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Is The Flag of Cusco, Peru Also LGBT?

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    Posted 6 years ago

    (12 items)

    Visiting the Andean city of Cusco, Peru in 1994, my wife, a native Spanish Peruvian, and I entered the outskirts of the first Spanish capital of Peru by cab directly from the airport on a rather clear, sunny day. An avid vexillologist (flags and heraldry), the first thing I noticed was not the 16th-century Spanish architecture, but the rainbow flag flying just about everywhere. "Those folks really get around," I said to my wife, meaning the LGBTQ community, whose rainbow design was its community colors. What I didn't realize was that this particular rainbow flag was the official city flag of Cusco itself. But why are the two flags so similar?

    As it happens, the rainbow design for the flag of Cusco came first. The design was introduced in 1973 by Raúl Montesinos Espejo, according to the Wikipedia entry, to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Cusco Tawantinsuyo Radio station where he was an on-air host. Apparently, a Spanish priest accompanying the first invasion force of the Spanish army under Pizarro in 1532 wrote about the native populations, known as Tawantinsuyo, carrying this multi-color banner. This may be why it was adopted by Espejo as an indigenous symbol for his radio station. Scholars have since questioned the priest's account, but the City of Cusco still adopted the rainbow design of seven colors as its official city flag in 1978.

    Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Gilbert Baker, a prominent artist, was tasked to come up with a unifying flag for the LGBT community's first Gay Pride Parade in 1978. The first rainbow flag he designed had eight stripes, then seven and now six as the official design (the reason: pink and turquoise were hard to manufacture and even numbered stripes are easier to see when hung on poles; see image 4). Baker's design may have been inspired by Judy Garland's signature song, "Over the Rainbow" or it was reminiscent of a similar design of the "Flag of the Races" used on campuses in the 1960s, according to Wikipedia. Regardless, there are many different versions of the rainbow flag design today, including that of the International Order of the Rainbow Girls, a Masonic youth program.

    So how is it that two very similar flags representing two entirely different ideals nearly 5,000 miles apart were adopted within the same time period? Just one of those accidents of history, I guess.

    By the way, the Cusco flag (first three images) is an entirely hand stitched silk and cotton display flag measuring about 9" x 12" and was meant to be attached by the red and white cords to a wooden desk stand. These were sold at the small shops at the Plaza de Armas in the center of the town. The next day we went to see Macchu Picchu. What an experience.

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    1. Newfld Newfld, 6 years ago
      Fascinating history of these beautiful rainbow flags, they look almost identical. Since the Peruvian flag came first, it makes you wonder if it inspired Mr Baker's flag
    2. Patriotica Patriotica, 6 years ago
      Curiously, no matter the news story about its creation, Baker never specifically identified any particular inspiration, except to write this in his unpublished memoirs:

      “I thought of the American flag with its thirteen stripes and thirteen stars, the colonies breaking away from England to form the United States,” he wrote. “I thought of the vertical red, white, and blue tricolor from the French Revolution and how both flags owed their beginnings to a riot, a rebellion, or revolution. I thought a gay nation should have a flag too, to proclaim its own idea of power.”

      That's it. Apparently, he didn't necessarily dismiss the Judy Garland reference to "Over the Rainbow" as an inspiration, but he also didn't claim it either. And there is no reference that he was aware of Cusco's new flag design.

      Baker died in 2017 at age 65 never adequately explaining his inspiration for the LGBTQ flag that the Museum of Modern Art recognized "... as an internationally recognized symbol as important as the recycling symbol."
    3. racer4four racer4four, 6 years ago
      Great post, thanks!
    4. AnythingObscure AnythingObscure, 6 years ago
      I agree w/Newfld and racer4four -- what totally interesting history, of both versions of "rainbow flag"!! THANK YOU for sharing your knowledge, Patriotica!!

      Ain't it FUN, y'all -- the completely unexpected things that can be learned, by hanging around Collector's Weekly...??!! <applause><cheers>
    5. blunderbuss2 blunderbuss2, 6 years ago
      "Wha a t'ing, Mon!".

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