When San Francisco drag queen Gilbert Baker hand-dyed and sewed the first rainbow pride flag in 1978, the 27-year-old had a clear philosophy behind its design. “The rainbow is so perfect because it really fits our diversity in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things,” he told the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) four decades on, when the museum acquired the now-iconic piece of art. “Plus, it’s a natural flag—it’s from the sky!”
The rainbow flag has evolved into many different permutations since—there are now pride flags for a constellation of gender identities and sexual orientations, including a recently redesigned rainbow flag that acknowledges the debt of the LGBTQ movement to trans people of color like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Riviera.
Baker passed away in April of 2017, but you can imagine him smiling at the thought of his creation’s newest iteration, courtesy of queer and nonbinary anthropologist Laurie Raye: space pride flags, in which the typical colors of pride flags are replaced with similarly colored stripes of galaxies, nebulae, and other heavenly bodies.
“I collect a lot of pictures of space, I really like looking at them,” Raye, who uses they/them pronouns, told Broadly. “I find it really relaxing to get lost in stars for a little bit. I had some white, purple, and black nebulas that I used for the non-binary flag lined up in my image folder, and thought ‘If there was a yellow, it would make the non-binary flag.’
I just posted that one to Facebook, then a friend asked for the trans flag, then a couple of other friends asked for a couple more… so I originally only did a handful of flags and didn't expect it to be so popular.”
On Twitter, over 1,200 people have retweeted Raye’s trans and nonbinary flags, and their Facebook post collating all the space pride flags has been shared almost 15,000 times. There is a galactic version of Baker’s rainbow flag, as well as flags for a multitude of different identities, including bisexual pride, pansexual pride, genderqueer pride, lesbian pride, and genderfluid pride.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive. The responses which have most touched my heart I think are from people who were introduced to various gender identities or orientations via my flags,” Raye says. “Seeing someone say ‘Wow, I didn't know there was a name for this feeling! I guess this is me!’ is really heartwarming.”
As MoMA curatorial assistant Michelle Millar pointed out in her 2017 obituary of Baker, the designer never trademarked his design—”very much like those designers who gave us other universal symbols, such as Gary Anderson’s recycling symbol, or Gerald Holtom’s peace sign.”
Similarly, Raye wants the space pride flags to be accessible to everyone, and credits the Mount Lemmon Skycenter as the source of their galaxy photos. “I want people to steal them,” they say. “I want people to use them wherever they like, they are a free gift to my community. That's all I hope to get out of this!”
In his interview with MoMA, Baker said that he saw his rainbow flag as a powerful symbol of unity. “What the rainbow has given our people is a thing that connects us,” he explained. “I can go to another country, and if I see a rainbow flag, I feel like that’s someone who is a kindred spirit or [that it’s] a safe place to go. It’s sort of a language, and it’s also proclaiming power.”
With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why Raye’s space pride flags have touched such a nerve among LGBTQ people. No matter which part of the rainbow you identify with, we’re all connected under the same open sky. As Raye puts it: “I have also seen people commenting things like ‘we are all made of stardust’ which is a really nice thought. We are the children of long-dead stars, and if we are queer, then surely some stars are also queer.”
“That's the rules now,” they add, “the stars are gay.”