2019's Pride month was special — it was the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots of 1969. WorldPride, a celebration of all different genders, sexualities, and queer identities, takes place over the month of June. This year, there were more celebrations than ever before; people were embracing their identities from Guadalajara to Dallas and from Seattle to Thessaloniki. The festivities culminated in an enormous parade in the heart of New York City, where the famous riots against the homophobic police force first took place.
This year's NYC Stonewall50 pride parade, just like every other pride parade and event, showcased rainbow flags, a recognizable symbol of the queer community. In recent years, in addition to the classic ROYGBIV, more and more flags with different designs have begun to pop up.
What does each flag represent, and how can you continue celebrating the LGBTQIA+ community after Pride has ended?
Pride flags, much like the flags of countries, are designed to represent communities. Unlike national representation, however, these flags serve the purpose of uniting communities based on their sexuality and gender — identities that transcend nationality. For this reason, pride flags are flown worldwide. Each color on a pride flag is chosen carefully and holds a deep significance for members of the community it represents.
The first pride flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker. Harvey Milk, the Californian politician and activist, commissioned Baker to create a flag for that year’s San Francisco Gay Freedom Day for $1,000. Milk wanted to change the symbolism of the event by creating a new symbol of pride for the LGBTQIA+ community that was not sourced in homophobia, unlike the formerly popular pink triangle of Nazi Germany. Little did either Baker or Milk know that the new flag would become so iconic.
This first version of what has become the recognizable rainbow flag looked a little different from our current model: it had eight stripes instead of six, featuring hot pink, indigo and turquoise. Baker could have made a large profit off copyrighting the design but said that he chose not to do so because he wanted everyone to feel ownership over the flag. Baker’s design has undergone several changes over the course of the past 50 years, and many other pride flags have been designed for queer subcultures, but the rainbow flag remains prevalent as a staple of every pride parade.
This is the original rainbow flag, as designed by Gilbert Baker. He drew inspiration from the stripes of the American flag and chose the colors to represent different facets of the queer shared experience. The colors represent the following:
• Hot pink: sex
• Red: life
• Orange: healing
• Yellow: sunlight
• Green: nature
• Turquoise: magic and art
• Indigo: serenity
• Violet: spirit
These flags were only in circulation for one year; in 1979, hot pink was dropped from the flag because of the cost of production, and a year later the San Francisco Pride celebration demanded that the flag have an even number of colors, so turquoise was cut, too.
First seen in 1979, this version of the pride flag has replaced indigo with royal blue, which symbolizes harmony. The rainbow flag is now recognized universally as a symbol of pride. On June 26th, 2015, when gay marriage was legalized in the U.S., the White House lit up with the colors of the rainbow flag.
In 2017, a new take on the classic rainbow flag was unveiled in Philadelphia. This came as a response to racist activity documented on the Philly gay bar scene — the owner of gay bar ICandy was caught on film using the n-word and saying other hateful things about black customers. This flag introduced black and brown stripes in a symbolic gesture towards people of color, attempting to communicate a renewed stress on intersexuality and inclusion. Unfortunately, the new flag was not well received by many white gay men, who claimed that the new colors were “unnecessary,” and attempted to add a white stripe to the flag in retaliation.
The bisexual pride flag was designed by Michael Page in 1998. Inspired by biangles, Page co-opted their color scheme to create this pink, blue and purple flag. The pink, often associated with homosexuality, represents an attraction to women; the blue symbolizes an attraction to men. The purple runs between, signifying a combination of sexual attraction.
The transgender pride flag was designed by Monica Holmes, a trans veteran, and was first unfurled in 1999. Holmes chose light blue and light pink because those colors are often assigned to babies who are assigned male or female at birth, and the white stripe is representative of those who are intersex, transitioning or gender nonconforming. The flag is meant to be entirely reversible, so that any way you fly it, it will still be correct.
The asexual pride flag was also created in 2010, through a series of online design competitions conducted on AVEN, the Asexual Visibility & Education Network. The winning flag represents individuals across the spectrum of sexuality: black for asexuality, grey for grey-asexuality and demisexuality, white for sexual allies and purple for the entire community.
The genderqueer pride flag, also referred to as the nonbinary flag, was created by Marilyn Roxie in 2011. The lavender, a mixture of pink and blue, is meant to represent androgyny, the white stands for agender identities and the green stands for nonbinary identities.
This Bear flag was designed by Craig Byrnes in 1995. Bears are gay men who are often heavy, hairy and more stereotypically masculine. The bear identity itself is represented through the bear paw, and the colors of the flag are meant to suggest different colors of bear fur.
The large lipstick kiss in the corner of this flag is a symbol for lipstick lesbians, or femme lesbians who present themselves in a particularly stereotypically feminine way. The array of pinks are also meant to represent different levels of femininity. This flag is not the only option out there for lesbian pride: there also exists a Labrys lesbian flag, and some versions of the Lipstick Lesbian flag have no lipstick stain, in order to cater to more lesbians.
This is the polyamory pride flag, which sometimes hosts a heart intertwined with the infinity sign instead of the traditional Pi symbol. The Pi symbol, which is the first Greek letter of the word “polyamory,” is meant to communicate the value of emotional connection in polyamorous relationships (as opposed to relationships based on purely physical attraction, a common misconception about the poly community). The blue stripe represents the open communication between members of a polyamorous relationship, the red represents passionate love and the black stands for solidarity with those who are poly but must hide their relationships from the public eye.
The progress pride flag was designed in 2018 by Daniel Quasar. This flag combines several existing designs — the rainbow flag, the Philadelphia brown and black stripes and the transgender pride colors are all visible. With this new combination of colors, Quasar intended to communicate true inclusion, and to point to progress that the movement hopes to achieve. The black, brown, blue and pink stripes are arranged into an arrow, pointing towards the right as a symbol of forward movement. The arrow remains in the left corner to represent that the progress has just begun.
Mass retail seems to have just clued into the fact that they can make a pretty penny off selling pride paraphernalia. Nowadays pride flags are available at many stores, and they’re pretty cheap, too. However, this newfound acceptance does not always translate to actual support of the LGBTQIA+ community.
For an alternative to supporting mass corporations that are profiting off pride without contributing to the cause, look to Pride Flag SD. This Etsy-based vexillologist sells most pride flags for $30. Their tagline is “We are the GAY flag makers,” and customers can feel secure that they will be paying a higher price for a better product AND supporting actual members of the queer community in the process.