April 13, 2021 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

National AIDS Memorial Mary Bowman Arts in Activism Award Given to Westside Local

April 11, 2021

April 11, 2021

Poet, Activist, Artist, and Westside local Ima Diawara uses her art and activism to raise greater awareness about bigotry, stigma...

Edify TV: Helping Local Cultural, Religious and LGBTQ+ Centers

April 11, 2021

April 11, 2021

Westside cultural, religious and LGBTQ+ centers stand to benefit from a new fund the City of Los Angeles has created...

Lil Nas X “Satan Shoes” Controversy

April 9, 2021

April 9, 2021

Since releasing his controversially queer-positive music video “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” gay singer/rapper Lil Nas X has had...

West Hollywood Celebrates National Poetry Month

April 9, 2021

April 9, 2021

The City of West Hollywood will celebrate National Poetry Month in April with a variety of events and exhibitions honoring...

L.A. Stage Alliance To Cease Operations After Several Companies Exit

April 9, 2021

April 9, 2021

The Los Angeles Stage Alliance (LASA) announced that it would “cease all operations” following the departure of more than 25...

James Charles Admits Messaging 16 Year Old Boys

April 4, 2021

April 4, 2021

YouTube star, makeup artist and Los Angeles resident James Charles issued an apology video entitled “Holding Myself Accountable” admitting to...

Trans Los Angeles A Film Full Of Queer Latinx Talent

April 4, 2021

April 4, 2021

Trans Los Angeles is an anthology composed of four short films directed and written by transgender director Kase Peña. Each...

Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard Tower Gets Facelift

April 1, 2021

April 1, 2021

The Venice Pride Flag Lifeguard tower gets a fresh coat of paint and a bit of a facelift just in...

Pride Poets’ Corner: Double Dutch Nymph By Féi Hernandez

March 28, 2021

March 28, 2021

The Pride LA and West Hollywood Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace would like to introduce Féi Hernandez featuring their latest work...

Los Angeles Becomes First No-Kill City For Animal Shelters

March 28, 2021

March 28, 2021

The City of Los Angeles has become a no-kill city for animal shelters for the first time, thanks to the...

Long Beach Rainbow Lifeguard Tower Burned Down

March 25, 2021

March 25, 2021

Long Beach’s rainbow lifeguard tower, painted by lifeguards in June in honor of Pride month, was destroyed in a fire...

Candlelit Vigil Held For Rayanna Pardo

March 25, 2021

March 25, 2021

A candlelit vigil was held on March 20th for Rayanna Pardo, a trans woman of color who died three days...

Pride Poets’ Corner: Penetrate By Terry Wolverton

March 21, 2021

March 21, 2021

In honor of Women’s History Month The Pride Poets’ Corner, curated by West Hollywood Poet Laureate Brian Sonia-Wallace, wished to...

Remembering EZTV Founder Kate Johnson Who Saved LGBTQ+ Media Work

March 21, 2021

March 21, 2021

Kate Johnson was an artist and founder of EZTV. Johnson saved and stewarded an important archive of new media work...

Sex Toy Retailer Lovehoney Launches Sale On Dildos

March 14, 2021

March 14, 2021

Lovehoney the sex toy retailer that is hugely popular thanks its regular deals of the day or week has launched...