Flags of All Colors
by Michael Love
We are all familiar with the traditional Rainbow Pride flag as we see all over the internet and our city streets during Pride month… But did you know there are lots of different symbolic Pride flags? The Pride flag serves to represent the different virtues and aspects of the LGBTQ communities; it also serves as a way to proudly display these values, and to speak to the community and create awareness. Each smaller community has its own symbolic banner that represents their own movement. Through this article I will share with you a few of the more common flags you may see in the Pride Parade as well as what each symbolizes. This should in no way be considered a comprehensive list.
There is generally some contention around some of the various flags. Even the origin of the Pride flag itself is a topic that brings up some heated discussion and debate. This article should serve as a (best we can do with the information we have at hand) type of article that is written for information only and not an authoritative piece.
You may not realize it but this is the original Pride flag. Originally flown at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978, it was inspired by the song “Somewhere over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland, and was created by veteran Gilbert Baker after local openly gay politician and Gay rights activist Harvey Milk challanged him to come up with a symbol of pride for the Gay community. Each color on the flag celebrates an aspect or interest of queer pride:
- Hot Pink – Sex
- Red – Life
- Orange – Healing
- Yellow – Sunlight
- Green – Nature
- Turquoise – Magic/Art
- Indigo – Serenity
- Violet – Spirit
After the assassination of Harvey Milk, his mission only gained strength. The community wanted to commemorate his efforts in the movement and the Gay Pride flag’s symbolism took on an even greater importance. Unfortunately the demand for the flag exceeded the availability of the some of the fabric colors, and so the hot pink stripe was eventually dropped.
There seems to be a bit of contention as to why the Turquoise stripe was dropped and it sounds like it might be a result of a combination of things. Like the hot pink stripe, turquoise fabric wasn’t readily available for mass production, but it also seems that the community wanted to create a flag with an even number of stripes so it was more street-ready. Parade organizers preferred the ability to have parade marchers with single color flags representing the colors on the flag and wanted an even number of flags in procession so they could evenly have three marchers on one side of the street and three on the other.
Similarly in New York, Pride Committee organizers found that by having an even number of stripes it made it easier to split the colors in half to hang on lamp posts. These changes led to the Traditional Pride Flag you see most readily today.
[In 2017, Pride organizers in Philadelphia decided to add a black and brown stripe to the Pride Flag to represent LGBTQ people of color. This movement was following incidents of discrimination against people of color within the LGBTQ community so severe that it caused owners of 11 queer clubs to send their staff for anti-racism training.
In the aftermath of the 2017 Philadelphia Pride Flag, Pride activist Daniel Quasar designed a new flag that he claims aims to give the Pride Flag even more meaning for a wider community. The new flag reverts back to the traditional 6-stripe Pride flag but then adds Trans Flag colors as well as the marginalized community stripes. The new stripes are presented in the shape of an arrow pointing to the right to represent the progress made. The black stripe is now said to be representative of those living with Aids, or who are no longer living and the stigma that surrounds them.
Both the Philadelphia Pride Flag as well as the Progress Pride Flag are surrounded by contention. Many argue that the Traditional Pride flag is inclusive of everyone regardless of race or sexual gender, or orientation, and argue against creating lines of division. Others say that having a Pride flag that is inclusive and representative of everyone’s unique and individual struggles is an important symbol to have. Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, you can fly any of the Pride flags to show your support of the LGBTQIA community.
You will see other flags at the Pride Parade and festival as well. Here are a few, and what they symbolize.
The Bisexual Flag was created by designer Michael Page. He claims that many Bisexual people had no connection with the traditional Pride flag because bisexual people are often marginalized within their communities because they are either “not gay enough” or “not straight enough.”
He created the Bisexual flag in 1998 and based it on the already accepted Bisexual symbol of overlapping triangles. Like the overlapping triangles, the Bi-flag consists of two colors, magenta and blue. The magenta represents same-sex attraction and the blue represents heterosexual attraction and the place where the colors overlaps creates lavender which represents attraction to both sexes. Page says, “The key to understanding the symbolism of the Bisexual Pride Flag is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the [magenta] and blue, just as in the ‘real world’ where bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities.”
The Pansexual flag was created in 2010 by internet users who wished to create a symbol of distinction between Bisexuality and Pansexuality. The original creator is unknown but the symbolism in the Pansexual flag is represented by the three distinct horizontal color stripes: pink, yellow, and blue. The blue bar represents people who identify within the male spectrum regardless of sex, the pink bar represents people who identify within the female spectrum regardless of sex, and the yellow bar that lies in the middle of the pink and blue bars represents attraction to non-binary people, such as people who are androgenous, bigender, agender or gender fluid.
In 2010 a user of the Asexuality website who goes by the moniker of “standup” recognized the need for a universal symbol for Asexuality that could be used by all people who identify as asexual. He wanted to create a flag that was in line with the existing Pride flags so after many variations he finally settled on a flag that contains four simple colored stripes. Like most Pride flags the Asexual flag’s colors all have representations. According to “standup” the black stripe symbolizes asexuality, the grey stripe symbolizes Grey-asexuality and demisexuality. The white stripe symbolizes non-asexual partners and allies, and the purple stripe symbolizes community. You may see variations of this flag that contain symbols such as hearts or spades, but these designs have been abandoned because the asexual community does not wish to confuse any affiliation or symbolism that may be associated with those symbols.
This flag is the accepted symbol of the Intersex community. Intersex people are those who do not exhibit all of the biological characteristics of Male or Female, or exhibit a combination of characteristics at birth. Approximately 1% of the population is estimated to have intersex traits. The flag was designed by Intersex Human Rights Australia in July 2013 to create a flag “that is not derivative, but firmly grounded in its meaning.” The yellow and purple colors are non-gendered in nature, and are accepted as representative as hermaphrodite colors. The circle is symbolic of being unbroken and unornamented and represents wholeness and completeness.
The Transgender Flag is one you will definitely see at the Pride Festival and Parade. It was designed in 1999 by a trans-woman named Monica Helms and it was first flown at a Pride Parade in Phoenix, AZ. The light blue stripes are symbolic of males, the pink symbolic of females, and the white symbolic of those who are intersexed or who are in transition, or have no gender. They go on to describe the mirrored horizontal stripes being symbolic of the fact that no matter which way you fly it, it will always be correct… which represents the effort of Transgender people to find correctness in their own lives.
Another flag commonly seen at Portland Pride is the Lipstick Lesbian flag. Lipstick lesbian is a slang term for a lesbian who displays more feminine traits, such as wearing makeup, and dresses more feminine. In the past it has often been attributed to women who tend to be more feminine, who only seek sexual attraction to men as a matter of being more attractive to men; however, as we recognize bi-erasure more and more, and gain a greater understanding of gender and greater respect for the Femme lesbian, the slang aspect of this term is being embraced more as a phrase of female empowerment. As such you will see two versions of this flag: Older versions have a pink kiss symbol on them. Newer versions have abandoned the kiss symbol and have evolved to the stripes of shades of pink that are considered to be associated with the female gender.
The Labyrus Lesbian Flag was adopted in 1999 as a symbol strength and power for Lesbian Feminists. The Labyrus symbol is awash in history for women though dating clear back into the 2nd world war where women who were considered asocial, or who did not conform to the Nazi ideal of a woman by the Third Reich were sent to concentrations camps and forced to wear an inverted black triangle for identification.
In the 1970’s the Lesbian Feminist movement adopted and embraced the inverted triangle and placed upon it the Labyrus, which is an ancient symbol of matriachal power and strength, symbolizes lesbian women’s strength and self-sufficiency.
The flag was created in 1999 by graphic artist Sean Campbell and first used in 2000 as a graphic element for the Pride issue of the Gay and Lesbian Times
In a world of hipsters, and flannel, and big burly lumberjack twinks, you will find a well known subculture known as the International Bear Brotherhood. Bears are typically gay men who are generally bigger guys, with body hair, and usually facial hair. I say “typically” because it’s considered to be pretty liberal as to who can be a “Bear.” Trans-men, skinny men, men with no facial hair, etc have self-identified as a “Bear” and are generally accepted. Craig Byrnes designed this flag to symbolize the International Bear Brotherhood community in 1995. The colors are intended merely to represent the colors of the fur of bears in the wild. The flag may be displayed with and without the bear paw.
Polyamorous people have their own flag as well. The blue stripe represents openness and honesty among all partners. The red stripe represents love and passion. The black stripe represents solidarity with those who must hide their Poly status with the world for fear of repercussions from employers, family and friends. The flag displays a Pi symbol to represent the infinite love polyamorous people can have for their friends and romantic partners. The symbol is printed in gold to represent the value polyamorous people place on those relationships.
Another flag that you are most certain to see at Portland Pride is the Leather, Latex and BDSM flag. While in general it is a rather heated topic of discussion as to whether or not the BDSM community has a place at the table in the Pride festivities, the BDSM community very much overlaps the LGBTQ community and there is a large community representation in the Portland area. As such, this is a flag you WILL see as the Leather community flies it proudly. The flag itself was designed by Tony Deblase for Chicago’s International Mr Leather celebration in 1989. Like the Polyamory flag, the Leather, Latex and BDSM flag is not necessarily as much about sexual orientation, but it does represent a generally closeted and marginalized community.
As my research developed, I discovered more and more flags associated with Pride and the various subsets of the LGBTQIA communities… so many more than I could possibly talk about in this article. I wanted to cover the flags I felt like I had seen most frequently displayed at our local Pride event. If I missed your flag, I sincerely apologize… ALL of the flags and all of the different subsets of LGBTQIA are important and deserve recognition. I would encourage you to leave a comment with your flag in the comments.