February 16, 2020 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Defending the Rainbow Flag Creator

In response to a “Letter to the Editor” regarding the true identity for the historic rainbow flag creator

My name is Lee Mentley, I was a member of the Executive Committee of the San Francisco Pride Foundation (NOTE: A Grouping of Lions is known as a Pride, thus The Pride Foundation.) at 330 Grove Street Gay Community Center and Director of the Top Floor Gallery where the Rainbow Flags were created.  Gilbert Baker and I were also roommates at the Heartbreak Hotel, South of Market off Folsom Street, in 1979, which was both a state of mind and a real place…!

Mr. Beal, I read your letter concerning the “Woman Behind The Rainbow Flag”, Lynn Segerblom, known then as “Fairy Argyle Rainbow” on her official California Driver’s License. However, I don’t remember you being there…? Were you…?

I do remember Lynn Segerblom, Robert Guttman and James McManara coming into the Pride Office at 330 Grove Street to speak with Paul Hardman, President of The Pride Foundation. They presented Pride with the idea of making Rainbow Flags for Gay Freedom Day 1978 to decorate the dull gray San Francisco Civic Center. The parade committee had not received its federal non-profit classification and Pride Foundation agreed to allow the committee to use ours until their IRS# came through.

Photos: James McNamara. Gilbert Baker (left) and Lynn Segerblom (center) unfurl the rainbow flags a day before Gay Pride in 1978.  

This was the first year Gay Freedom Day adopted co-chairs of one woman & one man for all committees. Lynn Segerblom and Gilbert Baker were appointed co-chairs of the Decorating Committee. The Pride Foundation thought the Rainbow Flags were a great idea and Paul Hardman approached San Francisco Supervisors Harvey Milk & Quintin Kopp to ask for additional funds for this project. Thankfully they found funding through the Hotel Tax and awarded approximately $1000 for this new project.  Neither the parade committee nor any individual could ask for public funds without an IRS #501-c3. All Gay Freedom Day Parade funding came through the Pride Foundation’s IRS#501c-3 that year.

The Top Floor Gallery offered the gallery workshop as space to create the flags. I remember the day the Rubbermaid trash cans arrived; we filled them with water and watched Lynn mix the dyes for the flags. The dying process took many days with the help of the artists from the Eureka/Noe Valley Artist Coalition (E/NVAC). Yes, Gilbert was there and yes he helped but he was no Betsy Ross. Cleve Jones was a volunteer for the parade committee but not a known artist of the Top Floor Gallery or E/NVAC.  Gilbert to his credit worked endlessly to make the flag an international symbol and Cleve is most notable for the AIDS Quilt.

Gilbert worked one of the large Rainbow Flags by sewing it together along with over 100+ other artists who worked on creating several flags of different designs to surround the reflection pool and other flag poles at Civic Center. Gilbert also made a beautiful poster by using a blueprint of City Hall and silk screening it with rainbow colors. I believe he made 100 sign & numbered, I donated mine to the ONE Archive at USC.

ONE Archive at USC Doheny Library in Los Angeles is where Pride Foundation donated its papers and history to this oldest and largest of our Gay Archives & Library through Mattachine Society’s Jim Kepner & Morris Kight. I suggested to a sweet friend when I heard he was involved with Gilbert’s new book that he make use of ONE Archive to see how the flags were funded and created. Unfortunately he was not interested in doing any research on the artists who participated in making the Rainbow Flags as if that would damage Gilbert Bakers claim to fame. Again, lovely & talented as Gilbert was, he was not alone in this process as the creator…!

Photo: James McNamara. “The rainbow, to me, ecompasses everybody — doesn’t matter what your gender, your preference or your color,” Segerblom said.

It is important again to note 1978 was the first year the Gay Freedom Day Committee had co-chairs and that women were fully and joyfully involved in the process. So I find it dismaying that Lynn Segerblom’s concept for the flags has been diminished by people who were not there and have no desire to due diligence on the Rainbow Flags creation by interviewing Lynn or the artists who were there. The question has to be…, why…? Why deny Lynn Segerblom, the “Woman Behind The Rainbow Flag” her legacy and besmirch her reputation without even talking to her or the artists who witnessed the flags creation…?

Lee Mentley

(NOTE: Lee Mentley, In San Francisco was the first openly gay city employee at the Neighborhood Arts Program with San Francisco Arts Commission; President of Eureka Valley Promotion Association; Chair of the Eureka/Noe Valley Artists Coalition, one of the founders of the Castro Street Fair and Hula Palace Art Salons; a long-term member of the Gay Freedom Day Parade Committee; served on the Executive Committee of Pride Foundation at 330 Grove Street Gay Center; Director of Top Floor Gallery. Moving to Hawaii 1983, Lee became Curator of Kauai Museum; Chair of the Garden Island Arts Council, founder of END/AIDS; an educational network dialoguing AIDS; a founder of Kauai AIDS Project ‘Malamapono’, and sat on the Hawaii Governor’s Committee on HIV/AIDS. He was a Hawaii State Public Health Director, HIV/AIDS Kauai-Division, Chair of the ‘CCG’ National Community Constituency Group at National Institutes of Health NIAID for HIV/AIDS Research Washington DC. He served as one of two members of ‘Lambda Aloha’ as Kauai Representatives to Hawaii Statewide Committee for Same Sex Marriage. In 2000 Lee became AIDS History Curator for ONE Archive at University of Southern California Los Angeles. In 2001 he became Director of Cultural Tourism Marketing and Development for City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and author of his recently published memoir, “The Princess of Castro Street” 2016. Lee is now retired.)

Related Posts

Honoring National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day at the ONE Archive

February 4, 2020

February 4, 2020

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is on Friday, February 7. In the LGBTQ+ community, HIV/AIDS disproportionately affects gay black men...

Q&A: Being Openly Gay at LA Opera

February 3, 2020

February 3, 2020

The scene: Eurydice always imagined that her wedding day would be a day she’d never forget. But after a tragic...

USC One Archives to Host Screening of Film on Black Trans Woman to Honor Black History Month

February 1, 2020

February 1, 2020

Meet Mary Jones, a black transgender woman born in New York in 1803. Described as a “man-monster” in the press. ...

Trans Flag Emoji Unveiled for More Cyber-Inclusion

January 31, 2020

January 31, 2020

Transgender texters, rejoice! For there is finally an emoji there for you!  Unicode Consortium, the company that sets industry standard...

LGBT Center to Host Groundbreaking Conference for LGBT Widows and Widowers in L.A.

January 30, 2020

January 30, 2020

Renowned Designer, Author, Advocate Nate Berkus to Give Keynote Address On Saturday, February 29, the Los Angeles LGBT Center will host...

LGBTQ Center of LB Announces 2020 Executive Team for Board of Directors

January 29, 2020

January 29, 2020

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach recently announced its new executive team to lead the organization’s 2020 Board of Directors.  Stella...

Public Outcry Temporarily Saves Los Angeles LGBT Center’s STD, HIV Services

January 28, 2020

January 28, 2020

The temporary agreement restores funding through the end of March. The Los Angeles LGBT Center announced today that it has...

HRC to Honor Dan Levy, Janelle Monáe at Award Ceremony in DTLA

January 27, 2020

January 27, 2020

Award Season is upon us, and the LGBTQ+ Community is not immune. HRC announced today that actor Dan Levy will...

HEALTH FEATURE: Need a Podiatrist?

January 26, 2020

January 26, 2020

Dr. Steven L. Rosenberg treating foot injuries with traditional, regenerative and homeopathic medicine.  By Staff Writer If you suffer from...

VIDEO: South Coast Chorale’s Tribute to Gay & Civil Rights Activist

January 24, 2020

January 24, 2020

67 years ago, openly gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin was arrested on a discriminatory, anti-gay “lewd conduct” charge for...

IN PHOTOS: WeHo Dodgeball at Sin City Classic LGBTQ+ Sports Festival

January 23, 2020

January 23, 2020

Hosted annually by The Greater Los Angeles Softball Association (GLASA), Sin City Classic brought together the United State’s finest athletes last weekend for three...

GUEST COLUMN: Queer Mindfulness Meditation

January 22, 2020

January 22, 2020

InsightLA is a non-profit meditation center offering practices of mindfulness and compassion that are both secular and Buddhist in origin. ...

Honoring Gay Rights & Civil Rights Activist Bayard Rustin

January 21, 2020

January 21, 2020

On this day in history 67 years ago, gay civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin was arrested on a discriminatory, anti-gay...

City of WeHo Accepting Clothing Donations for LGBTQ+ Youth as Part of MLK Day of Service

January 20, 2020

January 20, 2020

Today, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, the City of West Hollywood encourages citizens to volunteer...

Recent West Hollywood Property Listings

January 19, 2020

January 19, 2020

Thinking of buying a house in West Hollywood? With a population under 40,000 and an area of just under 2...