GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The rainbow flag has been a symbol of gay pride for decades.
During Pride Month we wanted to dig a little deeper into its history.
“So, we would say in the community, ‘We’re planting seeds of love.’”
Jermale Eddie runs Malamiah Juice Bar in downtown Grand Rapids. Named after his three sons, the company opened up in 2013.
“So, we were inspired by the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead—Joe Cross and his juicing journey,” said Eddie.
The family’s juice bar is known for its fresh, vibrant drinks. That same colorful variety hangs near the register.
“We don’t wanna just be an ally or an accomplice when it’s convenient or just on social media and not be that person every day,” said Eddie. “And so we have family members, we have friends, we used to attend church with individuals—so it’s us just being who we say we are all the time.”
The progress pride flag not only includes the regular pride colors but also adds light blue, pink and white from the transgender flag.
Black and brown chevrons also represent the marginalized communities of color.
“Their racial makeup and identity as Black or Brown can say that their voices have been heard, who are part of the LBGTQ+ community that their voices have been heard and that they’re represented,” he said.
Eddie and his wife display the flag to show LGBTQ+ guests and workers that they’re all welcomed and loved.
“We’ve had staff members who’ve come out to us and that has been great—to say that someone trusts you enough to be that vulnerable, and the only way they trust you to be that vulnerable is if you show that love to them for a significant amount of time and build that relationship,” said Eddie.
The colors have been a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community since the late 1970s.
“The history of the flag actually begins about nine years after Stonewall in 1969,” said Tommy Allen.
He’s been part of the LGBTQ+ scene in Grand Rapids since the 1980s, just a couple of years after the pride flag was born in San Francisco in 1978.
The LGBT community at the time was organizing around a pink triangle. Gilbert Baker talked with activist Harvey Milk about making the change.
“So, Gilbert went back, after being encouraged by Harvey Milk in San Francisco, that we needed a new flag beyond the pink triangle that we had before because we wanted to move away from sadness and oppression,” said Allen. “These were symbols that were used to organize and hurt and kill people like us.”
That’s when the rainbow flag was created with six different colors, each representing an aspect of life.
“The red represents ‘life,’ something very powerful for all of us, orange ‘healing,’ yellow ‘the sunlight,’ green ‘nature,’ blue ‘harmony/peace’—the things that we all crave in this world—and then the purple/violet is our ‘spirit.’”
The flags are constantly changing as the community evolves. If you’re worried about not being up-to-date with the latest flag but still want to show your support, Allen says not to worry and that any pride flag will do.
“Flags are symbols; they’re powerful and that’s what we have to remember,” said Allen. “They symbolize a sense of belonging. The American flag, it elicits so many reactions within people, but overwhelmingly you would say it’s a sense of allegiance, that this is our country’s flag. So, just the same as that does, the queer flag has a lot of meaning for other people.”
And those people used to be known as gay and lesbian, then LGBT, and now LGBTQ+ with possibly more letters and colors on the flag in the future.
“A lot of people feel a lot of frustration when they see all these adding of colors and stripes and symbols now to a flag. I’m like, ‘Bring it on,’” said Allen.
No matter if you’re part of the community or just an ally, Jermale encourages others to plant the seeds of love.
“We’re here for it,” said Eddie. “We’re here for true, authentic love, appreciation, celebration and unity.”
A new pride flag released last month in the U.K. should be out for production by next year and includes intersex people.
There are several businesses around Grand Rapids that fly the pride flag in support of the LGBTQ+ community.