We’re all familiar with the rainbow flag, but the name “Lynn Segerblom” might not ring any bells. Nor would her alias, “Faerie Argyle Rainbow,” which she was known by in 1978 — the year Gilbert Baker was credited with creating the rainbow flag for Top Floor Gallery, an early LGBTQ+ center in San Francisco. Baker promoted and subsequently popularized the rainbow flag as a symbol of LGBTQ+ liberation; however, Top Floor Gallery founder Lee Mentley and Segerblom herself allege that it was she, and not Baker, who first brought the rainbow flag to life.
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Lynn Segerblom aka Faerie Argyle Rainbow, the mother of the Rainbow Flag. Hear the story of its creation in her own words in Episode 6 of @queercorepod – coming soon! 🏳️🌈 • #rainbowflag #lgbtq🌈 #lgbtqpride #lgbtqcommunity #lgbtqhistory #queerart #queerhistory #gaystories #lgbtqstories #oralhistory #gilbertbaker #faerieargylerainbow #harveymilk
Segerblom’s story is just one of the many hidden narratives brought to life by archivist August Bernadicou in QueerCore Podcast. The podcast, which is an offshoot of Bernadicou’s nonprofit, LGBTQ History Project, tells the stories of LGBTQ+ activists, many whose contributions have gone under or unrecognized, in their own words.
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“I noticed back then, growing up in my city, that there wasn’t documentation for so many of these unknown figures,” Bernadicou told GO when we spoke by phone in August. “So I really, really wanted to take it upon myself to interview them. And you know, the more I get into this rabbit hole and work on everything, I realize that these stories have been whitewashed in a way, often in these people’s lifetime and even more tragically after their lifetime.”
The podcast, which covers the early days of gay liberation — roughly 1969 through 1973 — “gives these people a spotlight and the opportunity to tell their stories in their real words.”
Bernadicou first began interviewing LGBTQ+ elders when he was a teenager growing up in a mid-sized town in Northern California. Feeling isolated from his traditional upbringing and realizing soon that his interests were different from those of his teenage peers, Bernadicou started interviewing people — mostly older LGBTQ persons who remembered the times of Stonewall and the days when homosexuality was still diagnosed as a mental illness. His interviews “really allowed me to find this community that I didn’t even know existed,” he says, “and talk to all these great people and learn about myself and other people’s stories.”
He’s since compiled over a decade of recorded conversations, which he transformed into the LGBTQ+ History Project website two years ago. Soon after, he began holding what he calls “intergenerational dialogues” — conversations between him and a gay elder — which turned into the QueerCore Podcast.
Bernadicou believes it’s important to preserve LGBTQ+ voices because of what he sees as “a lack of communication with the people that created the community that many of us are fortunate enough to enjoy.” As a result, he believes that past events have been mythologized and spun into narratives that can be easily shared on Instagram or sloganized on t-shirts although the real stories go far deeper. “I think the purest way to preserve these stories is letting the people talk in real life with their real words,” he says.
He’s referring to people like Lynn Segerblom. In an interview now preserved as part of the LGBTQ History Project, she told Bernadicou how she, Baker, and a third man, James McNamara, put together the first two prototypes of the rainbow flag — one with just stripes, the other with an American flag — and both of her own design. However, her alleged role in the flag’s conception has only been acknowledged in the past two years, with the traditional narrative giving credit solely to Baker.
Her story, which forms the basis for the final episode of the first season, is one Bernadicou says “has been tragically erased.” Although he doesn’t take sides in the debate (Baker died in 2017), Bernadicou does say that it’s important for him “to preserve [Segerblom’s] legacy and also give her a chance to speak.”
In addition to Segerblom, the podcast also features such activists and performers as Jewel Thais-Williams, founder of Jewel’s Catch One, one of the oldest Black, gay discos in the country; Rumi Missabu, former member of avant-garde theater troupe the Cockettes; and Donald Kilhefner, one of the original founders of the Gay Community Service Center, later to become the Los Angeles LGBT Center, and the Radical Faeries, a metaphysical network combining the principles of LGBTQ+ liberation with queer consciousness.
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Jewel and Rue Thais-Williams. Together they founded Rue’s House, the first housing facility in the country for minority women with AIDS and their children. Episode 4 of @queercorepod • #jewelscatchone #gaydisco #blackentrepreneurs #aidscrisis #lgbtqpioneersofcolour #lgbtqstories #queerstories #queerpioneers #lgbtqpioneers #queercore #jewelthaiswilliams #rueshouse
Speaking on such personal terms with his subjects has brought Bernadicou close to more than a few of them. Kilhefner, Bernadicou says, is “a man who means much to me and who has changed my life.”
Other friendships were perhaps more surprising. When Bernadicou first met Missabu at his house in San Francisco, Missabu showed up at the door wearing a nurse’s uniform (in the podcast, Bernadicou also recalls that there’d been a gold dildo on the kitchen table). “I thought, ‘What the f*ck did I just get myself into?’” Bernadicou recalls. Since then, however, he’s spoken with Missabu 95 times, amassing over 300 hours of audio recording.
He’s also become close with Bambi Lake, a former chanteuse in the San Francisco club scene. Once on the forefront of trans visibility, Lake had fallen on hard times and homelessness when Bernadicou first met her; she’s now sober and performing again. Bernadicou refers to her as “the mother of us all” for her out and proud attitude in the early days of queer liberation.
“I make it my personal goal of preserving her legacy,” he says. “My tag line for her is, ‘I figured if Lazarus could make a comeback, so can Bambi Lake.'”
Consistently, many of Bernadicou’s subjects are people like Lake who have been lost, who eschewed the spotlight for principles, or who are at risk of being written out of their own history. Who we remember — whose contributions we deem worthy of acknowledging — often signifies who we value and subsequently reflects the world we wish to create. Yet, so many of the people who make change — who are on the proverbial front lines by challenging institutions or expressing themselves without guilt or shame — aren’t flashy or famous.
For Bernadicou, how and what we record is a little like 1984; as Orwell said, “‘‘Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’ That’s just a glimpse into why I feel like these people need to tell their stories in their own words.”
He’s learned a lot from them, too. But perhaps the greatest lesson, which can impact most the contribution we leave the world, is to be ourselves — and to learn from the past. “When you feel driven, if you feel the need to be in the street or be an activist through your administrative work or through your historical work, you need to be forward moving. We need to learn from our elders.”