Flag in the Map
Charting Rainbow Flag Stories
New York State Capitol
East Lobby, 2nd Floor
On View Monday - Friday, October 17, 2022 - January 2, 2023
7:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Forward by Dustin Lance Black
It was 2008 when I rounded the bend of a set of creaking stairs that led to the top ﬂoor of an old warehouse in San Francisco.
Cascading down those steps was a waterfall of pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, blue, and purple. I followed their lead to a vast workspace where artist and activist Gilbert Baker stood in tattered denim overalls, a steaming iron in hand, sweating as he evened out the freshly dyed and washed bolts of cloth that would soon be sewn into a recreation of one of two rainbow-colored ﬂags he ﬂew for the very ﬁrst time for the 1978 Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco—the day Gilbert Baker gave birth to the powerful symbol that continues to unite and empower our ever-growing, inﬁnitely diverse, global LGBTQIA+ family. Three decades after that historic day, Gilbert was still busy sewing pride.
Just this morning, at our kitchen table in London, I sat down with my husband, our three-year-old son, a few tired white T-shirts, and six bottles of dye: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple. And we tie-dyed our own rainbows onto those old shirts. Without prompting, our son declared our new six-color T’s our “family pride shirts!” Like most of his young pals, our son already knows this symbol. Hearing my son joyfully give voice to its meaning, it was clear to me that the Rainbow Flag will only continue to gain strength, meaning, and power for generations to come.
But who does its power belong to? It belongs to the people. That was Gilbert’s original intention. And the exhibit “Flag in the Map” celebrates the numerous ways that people have embraced his universal symbol of LGBTQIA+ deﬁance and empowerment, of liberation and celebration.
It’s true that the colors of Gilbert’s symbol have changed over the decades. In 1979 he removed two of the original stripes to create the standard Rainbow Flag we embrace now. There have been other changes, as well. Activists have created a variety of pride ﬂags, inspired by Gilbert’s original, each celebrating speciﬁc LGBTQIA+ communities. Every time someone adopts or adapts this symbol, it evolves and grows more diverse, more inclusive and more powerful.
Some people worry that changing the original somehow degrades Baker’s creation. But anyone who has had the great fortune of knowing Gilbert knows he embraced the power of transformation. He rarely appeared in the same form twice: a man at work in dye-stained jeans, a smoking drag nun, a sequined Lady Liberty, a living breathing rainbow, or Christ on a cross himself.
So, there is no doubt in my mind that Gilbert would revel in the way people across the globe have made this symbol their own. I was lucky enough to see the twinkle in Gilbert’s eye when he witnessed bold new uses of his rainbow -- to hear the rascally laugh of an artist who lived to see his vision understood, embraced, and put to bold use.
Gilbert may be gone, but his symbol is very much alive. It lives in the Flag In The Map exhibition, a powerful collection of stories that reaﬃrm the global impact of Gilbert’s creation. Every day, the Pride Flag gathers more supporters, prompting more stories, more empowerment, more freedom. As it bolsters more queer people in their own revolutions of love, I know that Gilbert would delight in knowing his Rainbow Flag was never his at all. It was meant for all of us. So write your own story and plant your own ﬂag in the map.
Flag in the Map is a growing collection of photographs and stories that reaffirms the universal power of the Rainbow Flag to inspire LGBTQ+ people – especially in countries where their everyday existence is threatened.
A collaboration between the Gilbert Baker Foundation and ReportOUT, Flag in the Map was launched in October 2020. The two organizations put out an open call across the world, asking for submissions of photos of people flying their Pride Flags. The resulting images came in from scores of countries and were curated for an emotionally powerful book.