My story is one of creation and conflict, courage and freedom. It is about the fabric that helped empower a community. Dramatic? Well, of course. I’m a drag queen. But every word of it is true. I created the Rainbow Flag.
Pride 2008 marks the 30th anniversary of the flag I first flew in San Francisco’s Castro district in 1978. Love it or hate it, it is rich in its history. This flag has no rules. It has no protocol that governs its display. It is the community’s for the taking.
And the GLBT community has embraced it with pride, determination and diversity. In just 30 years, the Rainbow Flag has become the most visible icon for our community worldwide.
There’s an old saying among flag makers: A true flag can never be designed, but is torn from the soul of a people. My journey began with isolation growing up gay in Middle America, the taunts of classmates, and being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War the day I turned 19. Commanding officers treated me to relentless threats of violence.
Instead of being discharged, I was reassigned. Stationed in San Francisco as a nurse, I cared for the wounded. I also met my closet friend and mentor, Harvey Milk. Harvey had an aggressive charm that attracted the wicked and the wise. His charisma and fearlessness are at the heart of all I hold dear.
Harvey was a pioneer, a trailblazer, and with the community by his side, he became a San Francisco Supervisor. One day he said to me that we needed a logo, a symbol. We needed a positive image that could unite us. I sewed my own dresses, so why not a flag? At Harvey’s behest, I went about creating our Rainbow Flag. I had never felt so empowered, so free.
My liberation came at a painful cost. In the ultimate act of anti-gay violence, Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated. The bullets were meant for Harvey, to silence him, and, by extension, every one of us. Uniting a community cost him his life.
The strides we have made since I first flew the Rainbow Flag are unprecedented. The United States’ GLBT community is more visible than ever before. We face fewer hurdles and less violence than we once did. I can only hope that the events of my life, and the lives of friends I’ve lost, have made being gay just a bit easier. After all, personal freedom is what started me on the road to here with the hope that others would never feel the isolation and desperation that plagued me.
But we cannot rest on our laurels. We cannot take our freedoms for granted. Indeed there are still parts of the world where being gay is punishable, sometime by death. The Rainbow Flag inspires hope and makes us think. Our work to unite our community has only just begun.