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Dr. Virginia Uribe, Project 10 Founder, pioneer for LGBT youth, dies at 85

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Virginia Uribe’s life includes a forgotten epic battle over LGBT youth between the strong lesbian science teacher and her Religious Right nemesis, Lou Sheldon.

Before ACT UP and Queer Nation, there was another LGBT empowerment organization that courageously defied the old socially accepted mythology of gay people as sexual deviants and predators: Project 10. Founded by kindly but determined and focused Fairfax High School science teacher and counselor Dr. Virginia Uribe, Project 10 became the basis for GLSEN, Gay-Straight Alliances, and pro-equality youth public policies, student curriculum and progressive changing attitudes toward LGBT youth.

Dr. Uribe died late Saturday afternoon, March 30, of multiple health issues at Garden Crest Rehabilitation Center in Silver Lake where she was receiving hospice care, according to her wife, Gail Rolf. The two married in 2008 but were together for 30 years this May. Uribe was 85.

Project 10 was named after the Alfred Kinsey sliding scale of human sexual behavior in 1948 that posited that roughly 10 percent of the population identified as bisexual or homosexual. Deeply rooted in the concept of liberty and justice for all, Uribe saw the desperate need of an unrecognized minority at risk because of unscientific societal norms and prejudices. In fact, the LGBT program started because bullied gay students saw how she responded to black students.

“In the 1960s, way before Project 10, the school had no black faculty and the black students at Fairfax High School sought her out and asked if she would be their club advisor because of her principles and giving voice to those who have no voice,” Rolf tells the Los Angeles Blade. “So the gay kids went to her for the same reason, not knowing that, in fact, she was a lesbian.

“A young African American student was attacked by other students for presumably being gay and the students at Fairfax who were LGBT had a sort of ‘Rosa Parks’ moment where they said enough is enough,” Rolf continues. “She was not out at the time but she realized that she needed to come out so she became one of the first educators in the Los Angeles Unified School District to come out – because of her work with Project 10.”

The launch of Project 10 in September 1984 as a “little informal rap group at lunchtime” that became an LAUSD pilot project was not only historic but groundbreaking in challenging existing attitudes.

“Every young person has a right to a sense of self-respect and dignity,” Uribe told the LA Times in 1984. “In public education we serve the needs of all our students. Some are gay and lesbian and we need to serve them too. We’re supposed to be teaching them to live in an increasingly diverse society. This shouldn’t be a place where prejudice is fostered. It’s where discrimination should be fought.”

LGBT students would act out, winding up with poor academic records, disciplinary problems, and after conflicts with their teachers, parents and other students, would too often drop out and wind up on the streets. Closeted LGBT students would suffer shame, depression and anxiety in silence, often resulting in mental and emotion issues such as alcohol and drug abuse.

Project 10 provided LGBT and questioning students a supportive safe space to talk about their issues, learn about themselves and develop a sense of empowerment and self-worth. If they stayed in school and graduated, they had a better shot at a productive life.

“This is not an advocacy program,” Uribe told the LA Times in 1985. “It is an attempt to relieve some of the pressures on gay kids so that they can go on to graduate instead of dropping out.”

The Times described Uribe, who had been teaching for roughly 30 years, as “an avowed lesbian health teacher and counselor who founded the project.”

“Not all of them are kids you would immediately classify as definitely gay or lesbian,” said Uribe, who started thinking about gay youth while getting her Ph.D in psychology. “I’ve talked with some kids who are confused about their identities, but were afraid to tell anyone else about their feelings.”

Uribe started meeting quietly with students in her windowless classroom during her lunch period. “They had no one else they could talk to,” Uribe said. “Their parents either didn’t know, or else did know, but wouldn’t listen. They obviously couldn’t talk with the straight kids. And a lot of these kids were very intelligent, but their grades didn’t show it.”

But Uribe needed more time. “These kids were in danger of dropping out and I couldn’t help them with just a few minutes a day,” she told The Times. She approached Fairfax Principal Dr. Warren L. Steinberg, who signed on.

“It’s another way to help a segment of society that needs attention,” Steinberg told The Times. “We have programs at Fairfax for deaf students, for orthopedically handicapped, for immigrant students, for the gifted, for the educably retarded. Why not gay students?”

Two LAUSD Board members also jumped on—Alan Gershman and Jackie Goldberg, who would become a significant friend and supporter as LAUSD Board Chair.

“I thought there would be some resistance,” Uribe said, “but everyone’s been supportive.”

LAUSD originally provided $6,000 of funding but Uribe, who was only paid her regular teacher’s salary, turned to the new City of West Hollywood with its large gay community for a $1,800 grant for books and other materials.

“It’s the high school where our students go,” said West Hollywood Councilmember Helen Albert, a former teacher. “And it helps us by making sure gay students graduate instead of ending up on our streets.”

After the LA Times stories, people started sending in contributions to help support the project, Rolf says, so in 1986, they created Friends of Project 10 (FOP10), the nonprofit arm of Project 10, which Rolf ran as Education Director. The non-profit helped fund a myriad of programs Project 10 developed, including the annual LGBT Prom, an annual Models of Pride youth conference, the Models of Excellence Scholarship Competition, a Youth Lobby Day, and the Make It Real Project.

But founding and sustaining Project 10 was no easy feat, transforming Uribe into a fierce “David” fighting the emboldened Religious Right, with Traditional Values head Lou Sheldon as her staunchest “Goliath” nemesis.

In fact, Project 10 was a perfect foil for the Religious Right, fitting squarely into the “no promo homo” mold, a term coined by attorney Nan Hunter to describe the 1978 Briggs Initiative that would have allowed the firing of any public school teacher or school official found “promoting” homosexuality. Sheldon was involved in pushing the Briggs initiative through his California Defend Our Children, chaired by State Sen. John Briggs. After the initiative failed, Sheldon attached himself to the merger of the New Right with the Religious Right after evangelicals and fundamentalist Christians took credit for Republican Ronald Reagan winning the White House in 1980.

Sheldon admired political Christian televangelist Pat Robertson and launched the Traditional Values Coalition as a grassroots Christian lobbying group in Anaheim, where televangelists were making millions. As AIDS in the 80s began taking the lives of gay men, Sheldon called homosexuality a “deathstyle” and claimed gays were child molesters recruiting children as part of the real “homosexual agenda.”

Sheldon grew increasingly part of a network of anti-gay Religious Right groups such as Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, James Dobson’s Focus on the Family, Family Research Institute, Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and other so-called “pro-family” groups with sophisticated mailers and computer networking. The anti-gay groups also became proficient in developing “victimhood” as a useful tool. For instance, Dr. Paul Cameron’s membership was dropped by the American Psychological Association in 1983 “for a violation of the Preamble to the Ethical Principles of Psychologists”—and he fought back by immediately becoming an “expert” on homosexuality and an AIDS consultant to Sheldon’s friend and ally, California Assemblymember William Dannemeyer. The Sheldon- Dannemeyer relationship would endure after the politician was elected to Congress. Dannemeyer wrote a whole book on the gays-recruit-kids-“homosexual agenda” called “Shadow in the Land.”

In 1984, a promotional national newsletter for the Religious Roundtable’s Family Forum III said the agenda included “important moral issues such as: the economic survival of the family, parents’ rights in education, the homosexual movement, personal charity, child pornography, and abortion.”

That year, Uribe founded Project 10, and soon after, Sheldon founded SHAPE (Stop Homosexual Advocacy in Public Education) at TVC. “Project 10 is clearly a recruitment program,” Sheldon told The Times. “It advocates for young people the homosexual life style. This is an absolute one-sided perspective. Why should taxpayers’ dollars support only one life style?”

He added: “Project 10 says you are born this way (a homosexual) and this is the way you are. That’s false information. It’s not conclusive that (homosexuality) is genetic. Homosexuality is only an underdeveloped stage of heterosexuality.”

Meanwhile, Virginia Uribe’s network was friends, teachers and supporters, many of whom were fighting for their lives on the AIDS front, as well. It took courage during the AIDS crisis and the Reagan administration to promote Project 10 as an LGBT dropout and suicide prevention program—and to spread the project to other schools, providing workshops for teachers and administrators on how to help LGBT students, how to stop the use of anti-gay words and behavior, and how to encourage parental participation at a time when Sheldon was working to elect anti-gay school board members who advocated for abstinence-only sex education and parental rights, not “special rights” for gays.

Uribe and friends advocated for honest sex education and condom distribution as AIDS prevention at a time when many were still afraid to share breathing space with a person with HIV/AIDS and were writing their fears into law. In 1986 and 1988, Sheldon endorsed far right extremist Lyndon LaRouche’s initiatives to quarantine for people with AIDS, which Sheldon dubbed “cities of refuge.”

Sheldon used Uribe and Project 10 to build his bona fides with his Religious Right friends. In one TVC Special Report, Sheldon cited “reparative therapy” cult leader Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, founder of the Los Angeles-based NARTH:

“I believe it is a profound mistake to encourage adolescents with homosexual feelings to identify themselves as “gay” — and thus to make a sexual lifestyle decision with long-term and potentially deadly implications. Yet that is precisely the goal of Project 10 and similar pro-gay programs, which are being instituted in scores of public high schools across the country.”

“Project 10 is founded on the highly dubious assumption that there are “gay” youth who must be supported as gays. This ignores the formative factors behind homosexuality. The adolescent is torn by intense sexual and romantic feelings. At the same time, he is very unsure of his personal identity. These adolescent years serve as a transitional phase when affectionate, emotional and identification needs are eroticized. Compulsive, even addictive, sexual patterns can be formed during youth. Later in adult life, if this same person attempts to pursue a heterosexual lifestyle, he will find the transition very difficult. He already labeled himself “gay,” and will have established deep seated sexual behavior patterns.”

But by 1989, Uribe’s Project 10 in Room 308 had expanded to almost 600 counselors, nurses, teachers and school psychologists via workshops she conducted throughout LAUSD, according to The Times, with backing from more than 20 local and state teacher associations and youth groups.

“[LGBT youth] have to monitor everything they say, play it straight with friends and parents,” and be silent about their feelings, Uribe said – but in Project 10 they can be free.

In 1988 and 1989, Uribe faced off with Sheldon and Catholic Archbishop Roger Mahony, who called Project 10 “a camouflaged method to legitimize homosexuality” and urged thousands of the faithful to protest the program.

In March 1988, conservative Republican Marian La Follette led the GOP caucus in voting to withhold new funds from LAUSD until it killed Project 10. District Supt. Leonard Britton and the LAUSD school board said no—they supported Uribe.

In June 1988, about 100 supporters and foes of Project 10 turned out for a boisterous booing and cheering LAUSD forum over the program.

“I’m sorry there’s an opposition,” Uribe said, “because, as part of a public school system, I feel that our commitment to equality extends to all children, including our lesbian and gay children.” LA City Councilmember Zev Yaroslavsky and out Municipal Judge Rand Schrader agreed.

Sheldon led a bunch of ministers against it, to no avail.

Students, meanwhile, praised Project 10. “I’ve had books thrown at me, I’ve had food thrown at me, I hear the word faggot 55,000 times a day,” said a 17-year-old Fairfax student, who asked The Times not to identify him.

“I just want to make it through my teen years,” said Regina, 17, who came out to her mother “because I couldn’t live a lie anymore. I wanted to be up front and truthful and honest about my feelings, but it just made matters worse.”

She was forced out of the home and wound up living with another young lesbian friend. Project 10 saved her—but she wanted the straight world to know that “I am not a child molester, I am not sex crazy and that I do not look at other girls that way when we dress in the locker room.”

Despite the constant scrutiny and protests, Uribe and Rolf found other ways to help support for LGBT youth – including a prom where they could dress up and dance together and have fun like every other high school couple. And the Prom wasn’t just reserved for young people—oldsters who had been denied the experience got to come, too.

And by May 2009, Fairfax High School had its first male Prom Queen.

“I think that indicates where our society is right now. That the young people, they are not involved in this whole argument about gay rights. They think this whole fight is silly. They just accept people for who they are,” Uribe told The Times. “Gender-bending is just kind of in.”

Two years later, Lou Sheldon held a news conference in Santa Ana and only three people showed up—all of them from the progressive Courage Campaign.

TVC is just a shadow of its former self, though it keeps its anti-LGBT light burning through this message on the website:

Matt. 18:6

“whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea”

Nah, out science teacher and counselor Virginia Uribe might say. She is now with the many other LGBT pioneers who preceded her in death, including Jim Kepner, Harry Hay, Morris Kight, and Paul Monette. Jackie Goldberg, meanwhile, is running for LAUSD school board again. (Full disclosure: I’m in the photo at Morris and the group’s insistence.)

The Los Angeles LGBT Center assumed the responsibility of a Project 10 project—the annual Models of Pride conference. Center CEO Lorri L. Jean issued this statement on March 31:

“The entire Center community mourns the loss of Dr. Gina Uribe. As an educator, advocate, and activist, she devoted her life to helping nurture and protect LGBTQ youth. Believing every young person has the right to self-respect and dignity, Gina led the fight against anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our public schools for over half a century.

“Project 10, which she founded in 1984, was the nation’s first program to address anti-LGBTQ harassment in public schools and became a model for school districts throughout the country and around the world. As part of Project 10, she was instrumental in the development and growth of Models of Pride, now the world’s largest free conference for LGBTQ youth and allies presented by the Center.

“A true hero of the LGBTQ community, Gina’s legacy of fighting discrimination and her devotion to creating a world that embraces diversity and celebrates all of our children will surely live on in the countless lives she helped change for the better.”


Named in honor of Dr. Uribe and Gail Rolf—fellow educator and now Executive Director of Friends of Project 10—the Rolf/Uribe Leadership Award is presented annually during the Models of Pride conference to a youth and adult who have been models of pride to the LGBTQ community, showing extraordinary leadership and dedication to the rights of all people to live as full and equal members of society. 

A scheduled fundraiser will go on for the Models of Excellence scholarship competition for Southern California senior high school students who have advanced LGBTQ civil rights. Sunday, April 28, 2019 from 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM PDT. Contact Gail Rolf, Education Director, Friends of Project 10 Inc. for more info: [email protected]

CORRECTION: A previous version said Dr. Uribe was 84. She was actually 85. My apologies.

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50 years ago Atlanta’s nascent gay rights movement marched

“It was mostly about feeling good,” said Phil Lambert. “That we’re not a bunch of sick people. That we’re not the problem.”

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Screenshot from Atlanta Journal-Constitution YouTube

ATLANTA, Ga. – This Sunday, exactly fifty years ago to the day on a bright Sunday morning, about a hundred brave gay and lesbian Atlantans from the Georgia Gay Liberation Front, unfurled a lavender colored banner made from a bedsheet with the intertwined symbols representing male + male, female + female with the a raised fist of defiance and the words ‘Gay Power’ emblazoned on it and they marched.

The group inched its way up Peachtree Street to a soundtrack of chants, kazoos and a tambourine.

Mindful that stepping off the sidewalks could get them arrested — the city of Atlanta had turned down their request for a permit and the police were closely watching for jay-walkers — the marchers stopped at every corner until they were given the crossing signal, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the average estimated crowds in attendance at Atlanta Pride is upwards of 300,000 plus. But at the time the Journal-Constitution noted, even in the city that had just birthed the civil rights movement and was home to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., LGBTQ rights was considered a radical issue that the Georgian liberal political establishment, including many Atlanta progressives, wanted to stay away from. At that time, gay sex was still illegal under state law, and the American Psychiatric Association characterized homosexuality as a mental illness.

For those GAGLF Atlantans who participated in that first pride march on June 27, 1971, the event was a turning point, a moment when, for the first time, they could publicly celebrate a part of themselves that society had long demanded they keep hidden.

“It was mostly about feeling good,” said Phil Lambert, a Vietnam veteran who was in attendance. “That we’re not a bunch of sick people. That we’re not the problem.”

Read the entire fascinating story: 50 years ago, Atlanta’s gay rights push took to street for first time

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LGBTQ rainbow flag was born in San Francisco, but its history is disputed

On that day in June 1978, it felt as if the rainbow had always been a symbol for the LGBTQ community, it just hadn’t revealed itself yet

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New York City Pride 2019 (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

By August Bernadicou (with additional text and research by Chris Coats) | NEW YORK – Many enduring symbols that establish an instant understanding and define a diverse community are intrinsically linked with controversy, confusion, and ill-informed backstories dictated by vested interests and those who told the story loudest. The LGBTQ rainbow flag is no different.

While it was the work of many, the people who deserve credit the most have been minimized if not erased. Gilbert Baker, the self-titled “Creator,” screamed the story and now has a powerful estate behind his legacy. Before his death in 2017, Baker established himself as the complete authority on the LGBTQ rainbow flag. It was his story which he lived and became.

While there are disputed accounts on the flag’s origins, one thing that is not disputed is that the LGBTQ rainbow flag was born in San Francisco and made for the Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978. 

For all of human history, rainbows have mystified and inspired. A greeting of light and serenity after the darkness and chaos of a storm. They have symbolized hope, peace, and the mysteries of existence. For a moment, we can see the invisible structure, the “body” of light, made visible. A secret revealed, then hidden again.

Though it may seem like a modern phenomenon, rainbow flags have waved throughout history.  Their origin can be traced to at least the 15th Century. The German theologian, Thomas Müntzer, used a rainbow flag for his reformist preachings. In the 18th Century, the English-American revolutionary and author, Thomas Paine, advocated adopting the rainbow flag as a universal symbol for identifying neutral ships at sea.

Rainbow flags were flown by Buddhists in Sri Lanka in the late 19th Century as a unifying emblem of their faith. They also represent the Peruvian city of Cusco, are flown by Indians on January 31st to commemorate the passing of the spiritual leader Meher Baba, and since 1961, have represented members of international peace movements. 

Now, the rainbow flag has become the symbol for the LGBTQ community, a community of different colors, backgrounds, and orientations united together, bringing light and joy to the world. A forever symbol of where they started, where they have come, and where they need to go. When many LGBTQ people see a rainbow flag flowing in the wind, they know they are safe and free. 

Modern version of the Rainbow Pride flag designed by Daniel Quasar in 2018 to include LGBTQ people of color and the Trans community. (Image graphic via Them magazine.)

While the upper class and tech interests rule the city now, in the 1960s and 70s, San Francisco was a wonderland for low and no-income artists. The counterculture’s mecca. By the mid-1970s, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood that had once been a psychedelic playground of hippie art, culture, and music had fallen into disarray. Hard, dangerous drugs like heroin had replaced mind-expanding psychedelics. Young queers and artists needed a new home, and they found it in the Castro.

Lee Mentley (1948-2020) arrived in San Francisco in 1972 and quickly fell in with the oddball artist and performers in the Castro neighborhood, donning flamboyant, gender-fucked clothes, performing avant-garde theater, and creating their own clubhouses. He was on the Pride Planning Committee in 1978 and ran the Top Floor Gallery on the top floor of 330 Grove, which served as an early Gay Center in San Francisco. 

Lynn Segerblom (Faerie Argyle Rainbow) was originally from the North Shore of Hawaii and moved to San Francisco where she attended art school at the Academy of Art. Her life changed when she found a new passion in tie-dye and rainbows in the early 1970s. Entrenched in the free-loving technicolor world of San Francisco, in 1976, Lynn legally changed her name to Faerie Argyle Rainbow. She joined the Angels of Light, a “free” performance art troupe where the members had to return to an alternative, hippie lifestyle and deny credit for their work. 

Lynn Segerblom by James McNamara, 1978

Shortly after the original rainbow flags were flown for the last time, both Lynn and Lee moved out of San Francisco. Lee moved to Hawaii and Lynn moved to Japan. When they returned, they were shocked to see how their contribution to history was becoming a universal symbol. They remain passionate about defending their legacies and giving a voice to the mute.

——–

LEE MENTLEY: “One day in 1978, Lynn came to 330 Grove with a couple of her friends, James McNamara and Robert Guttman, and said we should make rainbow flags for Gay Day to brighten up San Francisco City Hall and Civic Center because it’s all gray and cold in June. We thought that it sounded like a great idea.”

To get over the first hurdle, money, the young artists went to Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of San Francisco, California, for help. 

LEE: “There was no actual funding for it. We contacted Harvey Milk and another supervisor, and they asked the city if we could get a little funding. They found some leftover funds from the previous year’s hotel tax, and we got $1,000.” 

LYNN SEGERBLOM: “I remember having a meeting where I presented the idea of making rainbow flags. I had some sketches. At that meeting, there was just a handful of us there, and I remember, and even my friend assured me, that Gilbert Baker was not at that meeting. I don’t know where he was, I didn’t keep track of him, but he was not at the meeting where I suggested rainbow flags. We decided, yes, rainbow flags sounded great.”

The committee approved the rainbow imagery and made the decision to make two massive 40’ x 60’ foot rainbow flags to be flown at the Civic Center along with 18 smaller rainbow flags designed by different, local artists, to line the reflecting pool putting rainbows into the grey sky.

For the two large flags, one would be an eight-color rainbow starting with pink and including turquoise and indigo in place of blue, and the other a re-envisioning of the American flag with rainbow stripes which became known as Faerie’s flag.

——

Gilbert Baker’s name on his memoir, Rainbow Warrior, it says “CREATOR OF THE RAINBOW FLAG,” leaving little debate that Gilbert claimed full ownership for the concept and design of the legendary symbol. He never denied Lynn or James MacNamara’s involvement in the flags’ construction and speaks briefly and fondly of them and their talents in that same book. 

LEE: “We didn’t need one person saving our ass, and it certainly wouldn’t have been Gilbert Baker. He was no Betsy Ross. He was a very good promoter, and I give him all the credit in the world for making the rainbow flag go international. He did a great service, and he was a very talented, creative man, but he could never have done all of the work by himself; no one could have.

Lynn Segerblom with volunteers readying the flag by James McNamara, 1978

We never considered ownership. There was never this big ownership debate until Gilbert started it. Because AIDS hit us so fast after this, most of our leadership either went into HIV activism or died.”

LYNN: “The story is that a white gay man did all of this by himself, but, in fact, that is not true at all. He just promoted it. For that, though, he should be given great love.”

————

Making the two original rainbow flags was no easy feat. With a limited budget and limited resources, the group had to improvise and figure it out as they went along. While Lynn had dabbled in flags before, a project of this scope and importance was far beyond her comfort zone.

LEE: “The community donated the sewing machines we used. We asked people at the Center if anyone would like to volunteer. All sorts of people from all over the country helped us with the flags, over 100 people, which, to me, is an amazing story. That’s where it came from. It came from regular artists who wanted to have fun and make something pretty for gay people.”

LYNN: “The Rainbows Flags were hand-dyed cotton and eight colors. I made two different types. The one with just the stripes and then the American flag one, which I designed myself. There was a group of us that made them, James McNamara, Gilbert Baker, and myself. Originally they were my designs. I was a dyer by trade, and I had a dying studio at the Gay Community Center at 330 Grove Street.”

LEE: “People would come and help as long as they could. Then, somebody else would come and help as long as they could. We opened up the second floor of 330 Grove to people who came to be in the Parade and march. People came in and made posters, banners and did art stuff.”

LYNN: “We made the flags on the roof because there was a drain up there. There was a wooden ladder that led up to the roof. The hot water had to be carried up to the roof because we didn’t have hot water up there. We heated it up on the stove in pots. We put the hot water in trash cans on the roof.”

LEE: “We had trash cans and two by fours, and we had to keep agitating the fabrics in the dye. Since they were in hot water, they had to be poked and agitated for hours.”  

LYNN: “We had to constantly move the fabric in the dye, so the dye penetrated the fibers that weren’t clamped tight. We had to make sure there would be blue, and it wouldn’t just be white on white or white with a very murky, pale blue.

After they were washed and dyed, they went through the washer and dryer. Then, we ironed them. If the fabric stays out too long, once you take it out of the water, if it sits on itself even for just a few minutes, it starts to make shapes.”

—-

LEE: “Lynn’s flag, the new American flag, was a similar rainbow, but it had stars in the corner. I have photographs of that flag flying at gay events in San Francisco at City Hall and Oakland.” 

LYNN: “I always liked the American flag. I thought, oh, wouldn’t that be nice? I knew with some luck I could make it.” 

James McNamara, Lynn Segerblom, Faerie Rainbow Argyle, Lee Mentley, Gay Pride 1978, Orignal Rainbow Flag, Gilbert Baker, LGBTQ Flag, Gay Flag, Creator of the Gay Flag, 330 Grove,
Gilbert Baker, Lynn Segerblom, Robert Guttman and unknown by James McNamara, 1978

LEE: “I thought the one with the stars was more interesting because it symbolized a new flag for the United States.”

LYNN: “For my American flag, I decided to flip the order of the colors, so pink was at the bottom and purple was at the top in an eight-color spectrum. That was intentional. I wanted them to be different. 

​I made the stars with wood blocks and clamps. I got the white fabric and washed it, and folded it a different way. When I was making it, it looked like a big sandwich. The bread would be the woodblocks, and the fabric was in between. We immersed the whole flag in dye and swished it around. I wasn’t sure if it would come out right because it was the first time I did that fold. I was lucky. It worked.

I sewed lamé stars into one stripe with leftover stars from my Angels of Light costumes. On one side of the blue stripe, there was a star with silver lamé, and on the other side, there was a star with gold lamé. 

I got all these ideas because I worked with these mediums on a daily basis: paint, dye, fabric, and glitter.”

LEE: “We worked for weeks dying fabric, shrinking fabric, and sewing fabric.” 

LYNN: “We worked on them for seven weeks. I was worried that we weren’t going to finish on time. We worked hard and long hours. Towards the end, we decided we didn’t have time to go to the laundromat, so we started rinsing them on the roof and wringing them dry. We also ran out of quarters. We draped them off of the Top Floor Gallery’s rafters, and they drip-dried. They looked great. They were beautiful.”

Until that day, the pink triangle, used by the Nazis to label homosexuals in their genocidal campaign, was the most commonly used symbol for the LGBTQ movement, a symbol in solidarity with our fallen ancestors. But the triangle came from a place of trauma, it was a reminder of the storm while the rainbow was the hope that came after. The promise of brighter days ahead.

On that day in June 1978, it felt as if the rainbow had always been a symbol for the LGBTQ community, it just hadn’t revealed itself yet.

LEE: “We went out, flew the flags, and blew everybody’s fucking minds. People were blown away. The flags were so beautiful. They were waving warriors. The biggest ones were 40’ by 60’ feet. The Parade marched through the flags to get to Civic Center. We instantly proclaimed that this was our symbol. It wasn’t planned. It was organic.”

LYNN: “It was just what I wanted: a touch of magic, a touch of glitter, and a little bit of Angels of Light.”

LEE: “We weren’t creating this huge symbol. We were decorating Civic Center. We weren’t thinking of marketing our entire futures. It was an art project.”

LYNN: “We looked at the rainbow flags as a work of art, and we wanted them to be beautiful and unique. After the Gay Parade, the flags were a big hit. People loved them. Everybody loved them.”

—-

In the pre-technology world, people and property could just disappear. There were no surveillance cameras.  Lynn didn’t even have a phone.

Even though no one could have known the flag would become an eternal symbol for a worldwide community, it was clear even then that they were a piece of history to be coveted.

In his memoir, Baker hypothesizes that the Rainbow American flag was stolen shortly after it was hung up on the front of the Gay Community Center for Gay Freedom Day in 1979. He suggests it might have been a construction crew working on the new symphony across the street and in a homophobic act, stole the flag and buried it in cement.

LEE: “Later in 1979 or 1980, you can find it somewhere in the minutes for a Pride Foundation meeting, Gilbert came to us and asked to borrow the two large flags, and we agreed. We never saw them again.”

LYNN: “I went to work one day at 330 Grove, and Gilbert came in and said that the two 40’ by 60’ flags had been stolen.” 

Images published in the San Francisco Chronicle, videos of the march, and other widely distributed photographs only add to the mystery. They show both the classic rainbow flag of eight stripes and the American revision flying at the Civic Center on June 24, 1979 and not at the Gay Community Center.

As for the original eight-stripe flag, there are even fewer answers. In his memoir, Baker says that while they were taking down the flags from Civic Center, he was hit on the head on knocked out. “When I came to on the muddy ground,” he says “I saw people all around me hitting each other and screaming obscenities. They were fighting over the rainbow flags, pulling on them like a game of tug-of-war, tearing them.” 

LYNN: “It would have taken more than one person to carry the flags. It took three people to carry one folded-up flag for the Parade, and we needed a van. They weighed a lot, and 330 Grove did not have an elevator. Whoever stole them had help—one person could not do it on their own.”

—-

LYNN: “Before the rainbow flag missing, Gilbert came to one of my workshops. He wanted to watch me dying fabric all day and see how I did everything. 

I was like, oh yeah, I’ll show you, come in.

I said, here, put some gloves on and do it with me. 

He was like, oh, no, no, I don’t want to get my hands dirty.

​He was only trying to figure out how I did the dying.”

—-

LEE: “Gilbert went to these places like MoMa and told them these outrageous stories about how he made the rainbow flag all by himself. He said this about the flag he donated. When you look at it, you can tell that it was bought at a craft fair. It flat out wasn’t one of our flags. It was polyester.”

​LYNN: “It was polyester, it wasn’t the same size, and it wasn’t hand-dyed. My flags were different. The rainbow flag at MoMa was a beautiful flag inside a frame, but it wasn’t an original, not from 1978, not even a piece from 1978. I was hoping, oh, my God, maybe this is a piece of it.”

LEE: “It wasn’t even the original colors. MoMa said they were original flags, but they weren’t. It was a commercially produced rainbow flag with a primary color rainbow. The plaque cited Gilbert donating it as an original flag.” 

Lee Mentley, Lynn Segerblom and Camille O’Grady, 2017

—-

LYNN: “I read online that Gilbert Baker said he named me “Faerie Argyle Rainbow,” a complete lie. Bethany the Princess of Argyle named me. I chose the name Rainbow because I was known as a rainbow artist.”

​LEE: “Even Lynn’s driver’s license said her name was “Faerie Argyle Rainbow.””

LYNN: “In 1976, I filled out a form at the DMV, and my name became Faerie Argyle Rainbow. Back then, they didn’t ask you for a birth certificate. The employee just said, “This is your name now,” and gave me a driver’s license that said Faerie Argyle Rainbow. 

​It all sounds crazy now, but back then, it wasn’t.”

—–

LEE: “I had my arguments and fights with Gilbert Baker because he claims he came up with the rainbow flag. If you go through all of his different interviews, you see that his story changes over and over and over again. He even said Harvey Milk came to him and asked him to create a symbol for the movement. No—I read that, and no such thing happened.” 

LYNN: “Just look at his interviews. His takes on what the colors in the rainbow flag mean are all in his head. The rainbow represents everyone, no matter what gender or race you are; that’s how I looked at it. Rainbows are in nature and beautiful. People love them, and I love them. I knew they would be great color healing.

Gilbert assigning meaning to each color is ridiculous. I think anyone could make up what each color means. If I wanted to, I could do the same. It wasn’t what I was thinking. I was thinking that rainbows encompass everybody, the whole group, unity.”

LEE: “I have tried to convince people that the rainbow flags were made with tax-payer dollars. We made them as a non-profit. 

Not even Gilbert owns them. I have always thought that anyone who sells anything rainbow should give a portion of the profits to homeless gay youth. We need to take care of our own kind because no one does. The whole concept of taking care of gay people has disappeared.” 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Chris-Coats-600x600.jpg

August Bernadicou is a 27-year-old gay historian and the President of the LGBTQ History Project Inc. Chris Coats is an editor and producer.

Together, they produce the QueerCore Podcast and will shortly be releasing an episode that is the definitive story on the rainbow flag featuring Lee Mentley, Lynn Segerblom, and Adrian Brooks. 


August Bernadicou is presenting a Pride event in NYC this year that all folks are cordially invited to attend- its virtual;

Here is the link for the event: https://www.lgbtqhp.org/pride-protest

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History

Anti-LGBTQ activist Judith Reisman dies at age 86

There was the time she appeared on the Liberty Counsel’s radio show to declare that all gays are inherent pedophiles

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Screenshot via JoeMyGod

Editor’s note: Judith Ann Reisman was a vocal opponent of women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights and known for her criticism and condemnation of the work in sexual studies of Dr. Alfred Kinsey. Reisman, a prominent conservative, has been referred to as the “founder of the modern anti-Kinsey movement.”  New York-based LGBTQ journalist, activist and blogger Joe Jervis covered her for over a decade on his widely popular blogsite Joe.My.God.

By Joe Jervis | Longtime JMG readers will recall Reisman’s anti-LGBT claims as a regular feature here going back a decade or so. There was the time she appeared on the Liberty Counsel’s radio show to declare that all gays are inherent pedophiles:

We know that pedophilia, which was the original Greek they say it’s ‘love of’ but of course it isn’t, it’s ‘lust for’ boys. And there’s a strong, clear, cross-cultural, historical reality, people don’t want to do deal with, but the propaganda has been loud and strong to deny the fact, the aim of homosexual males and now increasingly females is not to have sex with other old guys and get married but to obtain sex with as many boys as possible. That’s the reality.

There was the time she called for a class action suit against groups that advocate for safer sex:

The reality is that condoms are manufactured and approved every day for natural, vaginal sex, not anal “sex.” They are not effectively designed to protect from disease those people who engage in sodomy. Such a lawsuit should target the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Planned Parenthood and a myriad of teachers and school systems, too many to count, that have taught that anal “sex” (traditionally termed “sodomy” or “buggery” under British-based legal codes) as not so different than natural coitus. Due to the lies that have told, people who practiced sodomy are under the tragically mistaken notion that a condom is effective protection from disease.

There was the time she went to Jamaica to advocate for keeping homosexuality criminalized:

American Religious Right leaders Mat Staver and Judith Reisman are scheduled to be featured speakers at a conference in Jamaica this weekend hosted by a group that has been working to preserve the country’s criminal ban on consensual gay sex. The annual conference, hosted by the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, will focus on how “[c]ontemporary society has become increasingly hostile to the traditional definitions of marriage and family” and Staver.

There was the time she blamed the demise of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on a rise in reported sexual assaults in the military:

Why is the best-kept military secret that most soldierly sexual assaults are now definitively homo, not heterosexual, male-on-male sexual exploitation? While men are statistically more loathe to report their sexual victimization than are women, 10,700 male soldiers, sailors and airmen in 2010 actually reported their sexual assaults. What this means is not totally clear, since men are cannot technically be raped, despite the term being regularly used in the recent hearings on the matter.

There was the time she compared activists against school bullying to Hitler Youth:

Both the GLSEN youth and the Hitler Youth were trained to be revolutionary leaders of the brave new world order. GLSEN school clubs and their teacher sponsor/trainers are now funded by major corporations and by some state funds. GLESN’s Day of Silence and “GAY ALLY!” pledge cards for kindergartners and other children (left) are direct assaults on traditional parental, American values. German children’s literature historians document Hitler’s pioneering ban of both the Ten Commandments and biblical stories from Nazi school texts in favor of coarse and violent tales that ridiculed religious believers and their values.

There was the time she was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League:

Holocaust analogies generate headlines and get attention, they do little in the service of truth, history or memory. When [Peter] LaBarbera and Reisman suggest that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are “demonizing [Christians] like the Nazis used to do to the Jews,” they undermine the historical truth of the Holocaust as a singular event in human history that led to the murder of six million Jews and millions of others. Holocaust comparisons are deeply offensive and trivialize and distort the history and meaning of the Holocaust.

And let’s close with this notation from Rational Wiki:

Reisman is a supporter of Scott Lively and his completely insane screed, The Pink Swastika. She has claimed that she believes that a homosexual movement in Germany gave rise to the Nazi Party and the Holocaust. She enthusiastically and unconditionally endorses criminalization of homosexuality, despite the fact that homosexuals were were one of the Nazis’ target groups for annihilation. Reisman has claimed that the homosexuals employ recruitment techniques that rival those of the United States Marine Corps to transform innocent children into raving homosexuals.

Reisman, passed away on Friday, April 9, 2021, two days before her 86th birthday. From the magazine of the far-right John Birch Society:

Like Judith the Biblical heroine, Dr. Reisman was fearless and stood against the great powers of the world in our time. When her countrymen were ready to surrender to the mighty Assyrian army, the Biblical Judith, trusting in God, walked into the enemy camp — and walked out with the head of Holofernes, the Assyrian general, thus saving her people. Likewise, Judith Reisman repeatedly, over the past several decades, strode into many hostile enemy camps around the world — colleges, universities, legislative bodies, media outlets — to speak truth to power and to expose vile works of darkness.

Joseph “Joe” Jervis  is an American blogger and writer based out of New York City. He is the author of Joe.My.God., a personal blog which, since he first posted on April 27, 2004, has primarily covered LGBT news and opinion.

The preceding article was originally published at Joe.My.God and republished by permission.

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