The discovery and unveiling of Gilbert Baker’s 1978 original

Media contact: David Perry / David Perry & Associates, Inc. (415) 676-7007 / news@davidperry.com 

MEDIA ADVISORY / REQUEST FOR COVERAGE: FRIDAY, JUNE 4, 11am PACIFIC

WHO / SPEAKERS:

  • The GLBT Historical Society Board Member Tina Valentin Aguirre and Board Chair Maria Powers
  • GLBT Historical Society Executive Director Terry Beswick
  • San Francisco Mayor London N. Breed
  • California State Senator Scott Wiener
  • San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman
  • Activist and author Cleve Jones
  • Gilbert Baker Foundation President Charles Beal

WHAT:

The discovery and unveiling of Gilbert Baker’s 1978 original.
Rainbow Flag, returned to San Francisco and donated to the GLBT Historical Society after being lost for over 40 years

WHERE:

The GLBT Historical Society Museum

4127 18th Street (between Castro and Collingwood), San Francisco

WHEN: 

Friday, June 4 (11 a.m. – 1 p.m.)

  • 11 a.m. press availability (B-Roll / Backgrounder interviews)
  • 12 p.m.: Remarks
  • 12:30 p.m.: Unveiling of original Rainbow Flag section

WEB:

glbthistory.org/rainbow-flag

WHAT WE DO:

The GLBT Historical Society collects, preserves, exhibits and makes accessible to the public materials and knowledge to support and promote understanding of LGBTQ history, culture and arts in all their diversity. Founded in 1985, we are recognized internationally as a leader in the field of LGBTQ public history. Our operations are centered at two sites: the GLBT Historical Society Museum, located since 2011 in the heart of San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood; and the Dr. John P. De Cecco Archives and Research Center, open to researchers in the Mid-Market district.

EXHIBIT SPONSORS:

Gilbert Baker Foundation, ABSOLUT® Vodka, Rythm, Big Run Studios

WHY:

In April 2021, the GLBT Historical Society received an archival donation of an extraordinary, unique piece of history, now being publicly unveiled during the Pride season: a fragment of one of the two monumental rainbow flags first raised on June 25, 1978 in San Francisco’s United Nations Plaza at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. Displaying the original design’s eight colored stripes, it was created by Gilbert Baker (1951–2017) and hand-stitched and dyed with the help of volunteers and friends, including Lynn Segerblom (Faerie Argyle Rainbow), James McNamara, Glenne McElhinney, Joe Duran and Paul Langlotz. Thought to have been lost for over 40 years, the fragment was recently rediscovered and is the only known surviving remnant of the two inaugural rainbow flags.

“Finding the Original Rainbow Flag”

An Account by Charles Beal

President of the Gilbert Baker Foundation

On June 4, 2021, The GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives in San Francisco will be unveiling a historic artifact, thought to be lost forever. It is a fragment of one of the two original Rainbow Flags from 1978, recently discovered. It measures 10 feet by 28 feet.

In 1978, Gilbert Baker designed and created the first LGBTQ Rainbow Flag and companion flags with the help of Lynn Segerblom, James McNamara and more than 30 volunteers. The flags flew proudly during the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day celebrations at United Nations Plaza. In June of 1979, Gilbert planned to retrieve the original flags from storage at the San Francisco Gay Community Center. He discovered that the flags, stored under a leaky roof, were badly mildewed. Gilbert Baker managed to salvage a portion of one of the original eight-color flags. This fragment remained in his possession, secretly, for decades. When Baker died unexpectedly in 2017, this original flag piece was among boxed possessions that were given to his sister Ardonna Cook.

Two years later, the Gilbert Baker Foundation was looking for a large flag to carry in the June 2019 Stonewall 50 Pride Parade in New York City. Foundation President Charles Beal asked Cook if she could loan a large flag from Baker’s belongings. She mailed the Foundation the 1978 flag fragment, not knowing its provenance. The Foundation carried the fragment proudly in the Stonewall 50 parade, also oblivious to its identity. After the parade, the flag fragment was folded up and stored in Beal’s Greenwich Village Manhattan home. It was a chance phone call from a stranger that alerted Beal to the amazing backstory to this ragged piece of cloth.

In late August of 2019, Beal was contacted by James Ferrigan, a world-renowned flag expert who had worked with Gilbert Baker in the late seventies at the Paramount Flag Company in San Francisco. During a lively conversation, Ferrigan mentioned the fragment of the original 1978 flag, asking where it now resides. The last time he had seen it was in Baker’s San Francisco apartment in the early eighties. When Ferrigan described the flag, Beal suddenly realized this artifact was gathering dust in his closet. Beal began playing detective. He reached out to people who worked with Gilbert Baker in 1978 and learned from two different sources, including veteran activist Lee Mentley, about the damaged flags in the community center.

The next task for Beal was to authenticate the fragment. He traveled in February of 2020 to San Francisco where he was scheduled to join a panel discussion about the Rainbow Flag with Ferrigan at the GLBT Historical Society Museum. Beal brought the fragment with him. Prior to the event, he invited Ferrigan to his hotel to inspect the piece. The veteran vexillologist identified the stitching and grommets done by Paramount. He declared without doubt that the Foundation was in possession of the original 1978 LGBTQ+ Rainbow Flag and prepared an official vexillological report confirming the provenance of the fragment.

This historic artifact will be added to the Gilbert Baker Collection that resides at the GLBT Historical Society Museum and Archives in San Francisco. It will be the centerpiece of the exhibition entitled “Performance, Protest and Politics: The Art of Gilbert Baker.”