The Origins of 10 LGBTQ+ Pride Flags

It all started with Gilbert Baker’s flag in 1978.
Happy Pride!
Happy Pride! / CARME PARRAMON/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

It’s likely that you’ve seen a lot of colorful flags flying during Pride Month, and there’s way more than just the traditional Pride flag out there—in fact, there are many Pride flags, and each has its own meaning. Here’s a rundown of the origins, evolution, and significance of just some of the LGBTQ+ Pride flags out there.

Gilbert Baker Pride Flag

The original Pride flag designed by Gilbert Baker with 8 colors.
The original Pride flag designed by Gilbert Baker. / Fibonacci, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Ahead of the Gay Freedom Day Parade in 1978, Harvey Milk, California’s first out gay elected official,asked his friend Gilbert Baker to create a symbol of gay pride. Baker, an artist who had learned to sew for his drag queen costumes, enlisted around 30 volunteers to help assemble two flags at San Francisco’s Gay Community Center. Each flag was 30 feet high and 60 feet long and hand-dyed. “It took four hands to move the fabric through the [sewing] machine, 20 hands to iron the fabric,” Baker told the Museum of Modern Art’s magazine in 2015.

The flags had two additional colors compared to the ones we most often see today. Each of the eight stripes had its own symbolic meaning: Hot pink represented sex, red meant life, orange was for healing, yellow was sunlight, green for nature, turquoise represented magic, indigo meant serenity, and purple represented spirit. One of the flags also included a tie-dyed star design. The flags debuted on June 25, 1978, at the United Nations Plaza in San Francisco.

Traditional Pride Flag

UK - Culture - Gay and lesbian Pride Parade through central London
The traditional Pride flag. / Mike Kemp/GettyImages

After creating the original design, Baker began commercial production of the flag. Hot pink wasn’t easy to manufacture, so the color was dropped. Later, San Francisco activists wanted to incorporate the flag into a parade in honor of Milk, who was assassinated in November 1978. Their vision was to have half the flag lining one side of a street and the other half lining the other. Baker approved the removal of the turquoise stripe, creating the modern Pride flag.

Intersex Pride Flag

The intersex Pride flag, designed by Morgan Carpenter.
The intersex Pride flag, designed by Morgan Carpenter. / AnonMoos, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Morgan Carpenter of Intersex Human Rights Australia created the intersex Pride flag, which debuted in July 2013. Carpenter has since explained that “I wanted to create an image that people could use to represent intersex people without depending upon what I think are often misconceptions or stereotypes.” The colors are yellow and purple because they are both considered gender-neutral. According to Carpenter, the circle represents “wholeness and completeness, and our potentialities.”

Intersex-Inclusive Progress Pride Flag

A person holds up an intersex-inclusive progress Pride flag.
A person holding up an intersex progress Pride flag. / SOPA Images/GettyImages

The Pride flag has continued to evolve over the years. In 2017, Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs collaborated with the ad agency Tierney to add one black stripe and one brown stripe to the flag, which signified the inclusion of queer people of color.

In 2018, graphic designer Daniel Quasar added the triangle on the left side, including the black and brown stripes and the colors from the transgender Pride flag. The triangle serves as a reminder of the intersectional identities of LGBTQIA+ individuals and points to the right to represent forward progress.

Valentino Vecchietti, founder of Intersex Equality Rights, added the intersex symbol to the flag in 2021.

Lesbian Pride Flag

The lesbian Pride flag designed by Emily Gwen with seven stripes.
The lesbian Pride flag designed by Emily Gwen. / L_ke, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The first version of the lesbian Pride flag—which featured a white double-headed ax and a black triangle—debuted in 1999. Then, around 2010, the “lipstick lesbian Pride flag,” which had a kiss mark in the corner, gained traction, but it fell out of favor at least in part because the term lipstick lesbian is considered derogatory. After that, the orange-pink, or sunset, lesbian Pride flag iteration took hold. Tumblr and Twitter user Emily Gwen debuted the design in 2018. Sometimes, the flag has seven stripes, but often, the simpler five-stripe version is displayed. In the flag’s complete form, dark orange represents gender nonconformity, orange stands for independence, light orange for community, white for unique relationships to womanhood, pink for serenity and peace, dusty pink for love and sex, and dark rose is for femininity.

Bisexual Pride Flag

Pride In London 2019
Carrying the bisexual Pride flag at Pride in London, 2019. / Tristan Fewings/GettyImages

Before the bisexual Pride flag, the bisexual community had another symbol: “biangles,” overlapping blue and pink triangles designed by artist Liz Nania in the mid-1980s. Inspired by the biangles, activist Michael Page created the bisexual Pride flag, which he launched on his website, BiCafe, in December 1998.

The magenta stripe represents homosexuality and the blue stripe represents heterosexuality. The purple blend in the middle stands for attraction to multiple or all genders. “The key to understanding the symbolism in the bi Pride flag,” Page said, “is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the ‘real world’ where most bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities.”

Pansexual Pride Flag

The pansexual Pride flag designed by JustJasper.
The pansexual Pride flag designed by JustJasper. / KiwiNeko14, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Many Pride flags were designed by bloggers and social media users, then caught on via the internet. The pansexual Pride flag fits into that category, too. Around 2010, the flag was posted on an anonymous Tumblr blog. Since then, user JustJasper came forward as the originator of the flag. The pink represents attraction to women and the blue represents attraction to men. The yellow in the middle stands for nonbinary attraction.

Asexual Pride Flag

The asexual Pride flag.
The asexual Pride flag. / AnonMoos, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

This flag design caught on after it won a 2010 contest run by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network. Since 2001, the AVEN organization has worked to build community and public acceptance of asexuality. The colors in this flag were already present in the AVEN logo and they each have a meaning: Black represents asexuality. Gray stands for gray asexuality—which can mean being sex-repulsed, sex-neutral, or sex-positive—and demisexuality, or only feeling sexual attraction after developing a close bond. The white in the flag represents non-asexual partners and allies, and purple stands for community.

Transgender Pride Flag

2022 New York City Pride March
The transgender Pride flag, designed by Monica Helms. / Noam Galai/GettyImages

Monica Helms, a United States Navy veteran and co-founder of the Transgender American Veterans Association, designed the transgender Pride flag in 1999 (Michael Page, the designer of the bisexual Pride flag, urged her to create a flag for her community). It debuted the following year at Phoenix Pride in Arizona.

The flag incorporates light blue and pink stripes, colors that are traditionally associated with boys and girls, respectively. The white in the middle represents the diverse array of experiences, including people who are transitioning, those who are intersex, and those who are gender non-conforming.

“I’m overwhelmed at how popular it’s become,” Helms said. “[S]eeing it in different countries and different places, seeing the colors displayed in places, like the spiral on top of the One World Trade Center or on top of tall mountains, still thrills me to no end. I have one bucket-like goal on where I want to see the flag, and that’s in the International Space Station.”

In 2014, Helms donated the original transgender Pride flag to the Smithsonian, and it now belongs to the National Museum of American History. 

Nonbinary Pride Flag

The nonbinary Pride flag, designed by Kye Rowan.
The nonbinary Pride flag, designed by Kye Rowan. / Kye Rowan, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

It’s been reported that the nonbinary Pride flag was released in 2014 by then-teenager Kye Rowan [PDF]. The yellow stripe is for those who exist outside the gender binary; the white stripe encompasses those who have multiple or all genders; the purple stripe represents a mix of the man and woman gender identifies; and black means “no gender.”

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