Episode 11: Rainbow Rising: The First Pride

Leigh and Gretchen welcome you to their first Pride month special and the first of an ongoing series on Queer civil rights movements in the United States. And what better way to do both than to dive into the lives of Gilbert Baker---the maker of the first rainbow pride flag---and Brenda Howard---one of the primary organizers of the first Pride march commemorating the Stonewall riots and Pride week. Pride is a special month for those of us in the queer community, so we wanted to celebrate our forefathers and foremothers that make this month possible. Do you like bisexual curmudgeons and people with nicknames like "Busty Ross"? We sure do. One of the best things about recent queer civil rights history in the United States is getting to know the people who directly affected how we live our lives now. And with these two, we've found people to admire and emulate. So, get ready to meet the Mother of Pride and the Gay Betsy Ross!

A Look at Gilbert Baker

 Gilbert Baker in front of his mile long flag for Stonewall 25 in 1994 (© Fredrick Persson EP)

Gilbert Baker in front of his mile long flag for Stonewall 25 in 1994 (© Fredrick Persson EP)

 Gilbert (in the vest) and collaborators raising the first flag in 1978 (© gilbertbaker.com)

Gilbert (in the vest) and collaborators raising the first flag in 1978 (© gilbertbaker.com)

 Gilbert Baker dressed as his drag persona, Busty Ross (© Getty Images)

Gilbert Baker dressed as his drag persona, Busty Ross (© Getty Images)

 More fabulous Busty Ross!

More fabulous Busty Ross!

 Gilbert's original eight-striped flag in 1978. The hot pink and turquoise were later removed to make mass production easier, and to make it easy to fly the flag in two halves (three colors each) from lightposts on either side of the street following Harvey Milk's assassination. However, in 2004 at the Key West Pride Festival, Gilbert said it was time to bring back the two stripes: "We lost two of the original colors, pink and turquoise. It’s time, however, to restore the original design. First, it is simply more beautiful and more authentic. Moreover, when we lost the pink, we lost the symbol for our sexual liberation. The missing turquoise honors Native Americans and the magic of life. Both colors are needed to embrace our history."

Gilbert's original eight-striped flag in 1978. The hot pink and turquoise were later removed to make mass production easier, and to make it easy to fly the flag in two halves (three colors each) from lightposts on either side of the street following Harvey Milk's assassination. However, in 2004 at the Key West Pride Festival, Gilbert said it was time to bring back the two stripes: "We lost two of the original colors, pink and turquoise. It’s time, however, to restore the original design. First, it is simply more beautiful and more authentic. Moreover, when we lost the pink, we lost the symbol for our sexual liberation. The missing turquoise honors Native Americans and the magic of life. Both colors are needed to embrace our history."

 Baker's mile-long flag at Stonewall 25. (© Eric Miller)

Baker's mile-long flag at Stonewall 25. (© Eric Miller)

 Gilbert in the 2015 San Francisco Pride parade. (© Gilbert Baker's facebook)

Gilbert in the 2015 San Francisco Pride parade. (© Gilbert Baker's facebook)

 Gilbert with president barack obama in 2016, where he presented obama with a handmade rainbow flag. look at that tie!

Gilbert with president barack obama in 2016, where he presented obama with a handmade rainbow flag. look at that tie!

Homage to Gilbert

 google's doodle for gilbert's 66th birthday. google animators went to fabric stores in san francisco, obtained fabric, and animated this stop-motion cuteness to emulate gilbert's process of the flag creation. (© google - learn more  here )

google's doodle for gilbert's 66th birthday. google animators went to fabric stores in san francisco, obtained fabric, and animated this stop-motion cuteness to emulate gilbert's process of the flag creation. (© google - learn more here)

 

A Look at Brenda Howard

 Brenda (top right, glasses) resting with the women's contingent after the first Pride march in 1970. (Unless otherwise noted, all images of Brenda Howard ©  New York Area Bisexual Network's Facebook )

Brenda (top right, glasses) resting with the women's contingent after the first Pride march in 1970. (Unless otherwise noted, all images of Brenda Howard © New York Area Bisexual Network's Facebook)

 Brenda (second from left, glasses and pigtails) with Bob Kohler, Sylvia Rivera, etc. at an LGBTQ Demonstration at Bellevue Hospital in 1970.

Brenda (second from left, glasses and pigtails) with Bob Kohler, Sylvia Rivera, etc. at an LGBTQ Demonstration at Bellevue Hospital in 1970.

 Brenda (left, pigtails and glasses) at a meeting with other members of the Gay Liberation Front in 1970.

Brenda (left, pigtails and glasses) at a meeting with other members of the Gay Liberation Front in 1970.

 Meeting of radical women's group Lavender Menace with Brenda in the background (left, black shirt), early 1970s.

Meeting of radical women's group Lavender Menace with Brenda in the background (left, black shirt), early 1970s.

 Brenda at NYC Pride marche late 1970s/early 1980s.

Brenda at NYC Pride marche late 1970s/early 1980s.

 Brenda ca 1990. 

Brenda ca 1990. 

 Brenda Howard at an ACT UP New York demonstration circa 1997-1998.

Brenda Howard at an ACT UP New York demonstration circa 1997-1998.

 Undated photo of Brenda (left, white pants) with her partner Larry Nelson marching with the PFLAG Queens at the St. Patrick's Day for All parade. 

Undated photo of Brenda (left, white pants) with her partner Larry Nelson marching with the PFLAG Queens at the St. Patrick's Day for All parade. 

 New York Area Bisexual Network contingent at NYC Pride March with Brenda Howard visible second from the right (black tank top). 

New York Area Bisexual Network contingent at NYC Pride March with Brenda Howard visible second from the right (black tank top). 

An Ode to Brenda Howard 

Brenda's good friend Dorothy Danaher-Gilpin, Ed.D, wrote this poem in honor of Brenda’s passing:

In Honor of Brenda
When I was in pigtails
You were already marching
Voice firm and loud
Banners held high

I, blissful in suburbia
Years from sexual maturity
Watched you on TV
And wondered
What all the fuss was about.
I grew older
And tired of the nonsense
I moved to the Big City
In search of
My soul.

Many spirits were trampled
By Reagan-Bush
Yours was emboldened
Defiant
You strode harder
We followed
Made gains
Ideas changed
Laws changed
A leather vest and buttons
Your simple uniform
Tireless hours on the phone
Recruiting volunteers
To help you hold
Our banners
For Freedom
For Justice
For Compassion
For All.

You leave us now
With a Legacy
Of Hope
Fight for what’s Right
And
We will
Prevail.

If you want to learn more about Brenda Howard, Gilbert Baker, and the origins of Pride, check out our full list of sources and further reading below!

Online Articles:

Videos:

Books and Print Articles:

  • Sewing the Rainbow by Gayle Pitman
  • Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag by Rob Sanders

Until next time, stay queer and stay curious!