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The Rainbow That Changed the World

Steve Smith | June 2014

June brings Pride celebrations around the world in acknowledgement of the Stonewall Riots that occurred in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. Many of you were too young to remember the significance of this historic event, but it set the stage for the beginning of equal rights for our nation’s gay community.

On June 15, 2003, Gilbert Baker's 1.25-mile-long rainbow flag was unfurled down Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean  in a sea-to-sea proclamation of pride and diversity. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

On June 15, 2003, Gilbert Baker’s 1.25-mile-long rainbow flag was unfurled down Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

One of the people who took up arms on that eventful night still lives in Key West, and he and I have had spirited conversations about what happened. No longer were the gays standing by and being harassed, arrested, beaten, and threatened for exercising the right to be themselves. No longer would a light bulb be turned on barely minutes before the police raided the bars. The lives of our community members took on a new meaning that night. 

Almost a decade later, in 1978, at the request of Harvey Milk, a San Francisco artist named Gilbert Baker (now residing in New York City) created the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay and lesbian pride replacing the “pink triangle.”

During the flag’s more than 30-year history, it has grown from a symbol of gay pride into an international symbol of pride for all people. In 1994, Baker created a one-mile-long six-color flag in New York CIty for the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Parts of this flag were sent across the country. 

In 2003, two Key West residents met Baker at an Interpride meeting in California. They were excited about an idea to carry a rainbow flag from the Gulf of Mexico across the island of Key West to the Atlantic Ocean — and the seed was planted to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the flag’s creation. 

Gilbert Baker savors the moment as his 1.25-mile rainbow flag is unfurled down Key West's Duval Street. (Photo by Mike Hollar, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Gilbert Baker savors the moment as his 1.25-mile rainbow flag is unfurled down Key West’s Duval Street. (Photo by Mike Hollar, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Baker came to Key West and, assisted by volunteers, sewed an eight-color, 1.25-mile flag over a period of several months. This flag encompassed over 18,000 yards of nylon in the original eight colors. 

Weighing more than three tons, it was unfurled down the entire length of Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean — carried by volunteers from every walk of life: gay, straight, bisexual, and those who embraced our community. The excitement of the event spread from sea to sea.

As with the 1994 New York flag, 25-foot and 100-foot sections of the Key West flag were shared with LGBT organizations around the world. 

We will proudly carry a 100-foot section in our Pride parade that was in Ohio’s Dayton Pride parade. The 100-foot section will be flown to Columbus, Ohio, for the Pride parade there, followed by a quick trip to Chicago’s Pride parade and back to Florida for Orlando’s Pride. In addition, 25-foot sections will be proudly carried in New York City, San Francisco, Denver and Ohio’s Youngstown.

A section of Key West's iconic rainbow flag is carried in a San Francisco Pride parade.

A section of Key West’s iconic rainbow flag is carried in a San Francisco Pride parade.

Key West is a small island with a big heart that embraces all communities: gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered, and allied friends and family. We have embraced diversity for decades, electing the first gay city mayor in the United States. Key West has openly gay and lesbian city and county commissioners, an outstanding police chief who happens to be gay, and a community that looks beyond labels and accepts everyone for who — not what — they are. 

Whether or not you’ve ever visited our warmhearted island, it’s time to step out of your home zone and come (or come back) to a place that has open arms, welcoming everyone and making them a part of our community. Happy PRIDE 2014!

Click here to subscribe to the Florida Keys & Key West’s LGBT travel blog.


  1. linda james Said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

    Many thanks to each of you for taken a part in the parade and showing it to the world.

  2. linda james Said,

    June 14, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

    Beautiful colors.

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