When it comes to social activism, strong and eye-catching design can help turn a forgettable cause into a global movement. One famous example of such a design is Gilbert Baker's rainbow flag. Otherwise known as the 'gay pride' or 'LGBT' flag, the six-coloured rainbow design is recognisable all over the world, and is meant to represent freedom, equality and peace. Gilbert Baker designed the flag in 1978, just five years after homosexuality was declassified as an illness, at a time when many states in America still criminalised the activity. Baker was based in San Francisco and was an openly gay activist. After teaching himself to sew, he came up with the rainbow design and the flag flew for the first time in the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on 25 June 1978. Thirty volunteers hand-dyed and stitched the flags for the event.

Nobody is completely sure where the idea for the rainbow flag's design came from, but some have suggested that it was inspired by Judy Garland, who sang 'Over the Rainbow' in The Wizard of Oz. Garland had died a few years earlier, yet remained a popular gay icon for many members of the LGBT community. Others believe that inspiration came from the hippie movement of the 1960s, which was associated with values of peace and acceptance. The original 1978 flag contained eight different coloured stripes, each of which had a symbolic meaning. For example, turquoise represented magic and art, while orange represented healing. Later on, the flag's design was simplified and now has six stripes.

In 2015, the Museum of Modern Art in New York designated the rainbow flag an internationally recognised symbol. It now shares the status of the @ sign, as well as the recycling symbol. One of the original ten flags created in 1978 has now been acquired by the Design Museum in London, along with David Bowie’s Blackstar album, a coffee cup for astronauts and Oculus Rift’s virtual reality headset. The Museum is an important record of the key designs that have shaped the modern world, and the Rainbow Flag is a valuable new acquisition.

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