Supported by approximately 2,000 volunteers of widely varying ages, ethnicities and sexual orientations, the world’s longest rainbow flag was carried the entire length of Key West’s Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean in a sea-to-sea demonstration of openness and pride.
As well as honoring the rainbow flag’s birth, the Key West flag re-created Baker’s original eight-color design — adding pink and turquoise to the now-traditional red, orange, yellow, green, indigo and violet.
Baker, who died in March 2017, spent three months in Key West in 2003 sewing about 17,600 linear yards of fabric into the rainbow flag that weighed more than 3 tons. He and the project were the subjects of “Rainbow Pride,” a Public Broadcasting Service documentary.
The idea of displaying a sea-to-sea rainbow flag on Duval Street was hatched when the late Key West businessman Gregg McGrady envisioned the display as part of the community’s annual pride celebration. It came to fruition when Key West Pride 2003 co-chairs Heather Carruthers, now a Florida Keys county commissioner, and Tom Wheaton met Baker by chance in San Francisco.
Baker, whose friends called him “the gay Betsy Ross,” created the original flag in 1978 as a symbol of gay and lesbian pride in response to anti-gay activities. Subsequently, he watched it grow from a symbol of gay pride into a symbol of pride for all people.
“The rainbow flag is loved and cherished all over the world,” Baker said in 2003. “It represents an idea of equality and justice for everyone.”
The Key West flag has had a life of its own, with sections of the historic banner displayed at global events and LGBTQ festivities around the world — including the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, and Australia’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade. They also have been shown internationally in Sweden, Norway, Germany and England; and domestically in cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Atlanta.
Baker’s rainbow flag also brought international acclaim to Key West’s 14-block Duval Street, a hub for the island’s LGBTQ entertainment venues. Visitors can walk easily up Duval from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, imagining the day when the Key West flag was unfurled — and its ends were dipped simultaneously into the two bodies of water in a stirring representation of pride.
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/gay, fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
Gay Key West Visitor Center: gaykeywestfl.com, 305-294-4603 or 1-800-535-7797
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