Artist Who Helped Make Iconic Flag to Appear in Pride Parade

At United Nations Plaza in San Francisco, Gilbert Baker (far left), Lynn Segerblom next to him, Robert Guttman next to her and unknown individual on the far right. There were two versions of the original flag, including this one and the stripes only version.  (James McNamara)

One of the guests riding in Sunday's San Francisco Pride Parade may not be well-known, but many are familiar with art she helped create.

Lynn Segerblom is one of the three main artists and activists who helped make the original rainbow flag, long before it became synonymous with gay pride.

The late San Francisco-based activist Gilbert Baker often gets credited for coming up with it, but on the 40th anniversary of the flag's creation, Lynn Segerblom wants people to appreciate the role played by its lesser-known creators, including James McNamara and herself.

Segerblom says they actually made two flags, and they were huge: 40 by 60 feet large.

Lynn's stars and stripes flag flying on one of the two tall flagpoles at the entrance to UN Plaza in San Francisco.
Lynn's stars and stripes flag flying on one of the two tall flagpoles at the entrance to UN Plaza in San Francisco. (James McNamara)

“Those were very large heavy flags,” Segerblom says. "There's no way one person could even carry one of those much less make one all by themselves.”

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There were actually two flags introduced at the same time; one with stripes only, and one with stars and stripes, like a rainbow version of the American flag. Baker, Segerblom and artist James McNamara worked as a team to create the first two flags for the 1978 Gay Freedom Day Parade, as it was then called. The original rainbow flags had eight colors in them, including pink and two shades of blue, not the six colors we’re used to today.

Lynn Segerblom in 1978 with original eight-color flag behind her at UN Plaza in San Francisco.
Lynn Segerblom in 1978 with original eight-color flag behind her at UN Plaza in San Francisco. (James McNamara)

Each rainbow stripe was hand-dyed in big trash cans and volunteers had to wear mittens to carry hot water up stairs and then a ladder. The work was being done on the rooftop of a gay community center at 330 Grove Street.

“We needed help bad... volunteers would be rinsing or helping to lift the fabric through the dye water and trash cans over and over. It was a big job. We needed help bad,” Segerblom said.

The team spent six weeks making the flag, and they weren't sure they'd be done in time for the Gay Freedom Day Parade.

Segerblom says the original stars and stripes version was stolen long ago and has not been returned. She hopes it will someday resurface so that it can be put into a museum.

Historian Glenne McElhinney, who will be marching with the 1978 contingent in this weekend’s parade, is working on an upcoming documentary about the rainbow flag that will include Segerblom and McNamara’s stories. The film is expected to be released in early 2019.