The six-colour rainbow flag will probably be the flag waved the most around the world during pride. But did you know that it wasn’t the original design? And that new flags are popping up all over the world? Members of the LGBTQIA+ community use all kinds of colours in all kinds of flags to create a variety of queer symbols.
A look back at the Pride Flag
The original flag was made by artist and activist Gilbert Baker, after being proposed by Harvey Milk himself, who was keen to replace the (then often-used) pink triangle as the main symbol for the LBGT movement (due to its dark history as a former nazi symbol).
The original design was first conceived in 1978, and had two more colours than the current design: pink (symbolising sexuality) and turquoise (symbolising magic and art). Due to increased demand for the flag and the high cost to produce hot pink fabric, the pink stripe was dropped. For the next two years, the flag would have seven colours, until turquoise suffered the same fate, leaving us with the iconic six-colour design.
The six colours, of course, each have a meaning. Those being red, symbolising life; orange, symbolising healing; yellow, symbolising sunlight; green, symbolising nature; blue (formerly indigo) symbolising harmony or serenity; and violet or purple, symbolising spirit. The latter has spun off into its own holiday of sorts: the third Thursday of October is known as Spirit Day in the U.S., while the Netherlands has its own Purple Friday on the second Friday of December. Australia also has its own "Wear it Purple Day." These are days to raise awareness and confront homophobia, and are typically celebrated by donning purple attire.
The rainbow flag is ever changing and the creativity and the individual needs of the queer community have caused it to spawn to new and different versions over the years.
Most notably, in 2017 for Philadelphia Pride, black and brown stripes were added at the top. These colours symbolise diversity and inclusivity, respectively, and were included to show solidarity for the struggles LGBT people of colour especially face.
The following year, a queer designer & activist called Daniel Quasar released a flag with emphasis on inclusion and progression by incorporating elements of the original six-colour flag: the colour brown for marginalised people of colour, black for those living with AIDS, those no longer living, and the stigma surrounding them; and the trans pride flag, light blue, light pink and white. The arrow pointing to the right represents forward movement, but being along the left edge it shows that progress still needs to be made.
This variant is called the Progress LBGT+ flag.
Why is it so important to keep involving and evolving?
In the UK, over half of the black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT+ population have reported discrimination or poor treatment WITHIN the Queer Community, according to this Stonewall study. The research exposes the extent to which BAME LGBT+ people face discrimination based on both their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and their race; also known as "double discrimination," or commonly referred to as "intersectionality."
Until people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are treated equally in LGBT+ communities, the new black and brown stripes are vital. Many don’t know that integral figures at the Stonewall riots (an uprising against years of police brutality to members of the LGBT+ community) were Marsha P Johnson, a black trans sex worker, and Sylvia Ray Rivera, a Latina trans sex worker. And many within the queer community forget that the distinctly black and latino LGBTQ vogue culture was a particularly influential movement which brought with it a flurry of literature, art, and music. But early activists like them are rarely celebrated. Instead, racist comments on the internet and dating apps like "no blacks, no Asians" or "no chocolate, no curry, no rice, no spice," which deliberately exclude different ethnicities and people of colour, the fetishisation of black sexuality and the violence perpetrated within the community are spreading. That’s why it is so important to expand the rainbow flag so it includes marginalised people of colour.
Lady Phyll, a UK activist and co-founder of UK black pride has spoken up on the matter, saying that the six-colour flag has lost its meaning for many queer people of colour, as they have been denied entry into spaces decorated with that flag, or by people proudly bearing it in their attire. A symbol can lose meaning if used incorrectly, and the same goes for the acronym. LGBTQIA+ is only letters and it can mean nothing if it is exclusionary of groups of people it claims to represent. These new flag designs are a cry from marginalised groups within the community, who deserve to be heard.
It is also important to highlight that within the LGBT+ community, the letter T is usually the one that tends to be left behind the most. It is not uncommon to hear things like "maybe we should split the LGB from the T" among other queer people, who don't fully grasp the implications of this. The problem is that as the first three letters start entering mainstream acceptance, they may be quick to close the door behind them. As mentioned before, Stonewall was instigated by queer, trans people of colour. We, as a community owe too much to them. And any newfound privilege that we can gain should be used to remind people that transphobia is not, and will never be ok.
Trans people have a very low life expectancy and frequently face barriers when trying to access healthcare or mental health services. In some countries, some victories have been made in the area of trans rights. In some others, like Hungary, they have had whatever rights they had eroded. They remain the most marginalised group of the LGBT+ community, which is why they need to be elevated. They need to be protected. Trans rights are human rights.
The Flags of Other Communities
During a normal month of pride, it would be super common to see all sorts of people waving all kinds of flags, some of which you may have never seen before! Pride this year may be a bit different, but here are some flags you may see as wallpapers, virtual backgrounds, or shared in social media.
They all have their own unique history, and they are usually born out of a desire to be visible and separate from the main Gay and Lesbian movement. They, of course, also have their own unique symbolism.
The Bi Pride Flag
Created by bisexual activist Michael Page. It is s used to represent members of the bisexual community, and their plight for visibility.
The Trans Pride Flag
This flag was made in 1999 by Monica Helms, a trans woman. No matter how you fly it, it is always correct!
Intersex Pride Flag
The often overlooked intersex community got its own flag, created in Australia in 2013. Its design seeks to use colours with no connection to gender.
Asexual Pride Flag
This flag was created as a joint effort by several asexual and aromantic associations and groups in 2010. It's design was agreed via survey, making it (probably) the most democratic of all the flags.
Pansexual Pride Flag
This is the flag used by pansexual people, who aim to challenge prejudice and judgment against their community, as well as recognition.
Flags for other Gender Identities
Agender, Genderqueer and Genderfuid people, as well as Nonbinary people, have their own flags as well. Here they are, respectively.
So, is that it?
Of course not! There are more. Many more. It would be a daunting task to include every flag here. But, if you ever encounter a pride flag whose meaning you don’t know, don't be afraid to ask. Chances are, people would love to tell you what it is.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.