LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Lynn Segerblom, who chose the material and hand dyed each stripe of white cotton muslin for the original rainbow flags, appeared at the Gay and Lesbian Center in Los Angeles on March 17 as part of a public panel discussing the iconic international LGBTQ symbol that the flags have become since their creation.

She also announced that a GoFundMe campaign has been started for her to continue making similar gay flags for presentation to various LGBTQ groups, as well as the headquarters of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and one for the transgender marshall for the Los Angeles Gay Pride parade in June.

Originally called Faerie Argyle Rainbow at that time, and a member of the Angels of Light Theatre Company, Segerblom along with Gilbert Baker headed up the decorations committee for the 1978 Gay Freedom Day committee, which produced the parade and celebration in San Francisco, Calif.

A call was put out to the artists of San Francisco to make flags for that year’s Gay Freedom Day celebration. Another friend, fashion designer, tailor and photographer James McNamara, then joined Faerie (Lynn) and Baker, and the three of them joined together to create the rainbow flags.

With several years of experience tie-dyeing garments and preparing fabric for designers, the 21-year-old Segerblom spent weeks preparing the heavy cotton muslin and dyeing it in large trash cans on the roof at 330 Grove, a gay community center, washing and drying the panels carefully before and after dyeing them, prior to them being ironed and sewn together in a artist loft workspace behind the Top Floor Gallery.

The group of three friends, Segerblom, McNamara, Baker, at times living with one another, gathered others to help them out with the effort. Lee Mentley, one of two directors in charge of the Top Floor Gallery, which was housed inside 330 Grove, provided support and encouragement to the project. He also chaired the Eureka Noe Valley Artist Coalition, whose artists made up a bulk of the decorations committee.

It was a group effort with 30 artists helping out on the two larger 40’ x 60’ flags, as both Baker and McNamara sewed the panels together with only three Singer sewing machines that Segerblom, Baker and McNamara owned.

Segerblom also helped with the sewing, once the dyeing was complete. In fact, historian Glenne McElhinney was one of those volunteers, rinsing the dyed fabric and helping to move the materials and finished flags around in her truck.
The two larger flags were flown in the Civic Center’s U.N. Plaza on June 25, 1978, a day just months before Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated that fall. The decorations committee artists also contributed approximately 18 smaller individual flags that were raised around the reflecting pool in the civic center area. McNamara and others photographed the flags that day. They were then stored at 330 Grove for a few years, being flown on other occasions from time to time. Sadly, the original flags were not preserved, and are presumed lost over time and their location today, if any, is not known.

Afterwards, Segerblom relocated to Los Angeles, where she still resides today.

Baker continued to create other rainbow flags and art projects in New York. In 1994, he created the mile-long Rainbow Flag carried that year in the New York Gay Pride Parade. Baker was honored two years ago when he died at age 65. His memoir publishes later this year.

McNamara, who had studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, returned to the East Coast living in New Jersey, where he died in 1999.

He left a wealth of images, mostly negatives and Kodachrome slides that he had taken at the time of the making of the flags. They show Baker, Faerie and himself (occasionally since he was most often found behind the camera) along with other friends, raising the flags and enjoying the parade festivities.

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Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen was formerly QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director from 2001-2019 when she retired.