Local activist to deliver historically significant flag to Ukraine
By Morgan M. Hurley, Editor
This month, a historic handoff will take place in Malta at one of EuroPride’s signature events – the International LGBTQ+ Human Rights Conference – hosted by the Maltese government between a member of our local community and a representative from Ukraine Pride. What will be given to Ukraine is a Pride flag that has great historical significance for our LGBTQ community at large, and now our own local community.
On March 25, Eddie Reynoso, the multi-hatted publisher of this newspaper, walked into Rich’s Nightclub for his night shift as VIP Host. Other crew members were decorating for the evening’s festivities and as Reynoso walked by, he noticed a large plastic storage bin near them that was half open, with what appeared to be a very large rainbow flag hanging out of it. He went about his shift, but kept thinking about it, and later asked someone specifics regarding the container he saw and the flag inside.
“Oh it’s got the wrong colors and we’re going to throw it out,” he was told. Another employee confirmed they were getting rid of it, because it “was stained” and had “extra colors.” Even more intrigued by the “wrong” and “extra colors” comments, Reynoso went up to Rich’s attic where the containers were usually stored and tracked the bin down.
“I started to unravel the flag and immediately noticed the indigo – which is different from purple; most commercially made rainbow flags use purple,” he explained. “Gilbert Baker and other traditionalists used indigo.”
He took the flag outside to see better in the light of day and have more room to lay it out for inspection.
“Outside I started to open it up further and noticed the pink and turquoise, which are two colors that are unique and iconic to Gilbert Baker’s original flag, and the ‘Sea to Sea Flag.’ When I saw them I felt my heart jump and immediately knew that it had to be a Gilbert Baker flag; but to be sure, I needed to find a stamp or a signature.”
The “Sea to Sea flag” that he refers to is a colossal flag (1.25 miles long), which Baker, the creator of the original Pride flag in 1978, designed as a 25th anniversary edition. It was unfurled at Key West’s PrideFest on June 15, 2003, and stretched by volunteers the entire length of Duval Street – from one side of Key West to the other – literally from sea to sea.
“Gilbert dipped one side of the flag into the Gulf of Mexico, while PrideFest organizers dipped the other side into the Atlantic Ocean,” Reynoso said.
The following year, in 2004, Baker had the flag divided up into 100-, 75-, 50-, and 25-foot segments and sent the flags to Pride organizations around the country. For each segment, he added a white canvas end piece that would act as the header, which included a slot for flagpoles and grommets for external mounting. It was on this header that Baker signed each flag and identified them with a distinct serial number, as an artist would do with a print of his original (i.e., 100/1000). This is what Reynoso was now looking for.
“After a short but frantic search, I found Baker’s signature, along with an embroidered copy of the Absolut logo, and a number that identifies the segment of the flag,” he said. “The moment I saw Gilbert’s signature, I screamed and had an overwhelming feeling of crying; of joy, but also because of how close the flag came from being thrown away.”
The flag was 25-feet long, and numbered 71 out of 100 under Baker’s signature. Reynoso soon found a second 25-foot flag, and then a third, smaller flag (one-and-a-half-feet by six-feet), both also cut from the sea to sea flag.
Over the years, Reynoso’s ties to Key West and his own famous Pride Constellation/marriage equality flag (which ironically was created using one of Baker’s original hand-dyed flags as its base) led him to an opportunity to meet Baker and study the history of Baker’s various flags.
“I was truly the right person, with the right knowledge about rainbow flag colors, at the right place, at the right time,” he said.
Once he knew what he had, Reynoso reached out to colleagues at the Key West Business Guild and a marketing rep for Absolut, to further confirm the authenticity of his new found treasures.
Michael Chen of Channel 10 interviewed Reynoso and had also contacted Charley Beal, the president of the Gilbert Baker Foundation (Baker passed away in 2017 in NYC), who in turn reached out to Reynoso. By then, Reynoso had time to fully inspect the flags and see what, if any, damage had been done to them, and to chart their history at the Nightclub.
It was determined that the flags had been in storage for approximately 15 years, but no one was sure how or exactly when they got there. There was plenty of speculation; and the theory that makes the most sense is that Absolut, who sponsored the Sea to Sea project, had used the flags at Numbers and/or Rich’s during a promotion and left them behind. Since then, the flags had been used as barriers during Pride events, draped over the top of Rich’s building, and used as props … all the while without those who handled them realizing their significance.
Reynoso’s inspection found some minor damage, but he felt the flags were all still in good enough shape to be preserved, as any damage was part of the flag’s own history.
Beal heard about Reynoso’s foray into “Sister City” type partnerships (notably his LGBT History Pop-up in 2018 in partnership with Chicago) and made the suggestion that Reynoso donate one of the large flags to a country struggling for equality. Reynoso, now with his Equality Business Alliance and San Diego LGBTQ Visitor Center hats on, worked with Beal and his connections and they chose a city in Ukraine as the benefactor.
Lots of coordination with EuroPride organizers and the US Embassy in Malta later, and on Sept. 15, Eddie Reynoso will present the Gilbert Baker flag to Edward Reese, a representative of Kyiv Pride in Malta. In addition to presenting the flag, Reynoso will be attending the OUT@Work conference presented by The Malta Chamber, and has been invited to a welcoming hosted by the US Embassy in Malta, and another hosted by Malta’s Prime Minister Dr. Robert Abela at the Auberge Castille- the official residence and of the Prime Minister.
“I have a lot of mixed emotions being an ambassador for this project and to get to represent LGBTQ people from not just San Diego, but from our nation, in gifting this flag to Kharkiv, Ukraine,” Reynoso said. “One, I am very proud to be a part of this; as a history geek, a political geek, and a flag geek. The magnitude of the moment has only hit me in the last 24 hours. To have people from the Department of State, and EuroPride and the Gilbert Baker Foundation, all reach out — it’s very humbling. It also saddens me. Just a couple weeks ago, an ally of ours was murdered because she chose to support our community with the display of a rainbow flag.
But I am also proud for Ukraine’s unicorn soldiers — LGBTQ people who signed up to fight for their country — they are dying every day, and they are fighting for LGBTQ equality in a country that does not yet recognize LGBTQ rights. We can all talk about our marches and fight for equality, but unlike us, LGBTQ Ukrainians are fighting the anti-LGBTQ oppression of the Russian government through war. They are fighting to defend their country, and doing so as open and proud LGBTQ soldiers, hoping that by showing their commitment and loyalty to their country, that Ukraine eventually grants them full equality under the law. One of Putin’s pretexts for the war was stopping the expansion of LGBTQ rights. We must not forget that LGBTQ soliders in Ukraine are at war for their right to live. ”
Join me in wishing Eddie well on this magnificent and historical trip.
—Morgan M. Hurley is the editor-in-chief of this newspaper. You can reach her at [email protected].
*Article has been updated to correct the recipient of the flag to Kyiv Pride, and include information on events Reynoso is attending.
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-Eddie Reynoso, Publisher