For me, rainbows have been synonymous with LGBTQ+ pride since I was a teen. I don’t remember when I learned of the symbol, but I would wager it was in high school.

My recollection of learning the term rainbow baby is entirely different. I remember it clearly – standing by my dining room table after finishing a newborn session with a photographer we had met in NICU. She had just taken photos of our son, Oberon, who was home in hospice care. She said something about someday having a rainbow baby, and we had never heard the term before.

Rainbow babies dressed for Pride celebration - Sharing the Rainbow Symbol

Rainbow Babies celebrating PRIDE in 2020 lockdown – Author’s Personal Collection/Elizabeth Thoma

Rainbow baby is a fully embraced term in our family. While that isn’t true for everyone, it is for us. We like the shorthand for a complex situation, we like the celebration, and we like the colors.

Sharing the rainbow symbol has never felt problematic to me.

f someone assumes the rainbow on my child’s clothing is supporting LGBTQ+ rights, that’s fine (because we do!). If someone assumes it’s because my child was born after a loss, that’s also fine (and also true).

Elizabeth and Christopher Thoma at Pride - Sharing the Rainbow Symbol

Pregnant with Oberon at San Francisco PRIDE in 2014 – Author’s Personal Collection/Elizabeth Thoma

As it is Pride Month, this is when I think about the shared symbol the most and try to make sure that I am balancing the rainbows in my life in an appropriate way. This sent me looking for some history.

When did the rainbow flag become a symbol for LGBTQ+ rights?

1978. It was designed by Gilbert Baker, an artist in San Francisco, at the behest of Harvey Milk.

Why a rainbow?

Baker chose the rainbow because of its connection to the Hippie movement and assigned meaning to each of its colors. The original design had eight colors, two more than the typical six used today.

  • Hot pink = Sex
  • Red = Life
  • Orange = Healing
  • Yellow = Sunlight
  • Green = Nature
  • Turquoise = Magic / Art
  • Indigo = Serenity
  • Violet = Spirit

What other rainbow symbols are out there?

Firstly, I’ve got a one-month-old (rainbow baby!) at home right now. I’m not doing exhaustive research, but I am finding some interesting information on the use of rainbows. I am not being all-inclusive here… sorry.

  • Rainbows as a promise. There is, of course, the story of Noah in the Torah and the Bible. In this story, a rainbow represents a promise that God will never again destroy all life on Earth by flooding.
  • Rainbow Nation. In 1994, Archbishop Desmond Tutu began using Rainbow Nation to refer to post-apartheid South Africa. This term was meant to reflect the aspiration of peaceful diversity and multiculturalism.
  • Rainbows as transformation. If you’ve ever been lucky enough to visit Hawai’i, you will see rainbows everywhere. It’s even in the nickname of the University of Hawai’i athletics – the Rainbow Warriors. In Hawai’ian culture, rainbows represent transformation. More tangibly, rainbows are a bridge that the gods use to come to Earth and deceased souls use to get to the heavens.

Adding some color…

It’s clear that rainbows have been symbolic for centuries, but the specific meanings have different shades. This Pride Month, to honor the history of the LGBTQ+ flag, I have assigned meanings to the colors of the rainbow baby blanket I made for my youngest, Adelaide.

baby with rainbow blanket - Sharing the Rainbow Symbol

Adelaide, Rainbow Baby – Author’s Personal Collection/Shannon Wight Photography

  • Pink = Love. I love you, dear child. May you feel that love around you every day. May it cradle you in moments of sadness and bolster you in moments of joy.
  • Baby pink = Innocence. Our family’s journey to you was complex. I lost my innocence. But you, sweet babe, you had nothing to do with it. You are free of the circumstances that came before you – their burden is not for you to carry.
  • Yellow = Sunlight. Like the sun, you’ve brought me warmth. Like its light, you’ve shown me a way to move forward.
  • Green = New life. Welcome Earthside, little one. Each new day is a chance for us to grow, to live.
  • Turquoise = Magic / Science. You are here! Maybe it was unplanned and a little bit magic. Maybe it was very planned and required some science.
  • Blue = Serenity. When you were born, cried, and lived, I was able to exhale in a way I hadn’t been able to before. When you hit more milestones, this release will happen again. This sense of calm, of serenity, that we’ve made it farther than last time. This time is different.
  • Lavender = Hope. The kernel of hope I had from that first pregnancy test. I may have locked it away for weeks or months, but it was always there. Now that you are here, it has morphed into hopes for your life and future.
  • Violet = Spirit. Our family’s story has grief and tragedy in it. This is a fact and is unavoidable. Our spirit though, our spirit is one of love, learning, laughter, and acceptance. May you be filled with these things, even as we face tragedies past and future.

I hope learning a little about other rainbow symbols inspires you to spend some time reflecting (refracting?). Maybe this is an opportunity to talk with your rainbow children about other rainbow meanings. Maybe – like me – you want to take time to be mindful of what the symbol means to you and your family.

Happy Pride Month!

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