A Storied Glossary of Iconic LGBT Flags and Symbols
8 min read
LGBT Pride parades are famous the world over for their exuberant yet message-driven theme. Part celebration, part march for equal rights, the parades are often distinguished by lively participants who brandish colorful flags, symbols and signs.
But what does each color of the pride flag represent? What’s the terrible past behind the pink and black triangles? Who created the transgender pride symbols?
Gilbert Baker of San Francisco designed the first rainbow flag in 1978. He decorated the original with eight stripes to represent the following: pink for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, blue for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.
The 1978 Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day March adopted the flag, as did the 1979 Pride Parade Committee after the assassination of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay public official.
The flag was reduced to seven colors because hot pink dye was not commercially available, and the 1979 Pride Parade Committee eliminated indigo so it could divide the colors evenly along the parade route.
The version with six stripes is now recognized around the world.
Gay Pride Symbols
Interlocking male symbols (top left): Two interlocking male gender symbols, the singular of which is borrowed from the astrological sign for Mars, have represented gay men since the 1970s.
Today, however, the symbol has been reclaimed as a symbol of Pride and fighting oppression. After the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) was founded in 1987, it used an inverted pink triangle as its logo.
Leather pride flag (bottom left): Tony DeBlase presented the design for this flag in 1989, at the Mr. Leather contest in Chicago. It celebrates the subculture that centers around the practices and styles of dress, particularly leather, for sexual activities.
“The flag is composed of nine horizontal stripes of equal width. From the top and from the bottom, the stripes alternate black and royal blue. The central stripe is white. In the upper left quadrant of the flag is a large red heart. I will leave it to the viewer to interpret the colors and symbols,” DeBlase said.
International Bear Brotherhood Flag (bottom right): “Bear” is an affectionate slang term for rugged gay men who often exhibit body hair and can be heavyset (though this isn’t always the case). Craig Byrnes introduced this flag in 1996 to celebrate this subculture. The colors represent fur colors and nationalities of bears throughout the world.
Wilson Cruz, actor and staff member at GLAAD, where he works to advance LGBT equality:
“The pink triangle came from such a horrific and demoralizing part of our history when LGBT people were unjustly executed, but it has been reclaimed to symbolize pride and all of the strides that LGBT advocates – early and present day – have done to grow acceptance and understanding.
“The triangle today inspires me to push forward on the work ahead to achieve full and lasting LGBT equality.”
Lesbian Pride Symbols
Interlocking female symbols (left): Two interlocking female gender symbols, the singular of which is borrowed from the astrological sign of Venus, began representing the lesbian community in the 1970s. The symbols once also represented feminism and the sisterhood of women, so three interlocking symbols are sometimes used to distinguish feminist pride.
Black triangle (center): While Paragraph 175, the German statute that criminalized sexual acts between men, did not include lesbians, a black triangle denoted “asocial women” in concentration camps. This included feminists, lesbians, prostitutes and women who refused to bear children.
Like the pink triangle for gay men, the black triangle has become a source of pride and solidarity among lesbians.
Labrys (right): The labrys, or double-bladed battle axe, is associated with ancient matriarchal societies, the Amazons and the Greek goddess Demeter. It is now a symbol of lesbian strength and independence.
Bisexual Pride Symbols
Bisexuality triangles (top left): Sometimes called “biangles,” the origin of these two interlocking pink and blue triangles is largely unknown. Some theories posit that the pink represents attraction to women and the blue attraction to men, or the pink represents homosexuality, the blue heterosexuality and the purple bisexuality.
Bisexuality pride flag (top right): Inspired by his volunteer work with BiNet USA, Michael Page created the bisexual pride flag in 1998 to represent bisexual people at Pride rallies. Borrowing the colors from the biangles, Page designed the flag to be 40% pink, 40% blue and 20% purple.
“The key to understanding the symbolism of the bi pride flag is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the ‘real world,’ where bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities,” he wrote.
Interlocking male and female gender symbols (bottom right): These symbols signify men attracted to men and women (left) and a women attracted to men and women (right).
Transgender Pride Symbols
Transgender pride flag (top): The transgender pride flag was created by Monica Helms in 1999, and was first flown at a Pride parade in Phoenix, Arizona in 2000. The light blue stripes signify the traditional color for baby boys, while the soft pink stripes signify the traditional color for baby girls. The white stripe signifies those who are intersex, transitioning or who identify with a neutral or undefined gender.
“The pattern is such that no matter which way you fly it, it is always correct, signifying us finding correctness in our lives,” Helms told the Huffington Post.
Transgender symbol, first version (bottom left): This symbol combines and modifies elements of the male and female gender symbols, with a combined symbol jutting from the top left. Denise Leclair, executive director of the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), said the symbol was created by Nancy Nangeroni, Holly Boswell and Wendy Pierce of the IFGE.
Transgender symbol, version two (bottom right): This version of the transgender symbol includes a strikethrough in the center, to include those who don’t identify as male or female.
Mercury astrological sign (bottom center): The transgender community adopted this symbol for its hermaphroditic meaning.
Lambda is the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet. The lowercase letter has symbolized the LGBT community since 1970, when the Gay Activist Alliance selected it to represent the gay rights movement. Some believe the “l” stands for “liberation,” while others argue it is taken from the physics symbol for “energy.”
Intersex Pride Flag
“Intersex” is a term for individuals with congenital differences in physical sex characteristics. Organisation Intersex International (OII) Australia, an affiliate of the global network of intersex organizations, created the intersex pride flag in July 2013. The yellow background and purple circle represent “hermaphrodite” colors. According to the website:
“The circle is unbroken and unornamented, symbolizing wholeness and completeness, and our potentialities. We are still fighting for bodily autonomy and genital integrity, and this symbolizes the right to be who and how we want to be.”
Genderqueer and Non-Binary Pride Flag
“Genderqueer” is used more as an identity term rather than biological, meaning genderqueer people do not identify with society’s expectations for sex, gender expression and sexuality.
Marilyn Roxie created the genderqueer pride flag in September 2010, finalizing the design in June 2012. According to Roxie’s blog, the lavender stripe represents androgynes and androgyny, the white stripe represents gender neutrality, and green represents identities defined outside of and without reference to the gender binary (i.e., male and female).
Asexual Pride Flag
In 2010, the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) invited members of its community to design a flag for asexual people (individuals who do not experience sexual attraction). The winner is pictured above. The black stripe represents asexuality, the gray stripe represents the area between sexual and asexual, the white stripe represents sexuality, and the purple stripe represents community.
Also known as omnisexuality, pansexuality is sexual attraction toward people of all gender identities and biological sexes.
The pansexual pride flag was created to distinguish from bisexuality. The blue stripe represents people who identify as male, the pink represents people who identify as female and the yellow represents people who identify as no gender, both genders or a third gender, such as genderqueer.