Rainbows Explained

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"I see your true colors shining through. I see your true colors, and that's why I love you. So don't be afraid to let them show. Your true colors. Your true colors are beautiful like a rainbow."

-Cyndi Lauper


“Life is about using the whole box of crayons.”



“Be uniquely you. Stand out. Shine. Be colorful. The world needs your prismatic soul!”

-Amy Leigh Mercree


Certainly any variety of cultural, literary, and societal meanings associated with rainbows pre-date its current use as an emblem of the LGBTQ movement. In modern times, rainbows are popularly regarded as a major symbol of pride in the LGBTQ community. Rainbows are in prominent display at LGBTQ pride parades and other events, demonstrations, and celebrations. Rainbows are emblazoned on flags, stickers, banners, buttons, ribbons, clothing, hats, and shoes. These days, it is difficult to see rainbow decor and not immediately identify it with LGBTQ subject matter.



The legends and folklore surrounding rainbows offer creative stimulus to adopt them as an appropriate icon for the LGBTQ movement. Rainbows, with their stripes of color, spectrum of hues, startling beauty, natural splendor, celestial mystery, and aura of magic, easily resonate with the LGBTQ aesthetic and philosophy. Rainbows, after all, are dreamlike, astonishing, peculiar, and fabulous, just like LGBTQ people. Once the LGBTQ community embraced the rainbow as its official insignia, it soon inspired a sense of hope and stirred up feelings of pride.




Citing an array of historical and mythological examples, the LGBTQ movement selected rainbows as its brand. As a symbol of diversity, artistry, beauty, flamboyance, glamour, creativity, energy, harmony, peace, hope, promise, protection, rebirth, and redemption, rainbows offer great allure as the masthead to represent a variety of LGBTQ causes, issues, and concerns.


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Rainbows in Nature


A rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon that is caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light appearing in the sky. It takes the form of a multicolored circular arc. Rainbows caused by sunlight always appear in the section of sky directly opposite the sun.


Rainbows can be full circles. However, the observer normally sees only an arc formed by illuminated droplets above the ground, and centered on a line from the sun to the observer's eye.

The arc of the rainbow shows red on the outer part and violet on the inner side. This rainbow is caused by light being refracted when entering a droplet of water, then reflected inside on the back of the droplet and refracted again when leaving it. Rainbows can be caused by many forms of airborne water. These include not only rain, but also mist, spray, and airborne dew.



Rainbows span a continuous spectrum of colors. For colors seen by the human eye, the most commonly cited and remembered sequence is Sir Isaac Newton's sevenfold red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. Many people remember the colors by using the popular mnemonic ROYGBIV.


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“Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson


“Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.”

-Maya Angelou


“Mere color, unspoiled by meaning, and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways”.

-Oscar Wilde


"Come on let your colors burst. You're original, cannot be replaced. After a hurricane comes a rainbow. Like a lightning bolt, your heart will glow. And when it's time, you'll know. Even brighter than the moon. It's always been inside of you. And now it's time to let it through."

-Katy Perry



Colors of the Rainbow


How many distinguishable colors are present in the typical rainbow?  And what are the names of those colors?


A spectrum obtained using a glass prism and a point source is a continuum of wavelengths without bands. The number of colors that the human eye is able to distinguish in a spectrum is approximately 100.  Accordingly, the Munsell color system (a 20th-century system for numerically describing colors, based on equal steps for human visual perception) distinguishes 100 hues. The apparent discreteness of main colors is a product of human perception and the exact number of main colors is a somewhat arbitrary choice.



Newton, who admitted his eyes were not very critical in distinguishing colors, originally (1672) divided the spectrum into five main colors: red, yellow, green, blue and violet. Later he included orange and indigo, giving seven main colors by analogy to the number of notes in a musical scale.  Newton chose to divide the visible spectrum into seven colors out of a belief derived from the beliefs of the ancient Greek sophists, who thought there was a connection between the colors, the musical notes, the known objects in the Solar System, and the days of the week. Scholars have noted that what Newton regarded at the time as "blue" would today be regarded as cyan, and what Newton called "indigo" would today be considered blue.


According to Isaac Asimov, "It is customary to list indigo as a color lying between blue and violet, but it has never seemed to me that indigo is worth the dignity of being considered a separate color. To my eyes it seems merely deep blue."


Red has the longest wavelength of visible light (about 650 nanometers) and usually appears on the outer part of a rainbow's arch. Beyond visible red light is infrared.


Violet has the shortest wavelength of visible light (about 400 nanometers) and usually appears on the inner part of the rainbow's arch. Beyond visible violet light is ultraviolet.

Scientists use an instrument called a spectrometer to study these invisible parts of the rainbow.



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Rainbows in Myth and Legend


Somewhere over the rainbow....


Rainbows occur frequently in mythology, and have been used in the arts. One of the earliest literary occurrences of a rainbow is in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and later in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament Bible, as part of the flood story, where it is a sign of God's covenant to never destroy all life on earth with a global flood again.


In Norse mythology, the rainbow bridge Bifröst connects the world of men (Midgard) and the realm of the gods (Asgard).



Cuchavira was the god of the rainbow for the Muisca in present-day Colombia and when the regular rains on the Bogotá savanna were over, the people thanked him offering gold, snails and small emeralds.


In the ancient beliefs of Japan and Gabon, rainbows were the bridges that human ancestors took to descend to the planet.


The shape of a rainbow also resembles the bow of an archer. Hindu culture teaches that the god Indra uses his rainbow bow to shoot arrows of lightning.


Sometimes, however, rainbows are negative symbols. In parts of Burma, for instance, rainbows are considered demons that threaten children. Tribes throughout the Amazon basin associate rainbows with disease.


The Irish leprechaun's secret hiding place for his pot of gold is usually said to be at the end of the rainbow. This place is appropriately impossible to reach, because the rainbow is an optical effect which cannot be approached.  No one ever finds the gold or the magical leprechaun.



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“I prefer living in color.”

-David Hockney


"Color is my day-long obsession, joy, and torment." 

-Claude Monet


“If everyone would look for uniqueness in all things then we would have a very colorful world.”

-Michael Schenker


“I found I could say things with color that I couldn’t say any other way. Things I had no words for.”

-Georgia O’Keeffe


“I have led a pretty colorful life.”

-Corey Feldman



Rainbows Flags and Symbols


Rainbow flags have been used for centuries. It was a symbol of the Cooperative Movement in the German Peasants' War in the 16th century, of peace in Italy, and of Gay Pride and LGBTG social movements since the 1970s. In 1994, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela described newly democratic post-apartheid South Africa as the Rainbow Nation. The rainbow has also been used in technology product logos, including the Apple computer logo. Many political alliances spanning multiple political parties have called themselves a "Rainbow Coalition."


Rainbow flags usually appear as stripes (bands) of at least five or six different colors. Rainbow flags have long represented groups championing diversity, respect, and inclusiveness.


The Wiphala is a type of rainbow flag. It is a symbol of communities indigenous to the Andes Mountains, stretching from modern-day Ecuador to Chile. A Wiphala has been an official flag of Bolivia since 2009, when the nation elected its first indigenous president, Evo Morales. The Wiphala features a diagonal patchwork design with squares in different rainbow colors. Different arrangements of patchwork squares represent different Andean communities.

The Buddhist flag, designed in the 19th century, is flown by Buddhists around the world. It is a vertical arrangement of six bands, each representing a different aspect of Buddhism, from kindness to moderation, blessings to wisdom.

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, a community on Russia's border with China, is represented by a seven-banded rainbow flag. The seven bands symbolize the seven branches of a menorah.



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Rainbow Flag


The most familiar rainbow flag may be the banner representing the movement supporting civil rights for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community. The different colors of the Gay Pride flag represent the diverse community itself, as well as different aspects associated with each color.



The original Gay Pride Rainbow Flag, created by Gilbert Baker in 1978, had eight colors: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic, indigo for harmony (peace, serenity), and violet (purple) for spirit.


The updated version of the Gay Pride Rainbow flag, established in 1979, has six colors: red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, blue for harmony (peace), and violet (purple) for spirit.


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Color and Light


The world is full of light. Visible light is made of seven wavelength groups. These are the colors you see in a rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Within the visible light of the electromagnetic spectrum are still more wavelengths. Each wavelength is perceived by our eyes as a different color.


The reddish colors are the long wavelengths. The greenish colors are the mid-size wavelengths. The bluish colors are the short wavelengths.




Red, orange, and yellow are warm colors, while violet and blue are cool colors. Green is said to be the most neutral color.


Primary Colors: Red, yellow and blue. In traditional color theory (used in paint and pigments), primary colors are the 3 pigment colors that cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues.


Secondary Colors: Green, orange and purple. These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.


Orange = red + yellow

Green = blue + yellow

Purple = blue + red


Tertiary Colors: Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green. These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color. That's why the hue is a two-word name, such as blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.



Black is the absence of color. White is the blending of all colors.


According to some studies, there are four psychological primary colors: red, blue, yellow, and green. They relate respectively to the body, the mind, the emotions, and the essential balance between these three.


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Red (Physical) – It is a powerful color. It symbolizes physical courage, strength, warmth, energy, and also defiance, aggression, visual impact, and strain.


Blue (Intellect) – It is a soothing color. It denotes intelligence, communication, trust, efficiency, serenity, duty, logic, calmness, coolness, reflection, but also coldness, aloofness, and lack of emotion.


Yellow (Emotional) – It is a stimulating color. It symbolizes extraversion, confidence, self-esteem, optimism, but also fear, emotional fragility, and depression.


Green (Balance) – It is a restful color. It denotes harmony, balance, refreshment, universal love, restoration, reassurance, environmental awareness, equilibrium, and peace.


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