Flying Proud: A Guide to the Symbols of Pride Flags

Written by Sara Brown

Boston kicked off  Pride Month with a photography project called “Portraits of Pride” featuring LGBTQ+ leaders, a display of the Pride flag, and rainbow lights. Boston’s Pride for the People parade took place on June 10th. Within the same week, Flag Day celebrations will take place around the city. This got us thinking about flags and the many meanings and histories behind the proud, colorful, flags flying along our city streets. 

Rhinos and Resistance
Left: Black and White Photo of Rhino for Pride Parade in 1976. Right: Lavender Rhino pin
Paper Mache Lavender Rhinoceros and Button from Boston Pride 1974, courtesy of The History Project

Before we dive into the many symbols of Pride, it’s important to remember that Pride has always been about resistance–its origins are rooted in battling for LGBTQ+ rights. One of the earliest visual forms of gay resistance was created by two Boston artists: Daniel Thaxton and Bernie Toale. During the 70s they designed the Lavender Rhinoceros, viewed as a docile and misunderstood animal, and aggressively ferocious when provoked. Its lavender hue is meant to symbolize the fusion of masculinity and femininity. It was designed for ad spaces along the MBTA. The symbol came to represent the center of gay resistance and community. Around 100 lavender rhino ads were placed along the Green Line and ran from late 1974 to early 1975. The Lavender Rhino made a reappearance in Boston Pride in 1976 and its flag was flown at City Hall to commemorate Pride in 1987. In 2016 the Lavender Rhino was featured on the History Projects Pride Shirts. 

 

Rainbow of Possibilities
image-20230614135902-1
2021 Progress Flag

There will certainly be rainbows this Pride month, but do you know each variation has different meanings? The first Pride flag was made in 1978 by Gilbert Baker per the request of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official. It included eight colors, pink to represent sex, red for life, orange to represent healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for queer art and magic, blue for harmony, and violet to represent spirit. Alterations were made to this flag, removing pink and turquoise, to simplify its design for mass production resulting in the traditional six-stripe rainbow flag that symbolizes the overall LGBTQ+ community. 

 

Inclusion and Intersectionality
Queer people of color flag is shown, with various skin tones inside BLM symbol on Rainbow flag
Queer People of Color Flag

Intersectionality also became a visual topic of interest for those in the LGBTQ+ community, and the traditional rainbow flag saw changes to reflect this shift in sentiment. The Queer People of Color flag was designed with a variety of skin tones to show intersecting identities and solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement. It was the first of the rainbow flags to represent unity and alliance alongside resistance. In 2017 Philadelphia People of Color Flag debuted and consisted of the traditional rainbow flag with a black and brown stripe that showed an intersectional identity of a queer person of color and acknowledged their unique struggles. The flag you may be most familiar with is the Progress Flag, which was designed in 2018 by Daniel Quasar and combines the traditional rainbow flag with angled stripes of black and brown alongside pastel blue, pink, and white -the colors of the transgender flag. The 2021 edition of this flag includes a purple ring inside a yellow triangle to include intersex individuals. 

 
Sexual Orientation
Stars and Dykes flag from Boston's chapter of  Daughters of Bilitis
Flag from New York City’s 1973 Pride Parade, featured on the cover page of the July 1973 publication of FOCUS: A Journal for Gay Women by Boston’s chapter of Daughters of Bilitis. Courtesy of The History Project. 

Some sexual orientation flags you may see include the lesbian flag, trans-inclusive gay men’s flag, bisexual flag, pansexual flag, asexual flag, demisexual flag, polyamory flag, and the polysexual flag. There are many versions of the lesbian flag that lead to controversial discourse and advocacy for inclusion, however, the most common and widely accepted is the nonbinary and gender non-conforming lesbian inclusive flag which consists of various shades of orange and pink. The blue and green variations in the gay men’s flag represent the unity and various forms of masculinity in the gay community. Made in 1998 the bisexual flag was made to combat bisexual erasure and discrimination, representing the attraction to two or more genders. The pansexual flag is in the colors cyan, yellow, and magenta, representing sexuality that is inclusive of all people and not gender specific. The asexual flag came out in 2010 representing those who have little to no sexual attraction to any gender. The demisexual flag is similar in its colors to the asexual flag but represents those who only form a sexual attraction once a deep emotional connection with an individual has been established. The polyamory flag was made in 1995 and represents all polyamorous people, signifying an infinite number of partners and the love and solidarity of the community. The polysexual flag originated in online chatrooms and represents an attraction to multiple but not all genders, being unique and different to every individual. 

 

Gender Identity and Expression
Trans flag flies at city hall
Transgender Flag flies at City Hall, courtesy of Former Mayor Marty Walsh (May 16, 2016)

There are also gender identity and expression flags to look out for. A few are the transgender flag, nonbinary flag, intersex flag, genderfluid flag, genderqueer flag, and agender flag. The transgender flag was designed by Navy veteran and transwoman Monica Helms in 1999. The idea was to create a design such that no matter how the flag was displayed it would be viewed correctly. The nonbinary flag was made in 2014 by Kye Rowam and they designed it for those whose gender identities don’t fit within the traditional ideas of the gender binary. This typically has been seen as an umbrella for gender identities that don’t feel represented by the genderqueer flag. The intersex flag was designed by Morgan Carpenter in 2013, to unite the wide range of intersex experiences. The genderfluid flag was made by JJ Poole in 2013 to create a visual unifier for those who have fluctuating genders and or expressions. Marilyn Roxie made the genderqueer flag in 2011 for those who reject the conformity of the gender categories, those who do not see themselves as male, female, or beyond the binary. The agender flag was designed in 2014 to unite those who have an unidentifiable gender, are gender neutral, or have no gender.

 

Note: On June 6, 2023, the Human Rights Campaign declared a National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ folks in America due to “an unprecedented and dangerous spike in anti-LGBTQ+ legislative assaults sweeping state houses this year.”

This is not an all-encompassing list as there are several other sexual and gender identity and expression flags, hopefully, this encourages you to learn more about the wide range of identities people will be celebrating this Pride month.  

Various Pride Flags Displayed
Top (left to right): Gilbert Baker Flag, Rainbow Flag, Queer People of Color Flag, Philadelphia People of Color Flag, Lesbian Flag, Bisexual Flag, Trans-Inclusive Gay Mens Flag, Asexual Flag,
Bottom (left to right): Nonbinary Flag, Genderqueer Flag, Transgender Flag, Agender Flag, Genderfluid Flag, Pansexual Flag, Progress Flag, 2021 Progress Flag

 

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