The only surviving piece of the original decades-old rainbow flag that has come to symbolize LGBTQIA+ freedom around the world has finally made its way home to a San Francisco museum.
Artist and activist Gilbert Baker made the iconic flag for San Francisco's Gay Freedom Day Parade in 1978. He gathered a group of friends and spent $1,000 for 1,000 yards of muslin, 10 pounds of natural dye, and 100 pounds of salt and ash, creating a design that would morph into a global emblem of gay pride.
"A rainbow flag was a conscious choice, natural and necessary," Baker said in 1978, describing the rainbow as the earliest symbol of hope. "In the Book of Genesis, it appeared as proof of a covenant between God and all living creatures," he told a friend at the time. "It was also found in Chinese, Egyptian, and Native American history."
Baker's expression of hope, however, has seen better times. After decades in storage and a battle against mildew resulting from a leaky roof, all that remains is the 10-foot by 28-foot section that's now on display at the GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Francisco.
"It was so amazing to touch it and say, 'Somebody had this idea,'" Terry Beswick, executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, told the Los Angeles Times.
The flag's pink and turquoise stripes were eliminated because the colors became too expensive, but the other six shades remained. Before his death in 2017, Baker went on to carry a mile-long rainbow flag through New York City to mark the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. He designed an even longer version for a Pride parade in Key West.
Baker's flag, Beswick told the paper, has "given people a vision of what it could mean to be an inclusive society that doesn't oppress us, that doesn't force us down in dark corners, and allows us to be colorful and free and fabulous."
The GLBT Historical Society Museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is $10.
Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets and walking on beaches. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.
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