The Thousand Colours and Meanings of LGBTQIA+ Flags

A renowned Italian writer and aphorist once said, “The flag is something to do with the sky, the wind, and freedom.” In today’s article, we explore the significance of the rainbow flags that the LGBTQIA+ community identifies with.

The Power of the Flag

A flag is a powerful tool for conveying messages that are instantly recognisable and resonate deeply with those who understand its specific meaning. It represents the spirit of a community, uniting its members around a shared symbol, and is one of the most effective ways for a group to express itself and, in the case of the LGBTQIA+ community, to affirm their sexual identity.

The History and Evolution of Pride Flags

The brightly coloured LGBTQIA+ Pride flags have become emblematic of the community’s strength and struggle for visibility, inclusion, and civil rights. These flags, displayed in homes and businesses today, carry a rich iconography that has evolved from a long history of using colour to promote visibility and support the social movement.

For example, in Victorian England, a homosexual man might wear a green carnation on his lapel to subtly reference his sexuality, a trend initiated by Oscar Wilde. In the 1970s, queer individuals attended demonstrations wearing lavender t-shirts and sashes, as “lavender” was a derogatory term used to describe the queer community. The pink triangle, originally used in Nazi Germany to identify homosexuals in concentration camps, was reclaimed as a gay emblem in the 1980s before being replaced by a more uplifting symbol: the Rainbow Flag.

The Design and Symbolism of Pride Flags

Examining the most popular Pride flags, it is evident that designers have used colour intentionally. The colours of the Pride flag reflect the community’s past, history, and unique identities.

The first recognised Pride flag artist, in 1978, was Gilbert Baker. The activist was commissioned by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, to design a symbol that would affirm the LGBTQIA+ community with joy and positivity, moving away from the sombre pink triangle. Baker chose the colours of the rainbow, long a symbol of hope, and assigned a meaning to each colour (pink for sexuality; red for life; orange for healing; yellow for sunlight; green for nature; turquoise for art and magic; blue for harmony and peace; and purple for the spirit of the LGBTQIA+ community).

Early versions of the flag were hand-stitched by Baker and a team of volunteers for the 1978 Gay Freedom Day parade in San Francisco. Fuchsia and turquoise were later removed to facilitate mass production, and the Six-Banded Rainbow Flag became one of the most recognisable symbols of the modern LGBTQIA+ movement. This flag was later incorporated into the designs of the Philadelphia Pride Flag and the Progress Pride Flag.

The Philadelphia Pride Flag

The Philadelphia Pride Flag, unveiled at Philly Pride in 2017, includes black and brown stripes added to the original six-colour bands, symbolising the black and Latino communities that have been pivotal in the LGBTQIA+ movement but are often overlooked.

The Progress Pride Flag

In 2018, artist Daniel Quasar conceived the Progress Pride Flag as an evolution of the Philadelphia Pride Flag. This flag highlights the ongoing struggle for inclusion and equality, recognising the efforts of queer people of colour and the trans community. Quasar added white, pink, and blue stripes from the Transgender Pride Flag, with the black and brown stripes representing queer people of colour and a tribute to those affected by AIDS and its stigma. The new stripes form an arrow on the left edge of the flag, symbolising progress and the continued journey toward equality.

The Bisexual Pride Flag

In 1998, activist Michael Page created the Bisexual Pride Flag to increase visibility for the bisexual community. The pink stripe represents same-sex attraction, the blue stripe represents opposite-gender attraction, and the purple stripe represents a blend of both. Page explained that the colours blend imperceptibly, much like bisexual people integrate into both gay and straight communities.

The Lesbian Pride Flag

In 2018, Tumblr blogger Emily Gwen introduced a contemporary Lesbian Pride Flag featuring shades of orange and pink, later simplified. Dark orange symbolises gender nonconformity, light orange represents community, white signifies the relationship with femininity, pink stands for serenity and peace, and dark pink represents femininity.

The Transgender Pride Flag

Trans woman and activist Monica Helms designed the Transgender Pride Flag in 1999 to symbolise the diversity and rights of the trans community. The flag’s pink and blue colours represent those who identify with a different gender than assigned at birth, while white includes intersex individuals and those in transition or with an undefined gender. Helms noted that the flag’s pattern always appears correct, symbolising the validity of finding one’s true self.

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