Our Flag, our History

Image Description: Female presenting person waving pride flag on a truck

As with many facets of the LGBTQ+ community, our flags are not without controversy. As we progress through another LGBTQ+ history month, it is important to look back on these flags and remember where they come from and what they mean. Obviously, there are too many to fully unpick in one article. Here are a selection of some of the most prominent and the ones which mean the most to me.

The Pride Flag

Where better to start than with the iconic pride flag. Designed in 1978 by drag queen and openly gay man Gilbert Baker, the rainbow flag has always served as a symbol ofpride for our community. Baker would go on to say that he had been encouraged to make the flag by the prominent gay politician, Harvey Milk, which is indicative of the importance of the pride flag as a political symbol.

Originally, the flag consisted of eight colours, and was based on Baker’s vision of the rainbow as a ‘natural flag’ from the sky. The colours on Baker’s flag each bore their own meaning: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit. Due to production issues, the design was stripped down to six colours (red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet), allowing it to be manufactured en masse.

Though the flag has been flown since 1978 at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade, it was not until 1994 and the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that the rainbow flag became the definitive symbol of LGBTQ+ pride. Baker had, in recognition of the occasion, produced a mile-long version of the flag. It has been the definitive symbol of pride parade and the community as a whole ever since.

Progress Pride Flag

As with all aspects of our community, the pride flag as evolved and developed over time. The progress pride flag, also known as the inclusive pride flag, is the embodiment of this. Since 1978, our community has expanded, becoming more welcoming and inclusive for a wider range of individuals under the queer umbrella.

In an effort to address the growing racism and transphobia, both within the LGBTQ+ community and without, the progress pride adds new stripes and colours to the rainbow. This version was designed by the Portland-based musician and graphic designer Daniel Quasar in 2018. Quasar, who uses xe/xem or they/them pronouns, added the five-coloured chevron to show the ‘inclusion and progress’ that was so important to the community. This new flag built on previous efforts to showcase greater diversity by adding extra stripes to the original design.

Despite being a newer design, the flag has already proved popular. Guardian journalist Chris J. Godfrey tweeted an image of the flag in the wake of the George Floyd murder last year. Meanwhile, Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has flown a variant of the flag from City Hall at pride during pride for two years in a row. For me, this is the flag that best represents the community as it ought to be. One that makes the active steps to be inclusive and puts in the effort to make the changes we need to see. Re-designing the flag is a long way from where we need to be, but it’s an important first step.

As with all aspects of our community, the pride flag as evolved and developed over time.

Bisexual Pride Flag

As someone in a relationship with a bisexual, I can tell you firsthand: biphobia is real. Even among those who are willing to accept same-sex relationships, the concept of being able to love more than one gender is apparently an incomprehensible and frightening one. Even among friends and family members, it is not uncommon to hear the tired trope that bisexuals are ‘greedy’. In light of this, it’s important for bisexuals to have their own flag, alongside that of the LGBTQ+ pride rainbow.

The bi pride flag was designed in 1998 by Michael Page, and from the beginning, it has been intended to give bisexuals some much-needed visibility within the wider LGBTQ+ community. It was designed to build on the ‘biangles’, two overlapping triangles in pink and blue with lavender in the middle, first created for the Boston Bi Women’s community. Page built on this design by showing a gradation between the colours, to represent how bisexuals ‘blend unnoticeably’ into both gay and straight communities.

Today, the flag remains an iconic symbol of bisexuality. One of the central elements that was most important to Page in designing the flag was that it should never be copy-righted and free for public use. Despite several challenges to this, notably from BiNet USA, this is how it remains today. It was always Page’s intention to create a symbol for bisexuals that could stand up as an equally prominent next to other LGBTQ+ flags, something I’m sure we all recognise is essential.

Trans Pride Flag

In more recent years, the significance of the trans pride flag within the LGBTQ+ iconography has increasingly been appreciated. Among other signs, the inclusion of the trans pride colours on the progress pride flag demonstrates this. Yet, the central importance of trans struggles for our community is something none of us can afford to overlook. Understanding and respecting the trans pride flag is a key part of this.

It was Monica Holmes, an American Trans woman, who first designed this version of the trans flag pride in 1999. The blue and pink represent masculinity and femininity respectively, while the white is designed to recognise intersex, transitioning and non-binary individuals who don’t fit neatly into the first two colours. Holmes deliberately made the flag symmetrical, so that it was always ‘correct’, symbolising trans people finding ‘correctness’ in their own lives.

Though Holmes’ design is the most recognizable, it is far from the only depiction of trans pride on a flag. Several other designs, using the same colours, have been around since the late 1990s, while Israel has a particularly unique green and black flag, bearing the Venus, Mars, and Mars with stroke symbol (⚧). Trans flags are becoming increasingly visible and fly proudly atop buildings and flag poles to mark key dates, though there is still a long way to go.

Polyamory Pride Flag

This is perhaps the least commonly known of all the flags on this list, but it is no less important. Non-monogamy and polyamory have an important place with the LGBTQ+ community, as another variation from the monogamous, cisgender, heteronormative mould. Some have attempted to downplay the role of non-monogamous people in the community, but to do so is to forget that exclusion of any ‘queer’ identity is against the ethos of being LGBTQ+.

There are many variants of the non-monogamy flag, including some which have become more popular than this design, such as those created by NonMonoPrideFlags on DeviantArt, available here. This original version was designed by Jim Evans in 1995, featuring a blue stripe stands for openness and honesty, a red stripe stands for love and passion and a black stripe to represents solidarity with those who must hide their polyamorous relationships. The inclusion of the Greek ‘Pi’ symbol is meant to represent the infinite love that polyamorous people are capable of, though more recent designs replace this with the infinity symbol.

While polyamory and non-monogamy are not necessarily the same thing, both represent forms of relationships that deviate from the norm. We should be welcoming and accepting to those who are in these types of relationships, especially given the limitations of the traditional relationship dynamic for many, if not all, queer people.

This selection of flags are just some of those I have chosen to highlight here. There are many others which are just as important that for space reasons I’ve had to exclude, such as the asexual, intersex and pansexual flags to name a few.

Of course, there will always be those who complain that we have too many flags now, just as there are those who complain that there are too many letters in the LGBTQ+ acronym. For my part, all I can say is that being LGBTQ+ for me is about acceptance, inclusivity and belonging. We ought to work to build a home for everyone and the freedom to fly the flag is a key part of that.

“File:The 7th Gay Pride in Tirana.jpg” by Kristina Millona