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The Meaning Behind 24 LGBTQ Pride Flags

Somewhere over the rainbow...there are a bunch of different LGBTQ flags. Here's what their colors and symbols represent.

Collage of 9 Pride Flagsrd.com

The many facets of the LGBTQ community

When you think about symbols of the LGBTQ community, the rainbow-colored pride flag probably comes to mind right away. Its iconic stripes and hues can be found on flagpoles, front porches, and lapel pins (not to mention plenty of other merchandise). But do you know the meaning behind the flag and how the rainbow came to be associated with gay rights? How about the fact that there have been several iterations of the rainbow flag, as it has evolved over time? Or that there’s actually a total of more than 20 different LGBTQ flags?

Far more than pieces of fabric, these LGBTQ flags tell the story of the individuals they represent—acting as tools of visibility in a society that does its best to ignore their basic human and civil rights. As you’re learning more about what LGBTQ stands for, ways to be an LGBTQ ally, and why Pride Month is in June, find out more about the meaning of some of the many LGBTQ flags, as well. Here’s a brief introduction to 24 of them.

Gilbert Baker Pride Flagrd.com

Gilbert Baker Pride Flag

Picture it: San Francisco, 1974. An artist, activist, and openly gay military veteran named Gilbert Baker meets fellow activist, future politician, and LGBTQ hero Harvey Milk. Three years later, Milk challenges Baker to create a symbol for the gay community, and the end product is the first rainbow LGBTQ flag. Each of the eight colors had a meaning:

  • Pink: Sex
  • Red: Life
  • Orange: Healing
  • Yellow: Sunlight
  • Green: Nature
  • Turquoise: Magic/Art
  • Indigo: Serenity
  • Violet: Spirit

Baker’s creation made its debut at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978—only a few months before Milk was assassinated.

1978 Pride Flagrd.com

1978 Pride Flag

If this LGBTQ flag looks familiar, that’s because it’s Baker’s design with one modification: The hot pink stripe in his original 1977 flag was removed. Each color in the flag had a meaning, and hot pink stood for sex, but that’s not the reason for its disappearance. After Milk was murdered, the demand for the flag he commissioned increased, but both Baker and the Paramount Flag Company (which manufactured the flag) found that hot pink fabric was hard to come by and ended up leaving it out.

Traditional Gay Pride Flagrd.com

Traditional Gay Pride Flag

It would take another year before the original LGBTQ rainbow flag completed its evolution. After losing its pink stripe in 1978, the turquoise stripe would meet the same fate in 1979. There are two possible explanations: that, like the hot pink, the turquoise material was also difficult to get, or that people preferred a flag with an even number of stripes. Either way, that change left us with the six colored stripes that still adorn the flag today.

RELATED: The Best LGBTQ Books to Read Right Now

Philadelphia Pride Flagrd.com

Philadelphia Pride Flag

The Philadelphia Pride Flag represents LGBTQ people of color, who historically were not always included in aspects of the mainstream gay rights movement. In addition to the original six stripes, this flag includes black and brown, symbolizing people of color. It was unveiled on June 8, 2017, at Philadelphia City Hall, and was designed by a small Philly-based PR agency.

Progress Pride Flagrd.com

Progress Pride Flag

A year after the debut of the Philadelphia Pride Flag, Oregon-based designer Daniel Quasar introduced a reworked version of the more inclusive flag. “When the Pride flag was recreated in the last year to include both black/brown stripes as well as the trans stripes included this year, I wanted to see if there could be more emphasis in the design of the flag to give it more meaning,” Quasar explained in a 2018 Kickstarter post raising money for the new flag.

The white, pink, and light blue striped chevron design on the Progress Pride Flag reflect the colors of the Transgender Flag, while the brown and black stripes represent marginalized people of color. The black stripe has a dual meaning: honoring those lost to HIV/AIDS, and the stigma surrounding those still living with HIV.

Bisexual Flagrd.com

Bisexual Flag

Florida-based LGBTQ activist Michael Page created the Bisexual Flag in 1998, in order to increase the visibility of bisexual individuals—who are attracted to two genders—in both the LGBTQ community and society as a whole. The pink represents attraction to those of the same gender identity, while the blue stands for attraction to people who identify as a different gender. The purple stripe in the middle symbolizes attraction to two genders.

Pansexual Pride Flagrd.com

Pansexual Pride Flag

Pansexual folks—who are attracted to people regardless of their gender identity—got their own flag around 2010, in order to both increase their overall visibility and help differentiate the group from bisexual individuals. Here, the pink represents attraction to people who identify as female, while the blue stands for attraction to those who identify as male. The yellow stripe in the middle represents attraction to those who identify as genderqueer, non-binary, agender, androgynous, or anyone who doesn’t identify on the male-female binary.

Asexual Flagrd.com

Asexual Flag

Asexual individuals—who lack sexual attraction to all genders—also got their own flag in 2010, following a contest held by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) to create a flag for those who identify as asexual. Like the other LGBTQ flags, this one has a variety of colored stripes, each with its own meaning:

  • Black: Asexuality
  • Gray: Gray-asexuality and demisexuality
  • White: Non-asexual partners and allies
  • Purple: Community

Labrys Lesbian Pride Flag

Although it’s not as well known as some of the other LGBTQ flags on the list, the Labrys Lesbian Pride Flag has been around since 1999. A labrys is a double-headed battle-ax seen on the flag, which can be traced back to matriarchal societies like the Minoans. Before making its way onto this flag, the labrys was seen as a symbol of empowerment for cisgender women, and it was adopted by some lesbian radical feminist groups in the 1970s. The purple in the flag represents cisgender women, while the black triangle symbolizes lesbians.

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Polyamory Flagrd.com

Polyamory Flag

When Jim Evans created the Polyamory Flag in 1995, he wanted it to be a symbol—and sign—for people who identify as polyamorous. The background of the flag has three stripes: blue (representing the openness and honesty of all parties involved in the relationships), red (love and passion), and black (solidarity with those who must hide their polyamorous relationships from the outside world).

Evans placed a yellow pi symbol in the middle of his flag, with the infinite number representing the infinite options for partners available to polyamorous people. An alternative version of the flag was also created in 2017, which replaces the pi symbol with the infinity hearts symbol.

Intersex Flagrd.com

Intersex Flag

The Intersex Pride Flag has been in existence since 2013, when Morgan Carpenter, then co-chair of Organization Intersex International Australia, created and launched it. Unimpressed with some of the other symbols for intersex individuals, Carpenter wanted a flag “that is not derivative, but is yet firmly grounded in meaning,” and eventually landed on the version we know today, which features a purple circle on a yellow background. Carpenter used yellow and purple because the colors are seen as gender-neutral, and the circle represents wholeness and completeness.

Transgender Flagrd.com

Transgender Flag

The Transgender Flag has been around since 1999 when an American transgender Navy veteran named Monica Helms created it. A year later, the flag made its debut at a Pride parade in Phoenix. Light blue and pink are featured because they’re the traditional colors associated with baby boys and girls, respectively. The white represents those who are intersex, transitioning, or see themselves as having a neutral or undefined gender.

Genderfluid Flagrd.com

Genderfluid Flag

JJ Poole created the Genderfluid Pride Flag in 2013 to represent folks whose gender identity and/or expression is fluid and may fluctuate at different times or in different circumstances. The flag has five horizontal stripes of different colors representing femininity (pink), lack of gender (white), a combination of both masculinity and femininity (purple), all genders anywhere on the spectrum (black), and masculinity (blue).

RELATED: How Pink and Blue Became “Girl” and “Boy” Colors

Genderqueer Flagrd.com

Genderqueer Flag

There is also a Genderqueer Flag, which writer and activist Marilyn Roxie designed in 2011—with input from the readers of the website Genderqueer Identities. As the combination of the traditionally masculine and feminine colors (blue and pink), lavender represents androgyny and other queer identities, while white stands for agender identity, and green represents those whose identities are defined outside the binary.

Ally Pride Flagrd.com

Ally Pride Flag

Although the precise origin of the Ally Pride Flag is unknown, it was created sometime in the late 2000s as a symbol of the heterosexual and/or cisgender people who actively support LGBTQ individuals. The “A” in the center of the flag stands for the word ally and features the six colors of the rainbow pride flag. The black and white stripes in the background represent heterosexual and/or cisgender people.

Leather Pride Flagrd.com

Leather Pride Flag

Though originally representative of members of the leather subculture, this flag was also embraced by the wider BDSM and fetish community. Designed by Tony DeBlase for Chicago’s International Mr. Leather celebration in 1989 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the symbol represents people involved with kink—including those who are heterosexual and/or cisgender. The flag itself is open to interpretation, composed of nine horizontal stripes alternating in color between black and blue, a white stripe in the middle, and a red heart in the upper lefthand corner. DeBlase indicated that he wanted to “leave it to the viewer to interpret the colors and symbols.”

Bear Brotherhood Flagrd.com

Bear Brotherhood Flag

Members of the International Bear Brotherhood—comprised of gay men with a specific set of physical traits, including facial hair and a sturdy build—got their own flag in 1995. The dark brown, orange/rust, golden yellow, tan, white, gray, and black stripes of the flag represent the fur colors of bears (the animal).

Rubber Pride Flagrd.com

Rubber Pride Flag

The leather subculture wasn’t the only group to get its own flag in 1995. Members of the rubber and latex fetish community did as well, courtesy of co-designers Peter Tolos and Scott Moats. According to the pair, the black color on the flag represents leather itself, while the red is a symbol of the group’s “blood passion for rubber and rubbermen” and the yellow stands for their “drive for intense rubber play and fantasies.” And yes, the design is a literal kink.

Polysexual Flagrd.com

Polysexual Flag

Polysexual people—who are sexually attracted to multiple, but not all, genders—got their own flag in 2012. It was designed by a Tumblr user with the signature “Samlin.” Both the colors and the design borrowed from the Bisexual and Pansexual flags, including blue and pink (representing attraction to those who identify as male and female, respectively) and green (which represents attraction to people who identify outside the traditional male-female binary).

RELATED: Inspiring LGBTQ Quotes to Celebrate Pride Day Every Day

Aromantic Flagrd.com

Aromantic Flag

The Aromantic Flag represents people who either do not experience romantic attraction or do so in a nontraditional way. There were two earlier versions of this flag: It’s not known when the first one was created, but both the second and the final/current version were designed in 2014. The color green represents aromanticism, and it appears in two shades in the flag, along with white (platonic and aesthetic attraction), gray (gray-aromantic and demiromantic people), and black (the sexuality spectrum).

Nonbinary Flagrd.com

Nonbinary Flag

This LGBTQ flag was created in 2014 to represent people whose gender identity does not fit within the traditional male/female binary, with the intention of flying alongside the Genderqueer Pride Flag instead of replacing it. Its colors symbolize those whose gender falls outside of and without reference to the binary (yellow), people with many or all genders (white), those whose gender identity falls somewhere between male/female or is a mix of them (purple), and people who feel they are without a gender (black).

Lesbian Pride Flagrd.com

Lesbian Pride Flag

Although there are multiple versions of a Lesbian Pride Flag, this one—which has been around since 2018—appears to be the one that’s most widely embraced. The seven different shades of pink, orange, white, and red were used to represent different types of femininity.

RELATED: “What Happened When I Told My Grandmother I Was Gay”

Demisexual Pride Flagrd.com

Demisexual Pride Flag

The Demisexual Pride Flag represents a section of the asexual community that develops sexual attraction to someone only after forming a deep emotional bond with them. It’s unknown when, exactly, the flag was created, but it includes four colors: black (representing asexuality), gray (asexuality and demisexuality), white (sexuality), and purple (community).

Two-Spirit Pride Flag

Some Indigenous Americans identify as two-spirit individuals—meaning they fall outside the male-female binary, and this can be used to describe a person’s sexual, gender, and/or spiritual identity. Though it’s not clear when it was first designed, the two feathers on the Two-Spirit Flag represent masculine and feminine identities, while the circle symbolizes the unification of masculine and feminine identities into a separate gender, and the rainbow of colors represents modern LGBTQ identities.

RELATED: Iconic Photos from When Same-Sex Marriage Was Legalized

Sources:

Elizabeth Yuko
Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer specializing in health and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. She is an adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University and has written for print and online publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, Salon and Playboy, and has given a TEDX talk on The Golden Girls and bioethics.

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