project

August Bernadicou: Throughout human history, rainbows have mystified and inspired, a greeting of light and serenity contrasting the darkness and chaos of a storm. They have symbolized hope, peace, positivity, and the mysteries of existence. They are a touch of the divine. For a moment, we can see the invisible structure. The body of the light made visible. A secret revealed, then hidden again. Although it may seem like a modern phenomenon, the rainbow flag has waved throughout history.

In the Bible, God sent a rainbow to Noah as a promise that the world would never flood again. In the Protestant Reformation, the German theologian Thomas Müntzer used a rainbow flag in his preaching.

In 1525, that flag was used in the German Peasants' War as a symbol of societal change. For those religious peasants, that rainbow represented a new beginning. Later, in the 18th century, the American revolutionary and author Thomas Paine advocated for the adoption of the rainbow flag as a universal symbol for identifying neutral ships at sea.

In the 19th century, Buddhists in Sri Lanka flew rainbow flags to unify their faith. People in India fly rainbow flags every January 31st to commemorate the passing of the spiritual leader Meher Baba. Rainbow flags have been flown internationally by peace movement members since 1961. In the Peruvian city of Cusco, the gateway of Machu Picchu officially made its flag the rainbow flag in the 1970s.

Now, throughout the world, rainbow flags are primarily known as a symbol for the LGBTQ+ community, uniting different colors, backgrounds, and orientations throughout the world, bringing a message of light and joy wherever they are waved. Forever a symbol of where LGBTQ+ people started, where they have come, and where they need to go. When many people see a rainbow flag flowing in the wind, they know we are safe and free.

The LGBTQ rainbow flag as we know it today was born in San Francisco in 1978.

Let’s set up Lynn Segerblom's rainbow journey. Lynn was originally from the north shore of Hawaii and moved to San Francisco to attend the Academy of Art. Shortly after she moved to San Francisco, she joined the Angels of Light, a free theater performance troupe where the members had to return to the alternative hippie lifestyle and deny all credit for their works. She embodied the Angels’ mindset. She was escaping the abusive household she grew up in, looking for a life beyond the suburbs.

August: Can you talk about moving to San Francisco?

Lynn Segerblom (Faerie Argyle Rainbow): I was in high school and received a summer scholarship to the Academy of Art on Sutter Street in San Francisco. My art teacher encouraged me to enter the contest. I entered and won, but I was only 16, and my mom wouldn't let me go. Then, I entered the contest again the next year for a summer scholarship, and I won, again. My girlfriend Jane, who was a year older, said she would come with me and go to the summer school there. We went together, so my mom let me go to San Francisco for the summer for art school. I was 17.

August: While money and tech interests rule San Francisco now, in the 1960s and '70s, San Francisco was a wonderland for low- and no-income artists. It was the center of counterculture. By the mid-1970s, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood that had once been a psychedelic playground of hippie art, culture, and music had fallen into disarray. Hard, dangerous drugs like heroin had replaced the mind-expanding psychedelics. The young queers and artists needed a new home, and they found it in the Castro District.

August: Here's Lee Mentley, a main mover in this impossible-but-true story. He helped run the gay center where the first LGBTQ rainbow flags were created.

Lee Mentley: The Cockettes and many other artists had moved into Castro Street to escape what had become of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. They had all been living the flower child life in Haight-Ashbury, but once all the heavy drugs, the heroin, and all the violence moved into the Haight, they came over to Castro Street. The rents were amazing. I had a 14-room Victorian flat for $185 a month. It was easy for us to move in. The landlords started really liking us because we improved the property, so they were interested in having more gay people move in.

August: Lee Mentley was born in 1948. He knew he was different from a very young age.

Lee: I was born in York, Pennsylvania. By the age of four, my mother called me her “princess” and her “little Lorraine.”

August: Lee arrived in San Francisco in 1972 and quickly fell in with the oddball artists and performers in the Castro District, donning flamboyant genderfuck clothes, performing avant-garde theater, and creating his own clubhouse.

Lee: We lived in what we would call—when people were voguing, they would say things were the house of this or the house of that. The different Victorian flats where artists or Cockette people moved in would be known as Goldie Glitters’sGlitter's Mansion. Our flat was called the Hula Palace.

August: While Lynn was already the tie-dye queen at this point in her life, she made her first flags by way of Bethany the Princess of Argyle, who had a theater troupe for children called the Moment Museum. Bethany's friend needed to spruce up his houseboat, so they called Lynn to ask if she could lend a hand.

Bethany: I was living on Allen Blount's big houseboat in Sausalito when I met this man who said, "Do you know seamstresses or a person who can make flags?" I asked Faerie, "Can you make 33 green flags for this man for this much money?" She worked out the deal, and she got paid.

August: Entrenched in the free-loving, technicolor world of 1970s San Francisco, Lynn took on a new name, Faerie Argyle Rainbow.

Now's the time we talk about the forces working against her. This is heavy and important; we cannot gloss over the details with rose-colored glasses. While we don't speak ill of the dead, part of the reason that Lynn's story is so under-documented and has caused pain to her is because of a man named Gilbert Baker and his estate. Why do not more people know about Lynn aka Faerie Argyle Rainbow?

Lee: I had arguments and fights with Gilbert Baker. If you go through all of his different interviews, you see that his story changes over and over and over again. He even reached the point where he said, “Harvey Milk came to me and asked me to create a symbol for the movement.” No, Harvey didn't do any such thing at all. We had no idea that the rainbow flag would become our symbol. It was something the community accepted, and it was something that countless different artists worked on. That's what's powerful. What's powerful is community.

August: Gilbert Baker has claimed he was the "Creator" of the rainbow flag. You can decide.t I'm just laying out the facts. In an interview, Gilbert said, “I think I added the Rainbow on her name at a later date.” Wrong.

Who named her? Bethany the Princess of Argyle, of course. Queens and princesses could collide and create magic at this special time in San Francisco. Bethany would walk around San Francisco's Castro District and name people, as simple as that.

Bethany: I'm the Princess of Argyle. That's Faerie Argyle Rainbow. I was naming everybody at that time. Gary Maynard became Gary Guitar after I named him. The neighborhood clown was Paul Driscoll. Princess of Argyle, of course, that's my name. Now we have Faerie Argyle Rainbow because she's rainbowing all of us. She's a fairy, and she's an argyle. There you go.

Lee: It used to be on her driver's license. Her driver's license was Faerie Argyle Rainbow. Now, her real name is Lynn Segerblom.

history of the rainbow flag, lgbtq rainbow flag, gilbert baker, origin of rainbow flag, faerie argyle rainbow, woman who made lgbtq rainbow flag,LYNN SEGERBLOM, LEE MENTLEY, PAUL LANGLOTZ, ADRIAN BROOKS, JOHN SERRIAN, DAN NICOLETTA, BETHANY THE PRINCESS OF ARGYLE
Unknown, Gilbert Baker and Lynn Segerblom by James McNamara, 1978.

August: How did you get your driver's license changed?

Lynn: You just showed it to the DMV and filled out the form with your new name—Faerie Argyle Rainbow. They didn't ask you for a birth certificate. You just said, this is your name now, and they gave me a driver's license that said Faerie Argyle Rainbow.

August: Simply put, many of Gilbert Baker's claims have not been consistent, and it's interesting to see what his estate changes and removes from the World Wide Web the more I scream Lynn's story. In Gilbert Baker's book, which we will discuss more later, he does not acknowledge her full name. He calls her “Faerie Argyle” and strategically removes the name “Rainbow.”

August: How did you meet Lee Mentley?

Lynn: That was at the first Castro Street Fair. That was the first one. It was by word of mouth. People came and set up their booths, or just came with food to sell, or just came to be there. There was music, dancing, and food. It was a festival. It was free. It was all just word of mouth.

August: Now we have John Serrian, an artist and poet who, after moving penniless to San Francisco, found himself involved with 330 Grove and the original Rainbow Flags.

John Serrian: In 1972, I ran into Lee Mentley on the street. We talked, and I thought, “What an interesting fellow. He's bizarre-looking, odd, and very intelligent.” We started to see each other on the street, in the Castro, and we became friends. At that time, Lee was living in what we later called the Hula Palace, which wasn't quite fully established yet. At this time, it was just basically a huge flat with a bunch of gay men living in it.

August: In 1977, Lee and a community of activists opened one of the city's first LGBTQ centers, called the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove Street. On the spacious top floor, Lee opened an art gallery called The Top Floor Gallery.

Lee: The building was directly behind the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. That's where we did the Black Mountain exhibit. I think, “Oh my God, how did I do this?” I can barely get to the store today, let alone be involved in so many things simultaneously. From the Hula Palace to The Top Floor Gallery to the Gay Community Center, I was on the board of directors of countless organizations. I just did not stop.

August: Before it became the Gay Center, 330 Grove had already become a place where history was made. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the building housed the Black Panthers, the Gay Liberation Front, and the Angels of Light, the theater troupe Lynn was a member of.

Lee: A dance company used 330 Grove as a studio. It was a Black dance company, and they called themselves Black Light Explosion. It was a cover for letting in the Black Panthers. They organized and did things in the basement, and the SLA hid Patty Hearst there.

This building has a huge history. In the ‘60s, the first drag performance at 330 Grove was by Allen Ginsberg. It was also the rehearsal place for Janis Joplin’s Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Jefferson Airplane. It was a block and a half from the Fillmore Theater.

August: With its formal recognition as the Gay Center, a strong community of artists and activists began forming around 330 Grove.

history of the rainbow flag, lgbtq rainbow flag, gilbert baker, origin of rainbow flag, faerie argyle rainbow, woman who made lgbtq rainbow flag,LYNN SEGERBLOM, LEE MENTLEY, PAUL LANGLOTZ, ADRIAN BROOKS, JOHN SERRIAN, DAN NICOLETTA, BETHANY THE PRINCESS OF ARGYLE
Bethany the Princess of Argyle by unknown, circa 1978.

Bethany: The Hula Palace in the Castro became the hub of the subatomic nuclear explosion magic at the highest possible level. It was almost like reincarnation every moment.

John: God bless my friend, Bethany Argyle. Bethany was involved in this, too. She was coming and going. She wasn't involved with the flags themself, but she was involved with the whole community going ons. When she came into the room, it was like she was throwing glitter up in the air.

Lynn: In between apartments, I did sleep at 330 Grove up in The Top Floor Gallery.

August: Lynn, who had been making costumes for theater and everyday life in the Castro, rented a space at The Top Floor Gallery to continue her work.

Among the other artists swirling in and out of the center were James McNamara, a talented seamstress and clothing designer, and a flamboyant young activist and artist named Gilbert Baker.

Born in Chanute, Kansas, in 1951, Baker served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1972, where he was stationed as a medic in San Francisco until he was honorably discharged.

Baker drifted into the newly formed queer community and befriended Harvey Milk, who in 1977 became the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California when he won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

August: Paul Langlotz, James McNamara's childhood and adult best friend, remembers the three hippies running free together.

Paul Langlotz: We had always been outcasts in our own culture in New Jersey. James and I were hippie boys. You see pictures of me as a kid, I have hair down to my shoulders. In San Francisco, I had long hair for a long time and a nose ring. We were part of the alternative crowd, the more transgressive crowd. We weren't like the standard gay boys. The lesbians were a more unique community in those days.

They were more radical than we were. They were more politically astute in a way. They were stronger. They were outrageous. Really, we were just layabouts. We were artists. James wanted to be a fashion designer. Gilbert wanted to be queen of the world. Lynn was very simple. Lynn was a simple artist. She was a fabric artist. Her work was beautiful. She didn't have grand designs. We were all looking for ways to live, make money, and not be trapped in nine-to-five jobs.

August: No civil rights warrior has ever acted alone. No revolution has ever been won with an army of one. Behind every strong activist, there is a community willing to lend themselves to their common cause. A year after the Gay Community Center opened, history was made.

The rainbow flags were about to be realized. In May 1978, the San Francisco Pride Committee met at the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove to decide what they should do for this year's Pride March, then known as Gay Freedom Day.

The year's theme was “Come Out with Joy, Speak Out for Justice.” Pride was all about being visible, saying, "I'm here, I'm queer, get out of my way." It was a revolutionary act in itself. More than just a fun visual companion to the protest, decorations were a way for LGBTQ people to amplify their message, strengthen their voices, and become even more visible.

With her knowledge of fabric and dyeing, Lynn was asked to be on the decorating committee along with Baker. While deliberating the decorations for that year, Lynn said she suggested her favorite symbol, the rainbow, to brighten up the gray San Francisco Civic Center where the Pride celebrations would culminate.

Lee: She came to 330 Grove one day with some friends, Jonathan and Robert, and said that she thought we should make rainbow flags for Gay Day to brighten up City Hall and Civic Center because it's all gray and cold in June in San Francisco.

Lynn: Lee remembers us having a meeting about the flags when I presented the idea of the flags, but at that meeting, there were just a handful of people. All I can remember is Lee—Lee has assured me that Gilbert was not at that meeting. I don't know where he was because I just couldn't keep track of him, but he was not at the meeting where I suggested rainbow flags, and we decided, yes, that sounds great.

I probably had some sketches—of course I did. I just wish I had them now. Things get lost when you move about so much. Also, this was a long time ago. Record keeping isn't what it is today. It's not like you had a cell phone where you could just take a photo and email it to the community.

Lee: The day that happened, I got called to the Pride Foundation office. The Pride Foundation was a legal foundation with about 35 attorneys who worked on issues relating to gay rights. Then, it ran the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove and had other standing committees. I believe it was in '78 or '79 that the Gay Freedom Day committee became a standing committee of the Pride Foundation for them to receive tax-exempt funding and to receive city funds. On that committee, Gilbert Baker and Lynn Segerblom, known then as Faerie Argyle Rainbow, were the co-chairs of the Decorating Committee.

In my position, I was on the executive board of the Pride Foundation. Lynn and her friend Jonathan, I believe his name was, and Robert Gutmann went in to talk to Paul Hardman, the president of the Pride Foundation, about the idea of creating the rainbow flags. There wasn't a budget for it because the money the city had given to the Pride committee didn't include funds for a large project like this. Paul Hardman called Jimmy Coker and me down from the gallery, and we sat and listened to Lynn and Robert tell us about this idea of creating rainbow flags.

August: Upcoming is two cents from Adrian Brooks, one of the main script writers and actors in the Angels of Light, the free theater performance troupe where members had to deny credit for their work.

Adrian Brooks: Gilbert also claims that he taught James McNamara how to use a sewing machine. James McNamara attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, which is one of the most prestigious organizations of its kind. He did not learn to use a sewing machine from Gilbert Baker. Lee can confirm. Gilbert had to be pushed to show up to do anything, and he sewed some on the flag. I was there. I saw the thing being made, but

Gilbert was not somebody that I paid attention to. He was not worth it. Great people were involved at that time, and they were tremendous, forceful, brave people. If you Google “Gilbert Baker and Barack Obama,” you will see them in the White House, where Baker is presenting President Obama with Lynn’s design.

Paul: One thing about James was that James knew how to sew. When we were in high school, he would make all my clothes. It was great. The trick with James was that he could do welt seams. Welt seams are those seams on the inside of your blue jeans, the ones that overlap. It's what makes blue jeans so strong; they have this series of overlapping layers that are sewn together. That's how they sewed the flag together. That was one of the things that was so important about the construction of the flag.

August: I read online that Gilbert called you after because he knew you could help with organic dye, so he called you about the project.

history of the rainbow flag, lgbtq rainbow flag, gilbert baker, origin of rainbow flag, faerie argyle rainbow, woman who made lgbtq rainbow flag,LYNN SEGERBLOM, LEE MENTLEY, PAUL LANGLOTZ, ADRIAN BROOKS, JOHN SERRIAN, DAN NICOLETTA, BETHANY THE PRINCESS OF ARGYLE
Gilbert Baker, Lynn Segerblom, unknown, and unknown by James McNamara, 1978.

Lynn: That's a lie, but I do know a lot about organic dyes. Organic dyes are nontoxic. They're for cotton, silk, linen, and rayon. Only natural fiber dyes are what they are, they're called Procion dyes, with different labels on them. It's like if I said laundry detergent, that's the heading: Procion dyes. It's a heading. You can only dye cotton, silk, linen, and rayon with these dyes. If you want to dye nylon, you're going to have to use a different kind of dye.

One time, I dyed polyester, and that's really toxic. After that, I never wanted to try it again. It was really bad. You're supposed to wear a gas mask.

August: What initially drew you to preserving this story?

Adrian: That is a good question. It's a very good question. Thank you for asking. I've always been drawn to underdogs, for one thing, and I really, really hate lies. Nonetheless, the issue of a woman being ripped off, denied her voice, and having her work taken over and claimed by a gay, white man is just so disgusting to me.

August: I asked Paul why talking about his friends and their lack of credit makes him so emotional.

Paul: The truth is not enough. With all this stuff about James—James literally not getting credit for sewing these fucking flags together is basically infuriating to me. For Lynn not getting credit—the work that she put into dyeing those flags, lugging this shit up to the roof on Grove Street and then dyeing the stripes and rinsing them out and then bringing them to the laundromat to dry them, and then James sewing the fucking thing together. For people not to understand or believe that they were the Betsy Rosses of the flag, to me, is just infuriating. It's unjust.

Lynn: James McNamara never got any credit. By far, he out-sewed, out-maneuvered, out-helped more than the other people. Without James, we couldn't have gotten those done on time. It was really hard to figure out how many yards of this we had to dye. Now, how many more yards do we need? Are we short on this? This stripe—do we have enough?

I'd make up a dye dash and get it going on the rooftop in the trash can. I'd tell the volunteer, "Okay, keep stirring this, pull it this way. When you get to— and then, turn it over and pull it this way. Now, I'm going to start the next dye dash." We did that over and over because I had to rinse them by hand many times before I could drag them off to the laundromat.

Adrian: Lynn told me about her concept for the rainbow flag weeks before work got started on it. She was in an Angels of Light show in March. She was busy with that. She also designed rainbow costumes for that.

August: Lynn was inspired by Edgar Cayce, an American clairvoyant who claimed to channel a source to answer questions on subjects as varied as Atlantis and reincarnation. One of his revelations was about color healing, which uses differently colored lights to balance energy lacking from a person's body, whether it be physical, emotional, spiritual, or mental levels. While this is largely considered pseudoscience, it opened the idea of rainbows as a healing force.

Lynn: I had Christianity shoved down my throat as a child. I was like, "No."

Edgar Cayce was a spiritualist. He did readings, and he had a following, and he wrote a bunch of little books. It was lucky for me that, for some reason, my stepdad had Edgar Cayce books. He and my mom were trying to explore spirituality without religion, non-religious stuff. They read the Bhagavad Gita, which is an ancient Sanskrit book from India. I read it, too. It's really beautiful. That's how I got an Edgar Cayce book or two or three or four. I read a bunch. I don't know how many, but he wrote one about how colors can heal you.

August: The committee approved the rainbow imagery and made the decision to make two massive 40’ x 60’ rainbow flags to be flown at the Civic Center in San Francisco. There were to be 18 smaller flags that would line the reflection pool, putting rainbows into the gray sky. The smaller flags were designed by different local artists, many of whom were part of the Eureka/Noe Valley Artist Coalition, which was co-founded by Harvey Milk, Scotty Smith, and Lee Mentley.

For the two flags, one would be an eight-color rainbow starting with pink and including turquoise and indigo in place of blue, and the other, a revisioning of the American flag with rainbow stripes. This rainbow flag became known as Lynn's Flag and the New American Rainbow Flag.

Making the two original rainbow flags was no easy feat. With a limited budget and limited resources, the group had to improvise and figure it out as they went along. While Lynn had dabbled in flags before, a project of this scope and importance was far beyond her comfort zone.

To get over the first hurdle, money, the young artist went to Harvey Milk to ask for help. It was helpful to have an ally in the system.

In 1977, one year before the debut of the rainbow flags, Harvey Milk delivered his famous speech, You Got to Give Them Hope, at 330 Grove. In part, it was about the city trying to tear down 330 Grove and turn the space into a parking lot, which they eventually did. In his speech, he describes 330 Grove as our community center.

Lee: We contacted both Harvey Milk's office and State Senator Quentin Kopp's office and told them about the idea and asked if we could find anything, any more funding that could be used for Gay Freedom Day. Actually, they found something like $1,000, maybe $1,200, at the outset. That money was given to us to use to create the rainbow flags. We gave the Pride committee the use of the workspace at the back of The Top Floor Gallery, where they started creating the flags. Now, Gilbert was involved in all of that, but he wasn't at that initial meeting.

John: Lynn did everything. She did all the dyeing; she did a lot of the sewing. Gilbert did a lot of sewing and a lot of mouthing. I don't know how she is now because she's an old lady, but at the time, she was Faerie Argyle Rainbow. She was very positive and very outgoing. At the same time, she was just a very quiet, gentle soul. She wasn't very aggressive in any retrospect. She was totally responsible for creating that whole thing. Gilbert was just like—if anything else, he had spent more time distracting everybody from things. He did a lot of work in helping promote it as a gay flag.

August: Seen today, the physical creation of the flags is a marvel of modern DIY artistry. For a group of low and no-income artists working out of a makeshift workshop, it was truly a labor of love. The key word is labor.

Lynn: You're doing hand-dyed fabric. You have got to get the fabric and dye it. There are all those supplies, you need hot and cold running water, and you need a washer and dryer. We did big trash cans on the rooftop of 330 Grove. To get hot water, we'd heat pots of water up on the second floor where there was a stove. Then, we would carry them up to the third floor, go up this giant stair ladder to the top of the roof, and dump them in the trash can.

We'd do that over and over all day. You combine the hot and the cold water, salt, dye, soda ash, and it's got to be stirred a lot. It's just like if you had giant cotton sheets and you washed them by hand all day, rinsed them all day, and then you took them to the laundromat. It takes a lot of time and effort.

Bethany: I could see the whole thing. Upstairs were Gilbert and Lynn. She was lugging buckets. She's always lugging buckets of stuff.

August: How many people were involved in the dyeing of the fabric and everything?

Lee: Well over 30 people. We didn't have washing machines. We had trash cans with two-by-fours. We had to keep agitating the fabric. We had a thousand yards of muslin that had to be dyed. That took time. The colors had to be really solid. Since it was in cold water, it had to be constantly poked and agitated with the two-by-fours or broomsticks for hours, and they'd do it as long as they could. Then, somebody else would come and help and do it as long as they could.

history of the rainbow flag, lgbtq rainbow flag, gilbert baker, origin of rainbow flag, faerie argyle rainbow, woman who made lgbtq rainbow flag,LYNN SEGERBLOM, LEE MENTLEY, PAUL LANGLOTZ, ADRIAN BROOKS, JOHN SERRIAN, DAN NICOLETTA, BETHANY THE PRINCESS OF ARGYLE
330 Grove by Jim Campbell

We had opened up the second floor of 330 Grove to the people who came from all around the country to be in the parade and march to make posters and to make banners and put sticks on posters and create art. We'd go down, and we'd ask, "Are there any volunteers down here who want to come up and help us mix fabric?" All sorts of people from all over the country participated. Which, to me, is an amazing story. That's where it came from. It just came from regular people and artists who wanted to have fun and make something pretty for gay people.

Lynn: Oh, and the American flag—we refer to the rainbow stripe flag that just had stripes as James's flag. That's how we refer to it at the time. Then, my flag—I wanted to do stars in the corner. I flipped the order of the colors of the rainbow colors so that they'd be different. On one flag, pink is at the bottom, and purple is at the top, in the eight-color spectrum. Then, the other one, I flipped it upside down so that purple was at the bottom and pink was at the top. That's intentional. I wanted to have them be different.

August: Were the two flags meant to complement each other or be separate?

Lynn: Yes. Oh, yes. They're a pair. That's why I didn't want them to look exactly the same. You have a pair of eyebrows, but they're each different. That's just a stupid example. You have a pair of feet, but each foot is a slightly different size than the other foot. They're definitely a pair. Then, one of them has stars that I made with woodblocks. You have to make the woodblocks first. It's a process. Star woodblock.

You have backup blocks and C-clamps, and then, you get the white fabric. Then, you'd line up the stars, and you C-clamp them together, so it looks like a big sandwich. Then, you immerse the whole thing in dye. You have to leave it in there for about two to three hours. You got to swish it around a lot. I wasn't sure if they were going to come out right either because it was the first time I ever did that fold. I thought it might work or it might not. I was lucky because it worked.

Every dye bath has to get salt, soda ash, and a lot of swishing. That's why if you had a washer and a dryer, you'd be way ahead of the game. We could have finished earlier. That would have helped. We were working with what we had. It's like, this is what you got. What can you do?. Oh, I forgot one thing. In the American flag, in the aqua blue stripe, I sewed a lamé star into the stripe.

I had lamé left over from my Angels of Light costume. On one side of the aqua blue stripe, there's a star that's silver lamé. When you flip the flag over, and you look at the other side, it's gold lamé. I just wanted a touch of magic, a touch of glitter, a little bit of Angels of Light. One or two of the photographs by James McNamara shows the star stitched on there. That was just like an afterthought.

John: Yes, she did the American flag all by herself. She also sewed the other one as well and helped people—training people that would come in to sew because we had all kinds of people coming in and wanting to do stuff and get involved. There was also a lot of conflict going on in there because Lee and Paul and everybody in the building, and even around that time, wanted to save that building. We wanted it to become, like I said to you earlier, a community art center.

August: On June 25, 1978, the rainbow flags made their debut at the San Francisco Civic Center. They had the effect that their creators had hoped for, bringing light and color to the gloomy Civic Center plaza. People were stunned.

August: Were you in awe when you looked at them for the first time?

Lynn: I was so happy. I was just so happy. We were just like, we came the next day, and we did it for the parade.

August: Were people talking about it?

Lynn: People were really excited, actually. It was just so pretty. It was unusual going down Market Street, and then there were these giant flagpoles with giant rainbow flags on them. Then you head over to the Civic Center, and there were those beautiful, smaller flags around the reflection pool. That pool’s not there anymore, but it used to be. God, it looked beautiful.

Lee: Then, on Gay Day, we went out and flew the flags and blew everybody's fucking minds out. People were blown away. The flags were so beautiful. They were glorious. Of course, the big flags were 40’ x 60’ feet on these gigantic United Nations poles right at the United Nations Plaza. The parade actually marched through those flags to get into Civic Center, just proclaiming that this was their symbol. It wasn't planned. It was organic.

Paul: It was so exhilarating because we did not realize when we were doing this that we were creating the international symbol for the gay movement. Of course, the rainbow made all kinds of sense. For Lynn, it was something she had always done—her name was Rainbow. Dorothy, the Wizard of Oz, all that stuff just sort of made sense. It wasn't until we put those flags up that we realized how it transformed the air itself. Especially when the flags were brand new, and they still had dye in the fabric. They made everything sparkle. They lifted people up, and you could feel it. They excited not just the art community but the entire community.

August: Angels of Light photographer Danny Nicoletta remembers seeing the flags for the first time.

Danny Nicoletta: It was exhilarating, and it really became this instantaneous moment of pride that there was this sort of grassroots effort to create beautiful decorative art that was tied to the political movement at the time. The fact that it has had such longevity s not surprising on a certain level, although it is against great odds that it became as ubiquitous internationally, historically as it has.

August: The elation didn't last forever. A tragedy struck San Francisco just five months later. On November 27, 1978, Harvey Milk, the first out politician in California, was assassinated. The gay community lost the embodiment of the strength and visibility that they needed.

Dan White, an ex-cop and city supervisor, hopped through a window at San Francisco City Hall and assassinated Harvey Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone. He used his old police gun.

Adrian: There were two important things happening in San Francisco in the '70s. There was Harvey Milk, symbolized by the rainbow flag, or the rainbow flag symbolized by Harvey Milk, and there was the Angels of Light. We are in the center of both.

history of the rainbow flag, lgbtq rainbow flag, gilbert baker, origin of rainbow flag, faerie argyle rainbow, woman who made lgbtq rainbow flag,LYNN SEGERBLOM, LEE MENTLEY, PAUL LANGLOTZ, ADRIAN BROOKS, JOHN SERRIAN, DAN NICOLETTA, BETHANY THE PRINCESS OF ARGYLE
Lee Mentley by unknown, circa 1978.

Lee: I talked to a woman named Margo St. James, who was the leader of what was called COYOTE, which is Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, which was the prostitutes union in San Francisco. I called and asked Margo if she had heard anything, and she said that yes, her girls had been telling her the same thing. I called Harvey and told Harvey that I needed to come and talk to him.

I went over there at five o'clock Friday afternoon, and I sat there and talked to him about the fact that they wanted to kill him. He didn't believe me. He didn't want to believe me. He kept telling me not to worry, not to worry. I said, "Harvey, you have got to play it differently." He was going too fast. Nothing changes overnight.

John: I was with Lee, and we were on our way to Harvey's office. On the way to the office, I said, "Lee, I am so hungry. Let's stop here and get a pancake." Lee said, "Are you out of your mind? We're going to be late." I said, "No, we've got to eat something," and we stopped for a pancake. Looking at it in retrospect, I don't really know what would have happened, but had we not stopped for pancakes, we would have been in Harvey's office when Dan White assassinated Harvey Milk.

August: After Dan White was convicted on May 21, 1979, the San Francisco community came together, and thousands fought back against the police in what was later called the White Night Riots. More than 140 protesters were injured.

August: Here's Dan Nicoletta, who, besides documenting the Angels of Light and their plays, worked at Harvey Milk's camera store. Have you seen the Harvey Milk stamp? That's him.

Dan: His death really brought the community together in ways that would become very useful in the AIDS epidemic because we kept on knowing what to do, mourning the death, dusting ourselves off, and doing the work at hand.

In a way, the rainbow flag's history is very enmeshed with that, like it becomes this sort of flashpoint of, yes, we have movement, and yes, we have a lot of work to do, and yes, we are going to do it visibly for the rest of the world to understand.

August: After Harvey Milk's assassination, demand for the flag increased. It was joyful, unifying, and, most importantly, impossible to ignore. Gilbert Baker, who was working with the Paramount Flag Company at the time, saw this increased demand, and the Paramount Flag Company began mass-producing the flags. According to, as the Paramount Flag Company began mass-producing rainbow flags, the pink stripe was dropped due to a lack of hot pink fabric, and the flag continued its evolution.

For Gay Freedom Day in 1979, Baker and Paramount created 400 smaller flags to hang on lampposts along the parade route. To keep an even number of colors on each side of the post and the cost down, they dropped turquoise and indigo stripes, replacing them with royal blue, creating the six-stripe flag that is most often seen today.

Sometime after the historic debut, the two flags disappeared. Lynn maintains that Gilbert and Lee told her the tragic news. While circumstantial evidence is hard to prove, there are differing accounts about what happened to them. According to Lynn, they weren't easy to steal.

Lynn: I came to work one day over there, and Gilbert came in and said the flags had been stolen. The big flags, the two 40’ x 60’s.

August: Who do you think stole them?

Lynn: It would have taken more than one person to carry those flags. It took at least two to three people to carry one flag all folded up. They needed a truck or a van. They weighed a lot. Whoever stole them had help. I'd say whoever did it, there were at least three people, maybe four—for sure. I'd say three people to get it in and out of a car, or a van, or truck, to carry it up and down the stairs. There was no elevator there from the third floor to the first floor. No, you had to have help.

August: You don't know who did it?

Lynn: No, we don't. We can guess all day, but we don't know.

August: In his memoir, Rainbow Warrior, Baker hypothesizes that the American rainbow flag was stolen shortly after it was hung up on the front of the Gay Community Center for the Gay Freedom Day parade in 1979. He suggests it might have been a construction crew who destroyed the flag. They were working on the symphony across the street.

As for the original eight-stripe flag, there are even fewer answers. In his memoir, Baker says that while they were taking down the rainbow flags from Civic Center, he was hit on the head and knocked out. "When I came to, on the muddy ground," he says, "I saw people all around hitting each other and screaming obscenities. They were fighting over the rainbow flags, pulling on them like a game of tug-of-war tearing them."

history of the rainbow flag, lgbtq rainbow flag, gilbert baker, origin of rainbow flag, faerie argyle rainbow, woman who made lgbtq rainbow flag,LYNN SEGERBLOM, LEE MENTLEY, PAUL LANGLOTZ, ADRIAN BROOKS, JOHN SERRIAN, DAN NICOLETTA, BETHANY THE PRINCESS OF ARGYLE

Widely distributed photos, some of which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicles, and videos from the march itself only add to the mystery. They show the classic rainbow flag of eight stripes and the American revision flying at Civic Center in 1979.

In a plot twist, the rainbow flag has now been found!

The rainbow flag, not Lynn's new American flag, has been found and is back home in San Francisco at the GLBT Historical Society.

Where was it found? Gilbert Baker's storage unit. Gilbert said for years that the flag was stolen, and then his team would propose that he managed to “quietly rescue” a 10’ by 28’ segment of the second flag, which had been placed in storage after sustaining water damage, and that he took the item with him when he moved to New York City in 1994.

John: Some of us claimed our own flags. I gave my smaller flags to Gilbert. Gilbert used to come over to my apartment all the time—I'd make dinner. He just was very much a Gemini.

Lynn: I had to go back to making a living. I was completely broke. Just like at the end of an Angels of Light show, at the end of the run, you're elated, but you're completely broke.

August: Then, Lynn moved to Japan.

Lynn: The opportunity—Esmeralda, who sang with the Angels of Light Theater, was a really terrific performer. She told me to go talk to this guy who lives in Los Angeles in Van Nuys. I was in San Francisco. Somehow, we talked on the phone and probably sent faxes back and forth. It was an opportunity to go work in Japan as a dancer and also to teach English—teach English to Japanese people, which I did.

In Japan, I had a roommate from America who was an opera singer and played piano very well. He was doing a lot of show tunes for entertainment because nobody there really was into opera. His name was Steve. We were good friends and got along well. When I had my Japanese students come over, he would be there at the apartment. We shared a two-bedroom flat. I was so glad that he was there.

August: Lee also left. Of course, prior to their return, the flags had become what they are today, and it was too late to change the entire world's understanding.

Lee: Most of the leadership went into either HIV activism or AIDS activism, or else they died. I left and went to Hawaii. Lynn went to Japan. It wasn't later until that people came back. I didn't rediscover or find where Lynn was until after 2000.

August: While mainly a San Francisco symbol, the flag started catching on and catching the attention of queer people around the country. In his memoir, Gilbert recalls seeing the flags pop up in windows and buildings around the Castro.

In 1989, a West Hollywood man named John Stout sued his landlords when they tried to stop him from displaying the flag on his balcony, garnering even more good press for the symbol.

In 1994, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Stonewall, Baker recreated a mile-long version of the original flag. It was carried by 5,000 people and broke the world's record for the largest flag. By the 1990s, the flag had spread everywhere. For the 1994 flag, though, Baker called James McNamara, the man who helped him with the sewing for the first original flags. James agreed, but then he eventually bowed out.

Paul: At that point, when Gilbert was doing the big flag, and he wanted James to help, James did it for a little bit and then just quit because Gilbert was so intolerable to work with. When James and I would talk about what happened, he would start getting angrier and angrier that he was getting no credit, and he was being cut out of the story—that he was no longer part of the story. That really hurt his feelings because he sewed the fucker together.

August: When did you realize that it had momentum and it was gaining momentum?

Lynn: Years ago. I used to talk to some friends in San Francisco and they'd tell me what was happening up there.

Lee: If you had said in 1978 when they flew, or even up to about ten years later, that these would become among the most recognizable icons, I would have never believed you.


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