The History of Eight Pride Flags and Their Symbolic Meanings
The range of flags that represents the LGBTQ+ community are a colorful, beautiful way for every group to show its pride. "From Gilbert Baker's 1978 rainbow flag to Monica Helms' 1999 transgender flag to Amber Hikes' 2017 More Color, More Pride flag, these symbols continue to be an important way for LGBTQ+ people to find community," says Jay Brown, senior vice president of programs, research, and training at the Human Rights Campaign. "The fact that there are dozens of flags demonstrates the variety within LGBTQ+ communities. This is something that should be celebrated-the multitude of our experiences reflected through these symbols and the strength that brings to our movement." Ahead, we looked into the history of several of these meaningful flags.
The Original Rainbow Pride Flag
When Gilbert Baker designed his original rainbow flag at the request of Harvey Milk in 1978, he included eight colors, each connected with an element of the LGBT movement: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, light blue for magic, dark blue for serenity, and purple for spirit. Demand for the flag skyrocketed after Milk's assassination that year, and a stock rainbow fabric-which didn't include the pink stripe-became the go-to for production. A year later, the flag got another makeover, according to the Gilbert Baker Foundation: "When hung vertically from the lamp posts of San Francisco's Market Street, the center stripe was obscured by the post itself. Changing the flag design to one with an even number of stripes was the easiest way to rectify this, so the turquoise stripe was dropped, which resulted in a six-stripe version of the flag-red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet."
The Philadelphia Pride Flag
In 2017, Philadelphia unveiled a new flag from designer Amber Hikes, which added a black and a brown stripe at the top of the rainbow flag as "an inclusionary way to highlight Black and Brown LGBTQIA members within our community," a source told Philadelphia magazine at the time.
The Bisexual Pride Flag
In 1998, Michael Page debuted his design for a flag representing the bisexual community, based on the colors and overlapping style of the bi angles symbol. The magenta stripe at the top represents same-sex attraction; the blue stripe at the bottom represents opposite-sex attraction; and the middle purple stripe-where the pink and blue combine-represents attraction to both.
The Transgender Pride Flag
In the years after he created the bisexual flag, Page proposed the idea of a flag representing the transgender community to Monica Helms. "One day, I woke up with the idea for the colors-the traditional color, light blue for boys, pink for girls, and a single white stripe for those who are transitioning, gender neutral, or intersex," Helms told Atlanta magazine in October 2020.
The Progress Pride Flag
Graphic designer Daniel Quasar used the six-stripe LGBTQ flag, the black and brown stripes of the Philadelphia Pride flag, and the pink, blue, and white of the transgender flag to create the Progress Pride flag in 2018. In his version, the black stripe also represents members of the community lost to-or living with-AIDS. "The arrow points to the right to show forward movement," he writes, "while being along the left edge shows that progress still needs to be made."
The Lesbian Pride Flag
The first lesbian flag, designed 1999, placed a black triangle upside down on a field of purple with a double-edged ax in the center; the triangle called back to a pink label in the same shape that Nazis affixed to the shirts of gay prisoners, and the ax-called a labrys-was already symbolic to the community. Today, an inclusive version of the flag, designed with mauves, pinks, orange, and purples by Emily Gwen in 2018, is waved during Pride Month. In order from the top, the stripes stand for gender non-conformity, independence, community, unique relationships to womanhood, serenity and peace, love and sex, and femininity.
The Intersex Pride Flag
Morgan Carpenter, co-executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia, developed the concept for a purple and yellow intersex flag in 2013. He chose intentional colors not typically associated with male or female, and added a circle: "The colors and circle don't just avoid referencing gender stereotypes, like the colors pink and blue; they seek to completely avoid use of symbols that have anything to do with gender at all," he writes. "Instead, the circle is unbroken and un-ornamented, 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."
The Non-Binary Pride Flag
Kye Rowan is credited with designing the nonbinary flag in 2014, choosing each stripe color with care: OutRight Action International specifies yellow for "people whose gender exists outside of the binary; the white stripe, people with many or all genders; the purple, people with genders considered a mix of male and female; and the black, people who identify as not having a gender."