The brightly colored flags you see online and IRL to celebrate Pride and support LGBTQ+ rights are great to look at, but they serve an important purpose. While everyone is probably familiar with the rainbow gay pride flag, there are many groups within the vast LGBTQ+ community that are less well-known, and many have their own flag.
“Having a wide range of flags helps those groups feel more seen and offers them a simple visual way to identify themselves to others if or when they want to,” Jo Eckler, licensed clinical psychologist and author of I Can't Fix You—Because You're Not Broken: The Eight Keys to Freeing Yourself From Painful Thoughts and Feelings, tells Health.
Eckler explains that the different flags can help people find others who share their sexual or gender identity. Additionally, the flags can serve as an important teaching tool. “People sometimes see these flags, wonder what they mean, go and look them up, and end up learning something in the process,” says Eckler.
The bigger picture is that a flag is more than just a flag. LGBTQ+ identity and sexuality intersects with all aspects of health (mental, physical and sexual). Far too often, LGBTQ+ people don’t get the same level of care as people who identify as heterosexual. A 2017 survey by the Center for American Progress found that nearly one in 10 LGBTQ+ individuals reported that a health care professional wouldn’t see them in the prior year because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation. And nearly three in 10 transgender people reported that providers refused to see them because of their gender identity.
“Research has found that the less comfortable people are with their LGBTQ+ identities, the more likely they are to be depressed or more anxious, use or abuse substances, or to have low self-esteem,” Kevin L. Nadal, PhD, professor of psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center at City University of New York and author of the upcoming book Queering Law and Order: LGBTQ Communities and the Criminal Justice System, tells Health.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report published in August 2016, LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth and are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth. “People who are uncomfortable with their LGBTQ+ identities are likely to have an array of physical health problems, and sometimes may even suffer from sexual health issues,” says Nadal. “This is why it’s so important to celebrate LGBTQ+ people from a very early age.”
If you identify as heterosexual and want to ally with the LGBTQ+ community (and there’s even a flag for you, but more on that later), get to know these flags. It’s not an exhaustive list, BTW—but it’s a good starting point.
Original rainbow pride flag
The original rainbow pride flag was designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. It consisted of eight stripes in different colors, each one with a specific meaning. Pink stood for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic/art, indigo for serenity, and violet for spirit. Pride.com states that Baker’s design was inspired by Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow.”
Traditional rainbow pride flag
In 1979, two stripes were dropped from Baker’s version. According to reports, there were problems obtaining pink fabric and complications relating to having an odd number of colors—which led to turquoise also being disposed of. The resulting six-stripe flag is the version people are most familiar with.
More color more pride flag
In 2017, the rainbow flag underwent a further change. Philadelphia campaign group More Color More Pride added two extra stripes of black and brown to the flag to include people of color, who are often excluded from the LGBTQ+ community. Screenwriter Lena Waithe showed her support for the new flag by wearing it as a cape to the Met Gala.
Bisexual pride flag
When Michael Page learned that the majority of bisexual people felt no connection to the rainbow pride flag, he decided to create a flag with symbols bi people felt an affinity with. According to Pride.com, the top 40% of the flag is magenta, the middle 20% is lavender, and the bottom 40% is royal blue. The magenta represents same-sex attraction, the blue represents heterosexual attraction, and the lavender, which is a mixture of both the magenta and blue, represents attraction to both sexes.
Lesbian labrys pride flag
There are lots of lesbian flags, but the labrys version draws on Greek mythology. In Ancient Greece, the Amazons were a tribe of warrior women who wielded the double-headed labrys axe. The weapon was adopted as the symbol of lesbian feminists in the 1970s. The black triangle on the flag refers to the symbol used to identify lesbians in Nazi concentration camps, which was later reclaimed by the lesbian community. In 1999, graphic designer Sean Campbell brought the labrys and the black triangle together on one flag.
Lipstick lesbian pride flag
Another variation of the lesbian pride flag features stripes in shades of pink and red, a white bar in the center, and a lipstick kiss symbol in the top left corner. It's said to represent femmes, or lesbians with a more feminine expression of their gender. It has been criticized for excluding butch women.
New lesbian pride flag
Modifications to the lipstick lesbian pride flag removed the lips and added orange stripes. Approximately 5,000 people chose and voted for this as a possible new lesbian flag. Generally, it’s been well-received by the lesbian community because it include lesbians who are butch, futch, or otherwise gender nonconforming.
Pansexual pride flag
Nobody knows who designed the pansexual pride flag, which first appeared online in 2010. The flag consists of three stripes to symbolize pansexuality as either an attraction regardless of gender or an attraction to all genders. The blue stripe represents an attraction to men, the pink stripe represents an attraction to women, and the yellow stripe represents an attraction to people of other genders.
Intersex pride flag
Intersex people are born with variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that don’t fit the typical “male” or “female” definitions. So it’s fitting that the intersex pride flag, which was designed by Morgan Carpenter of the advocacy group Intersex Human Rights Australia in 2013, stays away from traditionally gendered colors of blue and pink. “The circle is unbroken and un-ornamented, symbolising wholeness and completeness, and our potentialities,” the group states of the flag design. “We are still fighting for bodily autonomy and genital integrity, and this symbolises the right to be who and how we want to be.”
Asexual pride flag
People who have limited or no sexual feelings or desires often identify as being asexual. According to the Asexuality Archive, the flag was created by a member of the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) as part of a contest in 2010. The black stripe stands for asexuality, the gray stripe for gray-asexuality or demisexuality, the white for allies and the purple for the asexual community as a whole.
Transgender pride flag
Last year marked the 20th anniversary of the transgender pride flag, which was designed by transgender activist and author Monica Helms in 1999. The flag includes the two colors traditionally associated with baby girls (pale pink) and baby boys (pale blue), with a white stripe in the center. According to Andy Campbell’s book Queer X Design: 50 Years of Signs, Symbols, Banners, Logos, and Graphic Art of LGBTQ, the white stripe represents “those who are intersex, transitioning, or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender."
Genderqueer pride flag
The genderqueer pride flag, featuring a lavender, white, and chartreuse stripe, was designed in 2011 by genderqueer writer and advocate Marilyn Roxie. Roxie chose the lavender to represent androgyny as well as queer identities because it’s a mixture of pink and blue—colors that are traditionally associated with men and women. The white stripe, as per the transgender pride flag, stands for agender or gender neutral identities. And the chartreuse stripe, the inverse of lavender, represent third gender identities and identities that don’t fall within the gender binary.
Genderfluid pride flag
JJ Poole created the genderfluid pride flag in 2012 because they were disappointed with the lack of symbolic representation for genderfluidity. The flag has five horizontal stripes, which are widely considered to represent femininity (pink); masculinity (blue); both femininity and masculinity (purple); a lack of gender (black); and all genders (white). However, in a 2018 interview, Poole said, “I just played around with the shades to what I found aesthetically pleasing. The purple in particular. I loved the shade.”
Agender pride flag
Salem X created the seven-stripe agender Pride flag in 2014, which they described in an interview as a time when Tumblr “was seeing a huge influx of identities, pronouns, and other means of personalizing one’s identity.” (Agender refers to someone who does not identify with a particular gender.) The black and white stripes represent an absence of gender, the gray represents semi-genderlessness, and the central green stripe represents nonbinary genders.
Nonbinary pride flag
Kye Rowan created the nonbinary pride flag in 2014 to represent nonbinary people who don’t feel represented by the genderqueer flag. The yellow stripe represents people whose gender exists outside of the binary; the white stripe, people with many or all genders; the purple, the fluidity and flexibility of many gender experiences and those who are considered a mix of male and female; and the black represents agender and other genderless identities.
“Progress” pride flag
In 2018, Daniel Quasar started campaigning for an updated version of the traditional rainbow pride flag. “I wanted to see if there could be more emphasis in the design of the flag to give it more meaning,” Quasar, who identifies as queer and nonbinary, wrote on his Kickstarter page. His reboot is meant to be inclusive of queer people of color and trans people, and represent those lost to AIDS.
Polysexual pride flag
Often described as a middle ground between bisexuality and pansexuality, polysexuality is the attraction to multiple genders, but not all of them. The polysexual flag was designed in 2012 by the Tumblr user Samlin, who said they “made it similar to the bi and pan flags since they’re all in under the multisexual umbrella.” The pink stripe is said to represent attraction to women, the blue attraction to men, and the green attraction to people who don’t conform to male or female gender.
Straight ally pride flag
Believed to date from the late 2000s, the straight ally pride flag celebrates all straight and cisgender people who are proud allies of the LGBTQ+ community. The black and white stripes represent heterosexual genders, while the A-shaped rainbow stands for both “ally” and “activist,” demonstrating a commitment to supporting and advancing LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion.
Demisexual pride flag
According to The Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at the University of Colorado, the origin of the demisexual pride flag is unknown, but the term “demisexual” (used to describe someone who feels sexual attraction to another person only after forming a close emotional bond with them) was coined in 2006 on the forums of The Asexual Visibility & Education Network (AVEN) by user “sonofzeal.” On the flag, black represents asexuality, grey represents asexuality and demisexuality, white represents sexuality, and purple represents community.
Aromantic pride flag
Aromantic people may or may not be interested in sex but never or rarely experience romantic attraction. The wide aromantic spectrum inspired the colors of the flag, which was created by Tumblr user Cameron (@cameronwhimsy) from Australia in 2014, per The Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at the University of Colorado. Dark green represents aromanticism, light green is for the aromantic spectrum, white stands for “aesthetic” attraction (i.e. objectively finding someone beautiful without being sexually or romantically interested in them), gray is for gray-aromantic and demiromantic people, and black symbolizes the sexuality spectrum.
Demigender pride flag
Demigender literally means “half gender” but is used in the LGBTQ+ community as an umbrella term for people who are nonbinary but have a partial connection to a certain gender. According to The LGBT Sentinel, the dark gray and light gray stripes stand for partial (binary) genders, the yellow stripe represents nonbinary genders, and the white stripe stands for those who identify as agender or third gender. Two variations of the demigender flag are the demigirl and demiboy flag, which replace the yellow stripes with pink and blue stripes, respectively.
Androgynous pride flag
The androgynous flag represents those who identify as being a mix of both male and female (not necessarily in equal measure). On the flag, the blue stripe represents masculinity and the pink stripe represents femininity, and the gray area is the metaphorical “gray area” between those two genders. The flag forms an “equals” sign to symbolize “the equal interplay of the two binary genders (male and female) in a person’s identity,” writes The LGBT Sentinel.
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