Pride Guide: The colourful history of the Pride Flag
Know your Pride Flags.
A pride flag is any flag that represents a segment or part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Pride Flags are important for so many reasons.
Over the course of history, the LGBT+ community has adopted certain symbols for self-identification to demonstrate unity, pride, shared values, and allegiance to one another.
Not only do they symbolize your own visibility, being proud to openly live as yourself, they symbolize unity between the LGBTQ+ community as a whole. A unity, without which, the landscape of what it is to exist as a queer person, along with the freedoms we are afforded, would look very different today.
When you display Pride Flags visibly, it is a statement to other people in the community that you are safe and that they are safe around you.
Although a rainbow is the most commonly known LGBT+ flag and symbol, there are many flag versions, each representing different identities within our beautifully diverse community. Every one important for symbolizing different fractions of the LGBTQ+ spectrum, to ensure that no one is excluded in the way that LGBTQ+ people have been made to feel throughout history.
Furthermore, with the Pride Flag being symbolic of our LGBTQ+ existence, over the years it has become the focal point of our hard-won right to simply be.
LGBTQ+ people have long fought, and continue to fight, for our right to display Pride Flags. To this day, they are the symbol often targeted by vandals who believe we don’t deserve the right to exist equally, and in-turn also the symbol we use to show people they are welcome and safe.
If you needed further convincing, see the bottom of this article for some examples of why, to this day, the Pride Flag is still so symbolic.
You might have heard people say things along the lines of “isn’t that enough now?”, or “I can’t keep up”, when discussing Pride symbols. But the truth is, the Pride symbol has been constantly evolving since its inception. Eternally fluid to ensure it remains inclusive and symbolic of what it was designed to represent: unity for all.
Here’s a brief history…
The Pink Triangle.
Before the rainbow-striped Pride flag was created, the LGBTQ+ community would often use the pink triangle.
Prior to the pink triangle becoming a worldwide symbol of gay power and pride, it was intended as a badge of shame. In Nazi Germany, a downward-pointing pink triangle was sewn onto the shirts of gay men in concentration camps—to identify and further dehumanize them. It wasn’t until the 1970s that activists would reclaim the symbol as one of liberation.
Homosexuality was technically made illegal in Germany in 1871, but it was rarely enforced until the Nazi Party took power in 1933. As part of their mission to racially and culturally “purify” Germany, the Nazis arrested thousands of LGBT individuals, mostly gay men, whom they viewed as degenerate.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimates 100,000 gay men were arrested and between 5,000 and 15,000 were placed in concentration camps. Just as Jews were forced to identify themselves with yellow stars, gay men in concentration camps had to wear a large pink triangle. (Brown triangles were used for Romani people, red for political prisoners, green for criminals, blue for immigrants, purple for Jehovah’s Witnesses and black for “asocial” people, including prostitutes and lesbians.)
The pink triangle was most famously adopted by the HIV advocacy group ACT UP.
There was also some use of the Greek symbol lambda.
In the early 1970s, in the wake of the Stonewall Rebellion, New York City’s Gay Activists Alliance selected the Greek letter lambda, which member Tom Doerr suggested from its scientific use to designate kinetic potential, as its emblem.
Green carnations first appeared when Oscar Wilde adopted them for his entourage in the late 1800s.
The purple hand can be traced back to a protest in 1969: After the San Francisco Examiner printed a homophobic report on gay bars, locals protested outside the paper’s offices. Employees dumped ink onto the protestors, who then used the ink to slap hand-prints along the building to show that they had been there.
None of those symbols was particularly widespread in modern times, however, until the introduction of the rainbow…
The Gilbert Baker Design.
San Francisco Activist, Gilbert Baker, designed this 8-stripe flag to represent the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. At the request of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California, Gilbert was commissioned to create an image of pride for the gay community.
Inspired by the lyrics of Judy Garland’s Over the Rainbow, and the designs used by other social movements such as black civil rights groups from the 1960s, Baker hand-dyed and hand sewed this flag which flew at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day in June 1978.
Each colour stands for a different component of the community:
- Hot Pink – Sex
- Red – Life
- Orange – Healing
- Yellow – Sunlight
- Green – Serenity and Nature
- Turquoise – Art
- Indigo – Harmony
- Violet – Spirit
The 1978-1999 Pride Flag
Following the assassination of Harvey Milk in 1978, many people and organisations adopted the Pride flag that he helped to introduce to the community. To commemorate his accomplishments and continue his efforts of equality and diversity, the flag was flown across San Francisco and entered mass production by the original designer, Gilbert Baker, and local business Paramount Flag Co.
The demand was so great for a rainbow striped flag, it was impossible for the 8-stripe design to be made in large quantities. Both Paramount and Baker struggled to obtain the hot pink fabric and so began manufacturing a 7-stripe version.
Traditional Gay Pride Flag
In 1979 the design was amended again. The community finalised this six-colour version and this is now the most familiar and recognisable design for the LGBT flag. Numerous complications over the odd number of stripes, including the desire to split the flag to decorate Pride parades, meant that one colour had to be dropped.
The turquoise and indigo stripes were combined to create a royal blue stripe and it was agreed that the flag should typically be flown horizontally, with red at the top, as it would be in a natural rainbow. This design continued to increase in popularity around the world, being a focal point of landmark decisions such as John Stout fighting for his right to fly the flag from his apartment balcony in 1989.
The Philadelphia 2017 Design
Recognising the struggles that people of colour in the LGBTQ+ community face, often as discrimination from within the community itself, the city of Philadelphia adopted an additional 2 stripes to the Pride flag. Black and brown were added at the top of the flag to represent the struggles and prejudices that queer people of colour face regularly.
Some activists and organisations at the time criticised this redesign and believed that it created more unnecessary division within the community. Pride festivals across the world, including Manchester – United Kingdom, adopted the design in a bid to promote inclusion, particularly after a 2018 study showed that 51% of LGBTQ+ people of color had experienced racism within the community.
The Progress Pride Flag
In June 2018, designer and activist Daniel Quasar released an updated version of the Pride flag. Combining the new elements of the Philadelphia design and the Transgender flag to bring focus on further inclusion and progress. This new flag added a chevron to the hoist of the traditional 6-color flag which represents marginalised LGBTQ+ communities of color, those living with HIV/AIDS and those who’ve been lost, as well as trans and non-binary persons.
This design went viral and was quickly adopted by people and pride parades across the world. The arrow of the chevron points to the right to show forward movement, while being on the left edge shows that progress still needs to be made for full equality, especially for the communities the chevron represents.
The Intersex Inclusive Progress Pride Flag (2021)
In 2021, Valentino Vecchietti of Intersex Equality Rights UK adapted the Pride Progress flag design to incorporate the intersex flag, creating this Intersex-Inclusive Pride flag 2021.
The intersex community uses the colours purple and yellow as an intentional counterpoint to blue and pink, which have traditionally been seen as binary, gendered colours. The symbol of the circle represents the concept of being unbroken and being whole, symbolising the right of Intersex people to make decisions about their own bodies.
Since its introduction in 2021, intersex people and allies from all over the globe have said it is bringing them joy to see intersex inclusion in the Pride Progress flag.
Some examples of why Pride Flags remain so symbolic…
..can be found in the way they are utilized. For example:
Heartwarming video shows father helping his 15 year old son fly Pride flag.
Gay student attacked with his own Pride flag in the US.
Pride flag now deemed ‘too political’ and banned by schools in numerous states.
Students’ anti-LGBT rally in Florida sees them stomp on Pride flags and hurl abuse, meanwhile a ‘homophobic and racist’ Nazi march in Madrid.
Liverpool Pride mural vandalised with anti-LGBTQ slurs after a series of homophobic attacks in the city.
Pride flags could be banned at World Cup 2022 matches in Qatar U-turn.
UK Pride: Rainbow arch ‘deliberately’ burned down after local festival.
In short, flags matter. So be sure to display yours with Pride!