It’s commonly known that we filthy queers stole the Rainbow from Noah and made it serve our nefarious purposes. That is, it’s used internationally as a symbol indicating safe LGBTQIA spaces, QUILTBAG pride, etc. etc. But why a rainbow? What do the colors stand for? What are all these other flags that one sometimes sees during pride and in sex shops?
I’m so glad you asked, Gentle Reader.
We’ll begin with the grand old rainbow flag, go over the colors, and then hit the more common flags you might see this pride season.
This is going to be a LONG post, kids. Strap in tight!
The RAINBOW Flag
A quick history: In 1978, Gilbert Baker designed the first rainbow flag for an early version of San Francisco’s pride parade. Sources differ as to his inspiration; some claim it’s a Judy Garland reference, closely tied to the Stonewall Riots† which were a few days after her death. It’s also been tied to the Hippie movement, a Flag Of All Races, and Allen Ginsburg. What is firmly known is that the rainbow itself shows the spectrum of colors, and therefore represents the spectra of sexuality and gender. Also? Baker attributed each color a specific meaning. Also also? His flag had eight stripes.
Hot Pink stood for Sexuality.
Red stood for Life.
Orange was for Healing.
Yellow was for Sunlight.
Green represented Nature.
Turquoise symbolized Magic, and Art.
Indigo/Blue was for Serenity and Harmony, and
Violet stood for Spirit.
Hot Pink was dropped late in ’78 because hot pink fabric was apparently hard to come by, and Turquoise was dropped in ’79 because when the flags were hung from street lamps, it was hidden by the posts or something. But the common six-stripe flag is still with us today! Mile-Long-Flags are passed from Pride Event to Pride Event, and usually commemorate something important when they show up. And the Rainbow flag is seen everywhere! So what about all those other flags? What do they mean?
Hours of research went into this, and as ever, if I get something wrong, please don’t hesitate to correct me, to educate me. That’s what the comments are for, darlings.
The Labrys Flag
I’ve never actually seen this one in the wild, but I’ve read about it. It’s for Lesbians! Because they’ll cut a bitch. It originates in the matriarchal societies of ancient Crete, I guess. The black triangle refers to the symbol the Nazis would tattoo on Lesbians and other “Work-Shy” individuals, like the Romani, much like the pink triangle they’d tattoo on gay men. The purple field is there
because it’s mandated that all queers like purple purple is a royal color and queers are royalty because purple and lavender are commonly accepted queer colors, from mixing masculine red and feminine blue.
The Bisexual Flag
The Bisexual Pride Flag was designed in ’98, as a way of raising bisexual awareness, as bisexuals in committed relationships fade into the gay world or the straight world. The colors came from an existing bisexual symbol –
– and the pink represents same-sex attraction, the blue represents opposite-sex attraction, while the lavender represents the overlap/gradation between them.
The Pansexual Flag
This one’s of relatively recent vintage. Pansexuality is distinct from bisexuality in that it acknowledges attraction to non-binary genders, and, from what I understand‡, is more about attraction to people based on who they are than what they are. The rundown: The flag dates to 2010; pink refers to those who identify as female, regardless of the plumbing, blue refers to those who identify as male, with the same caveat, and yellow is for those outside the binary.
The Asexual Flag
Asexuality gets a little complicated, kids, and I can’t explain the colors without giving you a lot of extra vocabulary terms. This post is already overlong, and we still have a lot to get through. Asexuality brings up the excellent point of romantic spectra being different from sexual spectra, though, which I have intimate, long-standing, first-hand experience with. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had a relationship where the sexual and romantic spectrums were aligned. At any rate, I’m going to give you a link to AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network, because otherwise I’ll be in way over my head. They should also be able to explain the separate Demisexual Flag. Demisexuals only experience sexual attraction after a strong emotional connection has been established, and there is very littleinformation on their flag. I can only surmise that the colors are taken from the Asexual flag.
There’s also Aromanticism, Lithromanticism, and a slew of others which seem to be under the Asexual banner.
The Transgender Flag
This is also the Transsexual flag, because there are still folks who identify as Transsexuals. The term, while outdated, refers to Trans individuals who have gone through gender-reassignment surgery.
AT ANY RATE, this is only the most prominent of the Trans flags; there are evidently several designs extant. This one was designed back in ’99 by Monica Helms, a transgender woman. She says “The stripes at the top and bottom are light blue, the traditional color for baby boys. The stripes next to them are pink, the traditional color for baby girls. The stripe in the middle is white, for those who are intersex, transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender. The pattern is such that no matter which way you fly it, it is always correct, signifying us finding correctness in our lives.” So there’s that. It has also been suggested that white is strictly for those who are transitioning.
The InterSex Flag
This flag is woefully late to the party, Gentle Reader. It was designed by the Organisation Intersex International Australia and they endeavoured to create a flag “that is not derivative, but is yet firmly grounded in meaning”. The colors were chosen specifically because they are not traditionally gendered, and the organisation describes yellow and purple as the “hermaphrodite” colors. I am absolutely certain that intersex individuals of my acquaintance would take offence to the language they use, which is why I made doubly certain to use quotation marks.
The Genderqueer and Genderfluid Flags
Genderqueer’s a bit of a blanket term, I’m afraid. It covers, basically, anyone who doesn’t strictly identify as a man or as a woman – and there are a lot of identities out there, so Genderqueer graciously welcomes them all. Lavender is a mix of the traditional gendered colors, as well as representing queerness itself. The white stripe is for those who find themselves tumbling outside the gender binary entirely into the white space outside it. The green, which is officially described as chartreuse, is the inversion of lavender in the color wheel, and is meant to represent those who identify as NEITHER male nor female – where lavender indicates those who identify as BOTH. Or a mix. YMMV, essentially. Here is an excellent glossary regarding genderqueer terms.
Genderfluid is exactly what it says on the tin. Some days a genderfluid individual will identify as male, other days as female, other days as neither or both. The flag, though, means this: The pink at top represents femininity, the blue at bottom represents masculinity, and the blurred lines between represent the blurred lines between.
The Bear Flag and the Lipstick Lesbian Flag
Bears are those gay men who are a little bit heavier, little bit older, and especially a little bit hairier. There are variations, like cubs, who are hairy, heavy, and young, and otters, who are hairy, slim, and young, ad infinitum. They’re all bears, as far as I’m concerned. Here is their flag:
It refers to the colors of bear fur world wide. And also apparently to the range of human skin/hair tones. Hooray! Bears are mostly harmless, though, unless you’re a twink or at the wrong bar.
Lipstick lesbians are traditionally the ones that your mother is confused by. “She’s so pretty,” Ma will say, “And she’s so delicate!” Just because a lady enjoys being a girly-girl doesn’t mean she’s not attracted to other women. Their flag invokes traditional feminine colors and a great big kiss.
The Fetish Ones
Oh, dear. I’m not even going to go here. There’s a lot of them? And I can’t keep up? They all have their own subculture, and usually a float in the big-city Pride Parade, and you’ll definitely see their various flags in sex-shops. We all have our kinks, you know? And for some, they’re a huge part of their identity. Here are some, but there are a lot of others out there. I’m not even going to try to provide a context, because I am way out of my depth.
†You don’t know the Stonewall Riots? For Heaven’s Sake, Gentle Reader! Don’t worry, child. I will educate you.
‡I’m a cisgender white gay man. My understanding is moving along, but I don’t know everything. I figure that if we all help educate one another we’ll all be better people. Also? There aren’t a lot of resources out there to help educate oneself. I’m hoping to help with that, but I need to be educated myself in order, you know, to not be a dick about things.