What do all the versions of the Pride flag mean?

Progress pride flag (new design of rainbow flag) waving in the air with blue sky, LGBTQ community in Netherlands
Photo: Shutterstock

Earlier this month, a UK organization announced they had designed a new edition of the Pride flag. The new addition abandons the stripes-only theme and inserts a large yellow triangle on the left with a circle inside of it.

It’s the latest of several updates to the traditional Pride flag design, many of which have been widely adopted as of late. So there’s no better way to recognize Flag Day than to update our running list of banners representing all of, or parts of, the LGBTQ community.

Related: The Pentagon surprisingly decides to continue Trump’s ban on Pride flags in military

In addition to constant updates to the rainbow, six-colored flag, that is typically understood as the all-inclusive LGBTQ Pride flag, most subsets of the LGBTQ community have their own flags now, varying from the transgender flag designed by Monica Helms decades ago to the “Labrys Lesbian Pride Flag.”

For example, there are genderqueer and genderfluid flags, and bisexual, pansexual, and polysexual flags despite some folks’ inability to tell the difference between the words, let alone the flags. There’s even a flag for straight allies.

Just as people complain that the list of letters and numbers to describe LGBTQ people keeps growing, making an “alphabet soup” of the community, people complain every time a Pride flag update or design is announced, but the man credited as the original creator of the flag himself, Gilbert Baker, would revise the Pride flag to better represent diversity.

Prior to World War II, there wasn’t a universal sign or object for gay, trans, and/or queer people to use to build a community around in America, let alone around the world. The first symbol that has widespread adoption around LGBTQ people was the pink triangle.

The pink triangle was used in Nazi Germany concentration camps during the Holocaust to signify that a male prisoner was gay or queer. Women who were “asocial,” including lesbian women, were given a black triangle.

After the end of the Nazi reign, the pink triangle no longer served that purpose, although many gay men were not freed after the Allies took control of Germany in 1945. Many saw incarceration well into the 1970s, and Germany would not end incarceration for gay people officially until 1994.

Prisoners wearing the pink triangle at the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, Germany, are marched outdoors by Nazi guards on December 19, 1938. CORBIS

In America specifically, gay people still had little rights or recognized community. When the Lavender Scare started, which increased discrimination and ostracization of LGBTQ people, being gay or trans became associated with communism and thus, the destruction of life and society.

That led LGBTQ people to begin organizing as a larger community in the 1950s and 1960s prior to Stonewall. Purple colors, coming from the mixture of red (and pink) and blue, became an associated color of queer people. Lambda, a letter in the Greek alphabet, became the first worldwide-adopted symbol of many LGBTQ organizations. Pink triangles would become common again after The Men with the Pink Triangle, the first autobiography of a gay concentration camp survivor, was published in 1972.

The Original — Gilbert Baker’s Pride flag

When the Gay Freedom Day Parade — as initial Pride marches were known — was being planned in San Francisco in 1978, Harvey Milk and others sought a symbol that would replace the triangle. Many, Baker included, did not like the symbol and its roots in Nazi oppression.

“Adolph Hitler conceived the pink triangle during World War II as a stigma placed on homosexuals in the same way the Star of David was used against Jews,” said Baker. “It functioned as a Nazi tool of oppression. We all felt that we needed something that was positive, that celebrated our love.”

Baker would conceptualize the iconic flag that would become universally adopted, though he didn’t claim sole credit in designing the flag.

“A true flag is not something you can really design. A true flag is torn from the soul of the people. A flag is something that everyone owns and that’s why they work,” he once said.

Picture of the original rainbow Pride flags flown in 1978 in San Francisco. Wikimedia

Baker, working with James McNamara, Lynn Segerblom, and some 30 volunteers, dyed and sewed the fabric for a pair of flags to adorn the flagpoles at the UN Plaza in San Francisco’s Civic Center. They flew for one day on Gay Freedom Day on June 25, 1978.

Both of his flags initially had a total of eight stripes, each one symbolizing an aspect of the movement. These included hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for magic and art, indigo for serenity, and violet for spirit.

One of the two flags also had a canton, or upper quadrant, similar to what the American or Australian flags have. The Pride flag’s canton also had stars, although more flower-like, and was influenced by the patriotism from the bicentennial that took place two years prior. This wasn’t widely adopted, but today, Pride flags with American flag cantons are increasingly common.

The one with the canton was put on display, but then apparently stolen. The flag without the canton was presumed missing until it was recovered two years ago. It was put on display at the GLBT Historical Society Museum in San Francisco and unveiled earlier this month.

When the now-defunct Paramount Flag Company — a long-time employer of Baker — began mass producing the flag, hot pink was not a standard fabric they had on hand. It was dropped, as was turquoise to keep the design symmetrical. The canton was also removed.

The “Victory Over AIDS” flag

When the HIV/AIDS crisis came to take over the LGBTQ community, Pride began to take on a different, more serious feeling. At this time, the pink triangle also was repurposed by the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT-UP.

This extended over to the Pride flag, which was still fairly new at the time. So then came the Victory Over AIDS flag.

Black was added to the six Pride colors, to commemorate the community members lost to the AIDS epidemic. Leonard Matlovich, a gay veteran and early LGBTQ rights activist, proposed that Pride flags incorporate the black stripes and they only should be removed when a cure is found. Then, all those flags would be ceremoniously burned in Washington, D.C. in honor of the victims.

It did not gain widespread use at the time, but would not be forgotten when black was included in future flag interpretations. On its own, however, it has had sporadic use in recent years.

Gilbert Baker’s updated Pride flag

Baker would replicate the rainbow Pride flag for years as a long-time employee of Paramount, and then when the flag gained widespread adoption in the 1980s.

In March 2017, he decided to update his iconic design once again. Baker created a nine-stripe version of the flag.

He kept the red, orange, yellow, green and violet. He revived the former indigo, turquoise, and hot pink colors, and then added lavender.

While people derided later designs that aimed to be more inclusive of other marginalized identities, Baker himself recognized that the Pride flag didn’t encompass every part of the LGBTQ community, and he added lavender specifically to represent diversity in light of the 2016 election.

Baker would pass away suddenly at the age of 65, at the end of the same month in which he’s believed to have updated his flag. Weeks later, a group of people of color was kicked out of a gay bar in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Pride Flag

In June 2017, after several more instances of racism within the community, the city of Philadelphia commissioned and adopted a version of the rainbow Pride flag that added a black and brown stripe for the city’s campaign “More Color More Pride.” This was a way of visibly welcoming people of color in the city’s Pride celebrations.

Its design was overseen by Amber Hikes, the executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, but the flag has become known as the Philadelphia Pride flag or “Philly Pride flag.”

PHILADELPHIA, PA / USA - June 10, 2018: Crowd members enjoying the festivities at the 30th annual PrideDay LGBT Parade and Festival.
Crowd members waving the Philly Pride flag at the 2018 Pride Parade and Festival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Robert MacMillan/Shutterstock

“It’s a push for people to start listening to people of color in our community, start hearing what they’re saying, and really to believe them and to step up and say, ‘What can I do to help eradicate these issues in our community?” Hikes said.

The flag was popular but also controversial for emphasizing racial diversity in the LGBTQ community. The Human Rights Campaign was one of the first major organizations to adopt the flag and incorporate it in official business in late 2018. Groups like Pride at Work and joined in adopting the flag and/or colors as time went on.

The Progress Pride Flag

Less than a year later, Daniel Quasar (whose pronouns are xe/xym/xir) proposed a new, “progress”-focused design for the rainbow flag in June 2018. The design added a chevron, an arrow-like triangle that you see like on military uniforms or the hoist of a flag.

The chevron was made with white, pink, light blue, brown, and black stripes in an arrow on the left to the traditional six-striped rainbow flag. Quasar was inspired by the intent of the Philadelphia flag, adding the brown and black to represent Black and brown LGBTQ people once more, as well as the black that became the color used in response to the AIDS epidemic. The flag also included white, pink, and light blue to specifically represent the transgender flag.

“I felt there needed to be more thought put into the design and emphasis of the flag to give it more meaning,” xe wrote.

This update also caused controversy, but it received mainstream support from across the LGBTQ community. Quasar was also intentional about incorporating the past updates, not excluding them. Xe wrote a thread this year explaining it again:

Beyond the traditional rainbow flag, the Progress Pride flag is probably the most commonly adopted LGBTQ flag.

Corporations have increasingly adopted the Progress flag or colors, although other advocates and organizations have also taken to it as well.

The Intersex-inclusive Progress Pride flag

Now there’s an update to the updated update to the Pride flag to better include intersex people.

To begin Pride Month, the Intersex Equality Rights UK group launched an Intersex Inclusion campaign. They shared Valentino Vecchietti’s re-developed Pride Progress flag, which extended the chevron by adding a yellow solid triangle with a white circle to the far left to represent intersex people. The white triangle on the Pride Progress flag is just a stripe in this redesign.

Intersex people are usually born with sexual characteristics that don’t fit societal or medical definitions for cisgender male or female bodies. Many intersex people are often forced to categorize as one sex, although they may later develop traits or characteristics usually associated with a different sex.

Intersex people are generally included in the transgender community, but they can also be of a wide range of sexual orientations or gender identities. The world is estimated to be made of about 1.7% intersex people, although many face medical “correction” shortly after birth in an attempt to make them fit into the expectations of medical professionals and others.

Valentino Vecchietti's update to Daniel Quasar's update to Amber Hikes' update to Gilbert Baker's iconic Pride flag.
Valentino Vecchietti’s update to Daniel Quasar’s update to Amber Hikes’ update to Gilbert Baker’s iconic Pride flag. Intersex Equality Rights UK

The singular sexuality Pride flags

As the LGBTQ community as a whole, some terms used in the community are umbrella terms, while some are only representative of one sect of the community. Flags are no different. Many of the LGBTQ flags representing one identity within the community incorporates three stripes or colors.

There are several lesbian flags, with the first being the Labrys Lesbian Flag, which came in 1999. It wasn’t widely adopted, and in 2010 lesbian flags without the labrys were first adopted online. The most recent adaptation came in 2018 from Emily Gwen.

The bisexual flag was put together and unveiled in 1998 by Michael Page. It has the stereotypical colors for boys and girls, blue and pink, with purple overlapping in the middle. It was influenced by the “bi-angle,” the purple intersect created by the overlap of a pink triangle and blue triangle.

A bisexual flag at Pride in London in 2019.
A bisexual flag at Pride in London in 2019. Shutterstock

The pansexual Pride flag was created sometime online and first recognized in 2010. The pink represents women or feminine people, the yellow represents non-binary and gender non-conforming people, and blue represents men or masculine people.

This is the pansexual flag
This is the pansexual flag Shutterstock

The Asexual Visibility and Education Network logo inspired the asexual Pride flag, which also came into use online beginning in 2010.

There are also several flags for different romantic orientations, most notably for aromantic and demi-romantic people.

Clockwise from left to right, these are the gray asexual, gray romantic, demi-romantic and demi-sexual flags.
Clockwise from left to right, these are the gray asexual, gray romantic, demi-romantic and demi-sexual flags. GLAAD

The gender Pride flags

In 1999, Monica Helms designed and created the transgender flag at the suggestion of Page. Her five-striped design, incorporating blue, pink, and white, is recognized around the world. She first put her flag on display at Pride celebrations in 2000, and the first recognized official use of it as a ceremonial flag came in 2012, when it was raised over the Castro.

The trans flag at an August 21, 2017 protest
The trans flag at an August 21, 2017 protest Shutterstock

Helms, a Navy veteran, has continued advocating for LGBTQ rights and was included in Queerty‘s Pride50 list in 2019. She has requested that President Biden allow the flag to fly on American embassies in light of his administration’s decision to allow the use of Pride flags around the world on American diplomatic property.

“With our embassies flying the Trans Flag along with the Rainbow Flag, we will send a strong message around the world that America respects its trans community, giving trans people in that country hope,” she wrote in January.

Johnathan Andrew, under the moniker of “Captain John” on his Adventures in Boyland website, separately created a different flag for the transgender community in 1999 that has also gained notoriety. Andrew’s includes seven large stripes in light pink and light blue, separated by thin white stripes.

It’s upended with a twinned Venus and Mars symbol in lavender on the upper left hoist, “not to be confused with The Artist Currently Not Known as Purple’s symbol,” referring to Prince, who was using an unpronounceable symbol as his name at the time.

The Transgender Pride Flag designed in 1999 by Johnathan Andrew (
The Transgender Pride Flag designed in 1999 by Johnathan Andrew. Jonathan Andrew

Jennifer Pellinen, apparently unaware of either trans flags, created her own in 2002. It uses a spectrum-like design of stripes, with pink at the top, shades of purple in the middle, and blue at the end.

The intersex flag, created by Morgan Carpenter of Intersex Human Rights Australia in July 2013, is yellow with a purple circle in the center.

Intersex flag Shutterstock

This is not exhaustive — no matter how you identify, there’s probably a number of other flags not included here that represent you.

The great thing about Pride is that no matter what colors you want to fly, the entire rainbow is here for you.

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