A rainbow flag is a multi-colored flag consisting of stripes in the colors of the rainbow. The actual colors shown differ, but many of the designs are based on the traditional scheme of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, or some more modern division of the rainbow spectrum (often excluding indigo, and sometimes including cyan instead).
The use of rainbow flags has a long tradition; they are displayed in many cultures around the world as a sign of diversity and inclusiveness, of hope and of yearning.
There are several independent rainbow flags in use today. The most widely known worldwide is the pride flag representing gay pride. The peace flag is especially popular in Italy and the cooperative flag symbolizes the international co-operative movement. It is also used by Andean people to represent the legacy of the Inca empire (Wiphala) and Andean movements.
The use of rainbow flags as a sign of diversity, inclusiveness, hope and yearning has a long history. This choice of the rainbow, in the form of a flag for convenience, harkens back to the rainbow as a symbol of biblical promise. God first created the rainbow as a sign to Noah that there would never again be a world-wide flood. The reformer Thomas Müntzer (1489–1525) connected socially revolutionary claims with his preaching of the gospel. He is often portrayed with a rainbow flag in his hand. The Thomas Müntzer statue in the German town of Stolberg also shows him holding a rainbow flag in his hand.
In the German Peasants’ War of the 16th century, the rainbow flag together with the peasants’ boot (“Bundschuh”) was used as the sign of a new era, of hope and of social change.
In 1961, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi designed the rainbow tallit (prayer shawl) as a symbol of the Kabalah for the members of the Jewish Bene Ohr (“The Children of Light”). It is a vertically presented rainbow, with each colour separated by black stripes of varying thicknesses. The colors represent aspects of God; the black stripes and white spaces represent aspects of creation and protection.
A seven-colour rainbow flag is a common symbol of the international cooperative movement. The rainbow flag has been the cooperative emblem since 1921 when the International Co-operative Congress of World Co-op Leaders met in Basel, Switzerland to identify and define the growing cooperative movement’s common values and ideals to help unite co-ops around the world.
In Essen, Germany in 1922, the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) designed an international co-op symbol and a flag for the first “Co-operators’ Day,” which was held in July 1923. After some experiments with different designs, a famous French cooperator, Professor Charles Gide, suggested using the seven colours of the rainbow for the flag. He pointed out that the rainbow symbolized unity in diversity and the power of light, enlightenment and progress. The first co-op rainbow flag was completed in 1924 and was adopted as an official symbol of the international cooperative movement in 1925.
In 2001, the ICA’s official flag was changed from a rainbow flag to a rainbow logo flag on a white field, to clearly promote and strengthen the cooperative image, but still use the rainbow image. Other organizations sometimes use the traditional rainbow flag as a symbol of cooperation.
Like the rainbow, this flag is a symbol of hope and peace. The seven colours from flags around the world fly in harmony. Each of the seven colours in the co-operative flag have been assigned the following meaning:
red: stands for courage;
orange: offers the vision of possibilities;
yellow: represents the challenge that GREEN has kindled;
green: indicates a challenge to co-operators to strive for growth of membership and of understanding of the aims and values of co-operation;
sky blue: suggests far horizons, the need to provide education and help less fortunate people and strive toward global unity.
dark blue: suggests pessimism: a reminder that less fortunate people have needs that may be met through the benefits of cooperation.
violet: is the colour of warmth, beauty, and friendship.
The ICA has been flying a flag with its official logo since April 2001, when its Board decided to replace the traditional rainbow flag. Its use by a number of non-cooperative groups led to confusion in several countries around the world.
Meher Baba designed a rainbow flag on April 23, 1924. It is flown each year near his samadhi (tomb-shrine) in Meherabad, India during the week of Amartithi (the anniversary of his death on January 31, 1969). Baba explained the symbolism, saying, “The colors in the flag signify man’s rise from the grossest of impressions of lust and anger – symbolized by red – to the culmination in the highest state of spirituality and oneness with God – symbolized by sky blue.
The world’s best-known version of the rainbow flag, sometimes called ‘the freedom flag’, was popularized as a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride and diversity by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. The different colors symbolize diversity in the gay community, and the flag is used predominantly at gay pride events and in gay villages worldwide in various forms including banners, clothing and jewelry. For the 25th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots, held in 1994 in New York city, a mile-long rainbow flag was created and post-parade cut up in sections that have since been used around the world.
Originally created with eight colors, pink and turquoise were removed for production purposes and as of 1979, it consists of six colored stripes, which should always be displayed with red on top or to left. It is most commonly flown with the red stripe on top, as the colors appear in a natural rainbow. Aside from the obvious symbolism of a mixed LGBT community, the colors were designed to symbolize: red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), blue (harmony), and purple/violet (spirit). The removed colors stood for sex (pink) and art/magic (turquoise).