Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on March 27, 2024
Supervisor Mandelman Proposes Landmarking Castro's Iconic Rainbow Flag (And Pole)Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline

The big rainbow flag that flies over Harvey Milk Plaza in the Castro may soon become a landmark.

On Tuesday, District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced a resolution initiating landmark designation for the flag, flagpole, and plaque. The resolution officially titles the flag as "Gilbert Baker's Rainbow Flag installation at Harvey Milk Plaza." The resolution is co-sponsored by Supervisors Connie Chan, Matt Dorsey, Aaron Peskin, and Catherine Stefani.

Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag for the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. Today, it's internationally recognized as the symbol of LGBTQ pride. Baker passed away in 2017.

The Castro's Rainbow Flag was dedicated on November 8, 1997 at the 20-year anniversary of the inauguration of San Francisco Supervisor and LGBTQ+ rights activist Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.

Rainbow Flag at Harvey Milk Plaza. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline


The initial flag had eight colors, and each color had a specific meaning; hot pink (sexuality), red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sunlight), green (nature), turquoise (magic/art), blue (serenity/harmony), and violet (spirit). The flag was later reduced to six colors because of the difficulty of finding hot-pink and turquoise dye.

"More than a quarter century since the flag was raised over Harvey Milk Plaza, nearly a half-century since Gilbert Baker first conceived the rainbow as a symbol of queer liberation, it's high time for San Francisco to recognize Gilbert Baker's Rainbow Flag installation as the historic landmark it is," Mandelman told the SF Chronicle.

Landmarking the Rainbow Flag is supported by the New York City-based Gilbert Baker Foundation and its president Charley Beal. "As Gilbert Baker’s sole remaining permanent art installation, the Rainbow Flag at Harvey Milk Plaza deserves landmark status," explains the foundation on its website.

The resolution will be heard at the next Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, April 2. Should it pass, the Planning Department will prepare a Landmark Designation Report that will be submitted to the Historic Preservation Commission.

The resolution will require passage of both the Board of Supervisors and the mayor.

Tom Taylor (left) and Gilbert Baker (right). | Photo courtesy of the Gilbert Baker Foundation


During his lifetime, Baker was supported by longtime friends and partners Tom Taylor and Jerry Goldstein (of Tom & Jerry House fame). 

During their decades-long friendship, Taylor worked with Baker on multiple art projects including the Pink Jesus protest at the 1990 SF Pride Parade and the Mile-Long Rainbow Flag for Stonewall 25 celebration in New York City in 1994.

Through the Diversity Foundation, co-founded by Taylor and Goldstein, the organization maintained and cared for the Rainbow Flag, as well as the spotlights at Harvey Milk Plaza. Taylor was known for sewing the flag's tatters and making sure it was replaced in a timely fashion as each flag wore out.

The couple was also responsible for funding the smaller rainbow flags that fly from the historic lampposts, known as the Path of Gold Light Standards, along Market Street during Pride Month. Taylor passed away in 2020 and Goldstein passed away last year.

Rainbow Flag being replaced in 2020. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline


The Rainbow Flag at Harvey Milk Plaza is currently overseen by the Castro Merchants.

"Our sole responsibility is maintenance, including replacing the tattered flag and maintaining the flagpole at the cost of nearly $5,000 annually," former Castro Merchant president Masoon Samereie told Hoodline in 2020. Samereie explained the flag is replaced four times annually.

Over the years, there’s been controversy regarding when to fly the rainbow flag at half mast (such as following the Orlando nightclub shooting) or when to remove the flag altogether and replace it with other LGBTQ flags, such as the leather pride and transgender flag.

Dedication plaque at the base of the Rainbow Flag. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline


San Francisco currently has 311 landmarks with six in the Castro: Twin Peaks Tavern, The Castro Theatre, the Carmel Fallon Building (SF LGBT Center), Jose Theater/NAMES Project Building (former Catch), the Lyon-Martin House, and Harvey Milk Camera Shop and residence.

This wouldn't be the first time landmarking the Rainbow Flag has been proposed. In 2017, then-District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy proposed registering the rainbow flag and flagpole as a historic landmark.