Small Histories: Flags, Riots and Faggos

The Rainbow Flag, San Fransisco 1978

I’m always interested in the history of things, and I wanted to find out how the rainbow flag came to be a sign for the Gay, Lesbian, Trans, and Bi movement and was there really a connection between Judy Garland “Over the Rainbow” and the pride flag?

The flag first flew in a Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco in 1978.  The flag was designed by artist Gilbert Baker and was inspired by the flag of the Races (which had white, black, yellow, brown and red stripes).  Gilbert’s flag design consisted of 8 colours, each colour had it’s own meaning.  From top to bottom, hot pink – sexuality, red – life, orange – healing, yellow – sunlight, green – nature, turquoise – magic/art, indigo/blue – serenity/harmony, violet – spirit.  The first flags were hand dyed and hand stitched for the parade.

In November of that year, when Harvey Milk was assassinated, the demand for the rainbow flag grew to use for Gay Rights demonstrations.  The hot pink colour was dropped from the flag because that colour fabric was difficult to find.  By 1979, the flags were hung along lampposts on Market Street, obscuring the middle stripe, and the easiest way to remedy this was to drop one of the colours to have 3 colours on each side – the turquoise colour was removed to leave 6 colours and the flag popular today.  It’s interesting that the 2 colours dropped are most closely related to the light pink and light blue associated with baby boys and baby girls.


The Stonewall Riots, New York, 1968

Gilbert Baker was also inspired by Judy Garland’s song “Over the Rainbow”.  Garland was a gay icon at the time and her death has been said to spur the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village in New York City.  On June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn which was a hang out for drag queens, transgendered, young gay men and homeless youth.  At this time in New York, police would arrest any man dressed as a woman and it was typical at these raids that drag queens were escorted to the bathroom by a female officer to prove that they were women!  This particular day, and it’s been suggested that because of Judy Garland’s death that the people in the Stonewall that night were feeling particularly fragile, the drag queens wouldn’t go and the patrons of the bar who were kicked out of the bar stayed outside.  As patrons of the bar began to come out handcuffed and put into patrol wagons the crowd grew more and more hostile. Other people on the street joined the mob.  Coins, bottles and bricks were thrown.  Police bats were used.  The patrol wagons were attempted to be flipped and some of the police sped away while ten officers barricaded themselves in the Stonewall.

A crowd of 500-600 were now gathered and they uprooted a parking meter to smash down the doors of the bar and climbed in through windows.  The Tactical Police Force arrived and formed a line to control the crowd but the mob just mocked the police forming a kick-line and singing.   This encouraged the police to use their night sticks to hit the crowd.  By 4:00 am the streets were cleared but the feeling of empowerment continued over the next few days with crowds gathering along Christopher Street and in front of the Stonewall Inn.

These events encouraged members of the LGBT community to organize themselves to fight for their rights.  Christopher Street Liberation Day on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Pride parades across the globe are inspired by these events and still take place on the anniversary of these riots on the last week of June every year.


Faggos, Toronto, Late 80’s

One of my first encounters with a gay male on TV was that of Scott Thompson of Kids in the Hall.  I was a huge fan of the show that ran between 1989 to 1995.  I would record the show on VHS and watch it over and over again.  A skit that comes to mind immediately for me and one that I knew I had on tape was the skit “FAGGO’s”, where Thompson goes through all of the letters in the word FAGGOT and decides that it’s the T (that reminds everyone of Christ dying on the cross) that makes the word “faggot” upsetting.  In the end he says “C’mon Faggos! Let’s sing!”

The Kids in the Hall were so edgy back then and there hasn’t been anything as funny on CBC since. The CBC really needs to have more than just political humour and the usual CBC incestuousness. The funniest comedy comes out of the stuff that people are afraid to talk about.  If you watch some of the old Kids in the Hall, it’s still edgy today.  Take the “Scott’s Not Gay Anymore” for example, it talks about sexual freedom in the most hilarious way. I love it when Mark McKinney comes in with the gay paraphernalia.  Watch it below.

I remember hearing an interview with him after Ellen DeGeneres came out saying something like “WTF?  I did this like 10 years ago!!”.  This is when funny Canadians were out there pushing the boundaries.  Are Canadians as funny as they used to be?  In these Conservative times, I’m not so sure.


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