It’s almost time for SF Pride, and that means the city is sprouting rainbow flags like flowers in the desert after a rainstorm. By now most people know what the rainbow signifies, but what about those other striped flags you see waving at Pride events? I thought I knew most of their meanings, but I recently came across the most Pride items I’ve ever seen in one place, and they had keychains with flags that I’d never seen before (and my office is a castle that flies Pride flags from the turrets).
Here’s a quick overview of all the ones I could find online, plus a more detailed history and analysis for each further down. My sources are cited in-line or listed at the end.
The top 3 are the ones most commonly seen at Pride events.
Edited on 6/27/15: Updated/added some flags based on reader feedback. Rearranged flag order to loosely group by category.
The Gay Pride Rainbow
Ah, the rainbow flag. Such a beautiful and bold statement, hard to ignore or mistake for anything else. (also easy to adapt to every kind of merchandise you can imagine)
Wikipedia has an extensive article on it, but here are the more interesting bits:
The original Gay Pride Flag was first flown in the 1978 San Francisco Pride Parade, and unlike its modern day 6-color version it was a full rainbow – it included hot pink, turquoise, and indigo instead of dark blue. Each of the stripes had a particular meaning associated with it, but mostly I think they just wanted a purty rainbow.
The pink stripe was removed relatively quickly due to fabric unavailability. The turquoise was taken out a year later when the 7-striped flag was hung vertically from lamp posts on SF’s Market Street, but the middle stripe was obscured by the post so they yanked turquoise to make it an even number of stripes. This was also when blue replaced indigo, which I assume was done to balance out the removal of the turquoise.
It’s been the same since 1979 and is recognized internationally. Awesome.
Also known as “black and blue with love,” the leather pride flag is not associated with any particular sexual gender preference (though it’s used most commonly by gay men) but instead indicates a preference for kink. The “leather subculture” is somewhat hard to define as it encompasses a wide variety of activities. In general they all involve two things: leather and sex, although in modern times it’s also used for BDSM (which doesn’t necessarily include leather) or people who really really like wearing leather clothing (but not necessarily for a sexual purpose).
In fact, the leather flag has grown to represent so many other sub cultures that it’s spawned a huge variety of sub-flags. Here are some examples, taken from The Queerstory Files (I’ve swapped out the dog/puppy flag they used in the original article for the more common variant) and their meanings. Head over to that article for definitions of each.
The original leather pride flag was debuted at the International Mr. Leather event in 1989 (exactly 47 days after I was born). The colors and symbol have no official meaning. (source)
Fun fact: The image under the ‘History’ section of the leather pride flag’s wikipedia article is of the flag flying from Kink’s turret. :)
In general, a “bear” is a large, hairy, overtly masculine gay man – however, the community champions inclusion and self-identification is the only required characteristic. Sometimes slim but hairy men are called “otters,” and bears who are younger or sexually submissive are called “cubs,” which I find completely adorable. (source)
The Bear Pride flag was designed by Craig Byrnes, who did his undergraduate senior project on the bear community as well as being a part of it himself. His research gave him inspiration to design a flag for the growing community and in 1995 he sketched out four different designs in crayon. These were voted on during a meeting of the Chesapeake Bay Bears club, and the winning design was circulated amongst bear communities throughout the United States. (source) It is now used by bear communities around the world.
The colors represent the fur colors of all the different types of actual bears around the world. (source)
The bisexual pride flag was introduced in 1998 by Michael Page as an effort to give bisexual people their own rallying symbol similar to the gay rainbow flag. (source) The colors are an evolution of the “Biangle” symbol, itself a play on the original pink triangle used to represent homosexuality. (source)
Pansexuality is an interesting new categorization of sexual attraction. It’s defined as being attracted to people regardless of their gender or sex, which, unlike the strict definition of “bi”-sexual, includes those who fall outside the traditional gender binary. The pink represents being attracted to women, the blue being attracted to men, and the yellow for being attracted to everyone else. (source)
There are some very cute sentiments online associated with pansexuality:
I couldn’t find any references for the history of the flag, but I’m guessing it’s rather new seeing as most of the uses for it are on tumblr.
Asexuality is a lack of sexual attraction or a low interest in sexual activity. The asexual community is relatively new and not widely known, quite possibly because a lack of sexual interest causes much less public outcry than an “inappropriate” sexual interest.
The flag was created in 2010 through a process spear-headed by the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). The creation and selection was extremely democratic and took place entirely online. First they asked for submissions, then posted all the designs in a poll. The community went through several rounds of voting, and finally narrowed it down to the winner that you see above.
This flag features a “labrys,” a double-headed axe associated with early matriarchal Minoan societies and favored by tribes of Amazon warriors who roamed the area that is now Kazakhstan. The labrys became popular with lesbian culture in the 1970s, but has fallen out of common use since. (source)
The black triangle is a throwback to nazi Germany, similar to the pink triangle used by the general gay movement. The black triangle denoted “anti-social” behavior, which included lesbianism.
Although the flag was created fairly recently (1999 by Sean Campbell) it’s not as popular now as it once was, possibly because of the relative unknown of the symbols. (source)
Lipstick Lesbian Pride
A “lipstick” lesbian means a woman who is gay and has a very feminine gender expression. Often this includes makeup (thus, lipstick), skirts, heels, etc.
This flag appears all over the internet, but it was very hard to find information about its origin. I finally traced it back to this post on a blog called This Lesbian Life. Reading through the author’s other posts, many of which are very good btw, it’s clear she was frustrated by other people not believing she was gay because she’s so femme. These are a couple lines from a blog post of hers called “The 10 Worst Things About Being a Lipstick Lesbian.”
2. Nobody ever believes that you’re gay, and thinks that you’re just going through a phase because of a bad boyfriend experience.
6. When you walk into a lesbian bar, everyone looks at you up and down and then whispers to each other, “Well she went to the wrong place.”
9. When you come out to someone they always have a crazy look on their face and then say…”Well I had no idea! You don’t seem gay!!!”
So, she created a flag of her own to represent a marginalized subgroup! Pretty cool.
Also, I think it’s seriously fucked up that this woman created this gorgeous flag, which is all over the internet, but nobody credits her. She wasn’t that hard to find, she’s on the 2nd page of a Google Search for “lipstick lesbian pride flag.”
Polyamory is often described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy.” It’s basically the practice of being in a relationship(s) with multiple people at the same time, and everyone involved knowing about it and being ok.
Sadly for math nerds everywhere, the “pi” in this flag merely symbolizes the letter “p” for the first letter of “polyamory.” The flag was created by Jim Evans, but I couldn’t find info on when or where. (source)
Update 6/27/15: The flag’s creator added this info in the comments:
“The flag was indeed designed by me, Jim Evans, in the summer of 1995 or so. The ‘pi’ symbol has taken some heat over the years because of its obscurity, but yes, it was chosen to represent the first letter of “polyamory.” Part of the idea was to claim an arbitrary symbol that would be innocuous to people who didn’t know better, allowing closeted polyfolk to remain discrete if their circumstances required it. As an additional benefit, it was also a readily available typographic symbol on computing platforms at the time, and could be easily replicated by nearly anyone, which was seen as a distinct advantage, given the limitations of the designer’s visual artistic ability. I’m simply gratified that enough people over the years have found it acceptable enough to keep using it.”
The above is the only real “flag” design I could find for polyamory, but a more common pride symbol amongst the poly community is the ‘infinity heart’, or sometimes just an infinity sign.
Thanks to Zinnia from polyadvice.tumblr.com for letting me know!
At first I was amused to discover the existence of heterosexual pride flags, but after several minutes of googling “straight pride” I realized they’re usually used by asshole conservative groups as an anti-gay slogan. :\ Kinda like “white pride” actually means “we hate anyone who’s not white.” There are some friendly uses of these, but not many. (source)
Straight Allies Flag
This flag is designed for straight people who are proud allies of gay people. Why they can’t just wave a normal rainbow flag I don’t know, but here it is!
It emerged sometime in the late 2000s, but I couldn’t find any info on where it came from. The rainbow triangle thing in the middle is supposed to be an ‘A’ for ‘Activism’ or ‘Ally’ or something, with the black and white stripes representing the straight part. (source)
“Intersex” is a term for people who are born with mixed primary or secondary sex characteristics, making them both female and male. This condition shows up in approximately 1% of the population, though many recognized forms of it are subtle enough to go undetected for an entire lifetime. (source)
Update 6/27/15: This flag was debuted by OII Australia in July of 2013 as a rallying point for Intersex people, “one attempt to create something that is not derivative, but yet is firmly grounded in meaning.” The colors yellow and purple were chosen because they’re seen as fairly gender neutral – neither pink nor blue. The circle symbolizes wholeness or completeness. (source)
My original post listed the below striped flag as Intersex Pride. This flag was somewhat controversial in the Intersex community, the main complaints being that it’s too close to the Transgender Pride flag and that it had also been intended to represent “Bigender” peoples. Intersex is distinctly different from Transgender or Bigender, so OII created their distinctly different flag. The debate continues, however. (source)
This flag, designed by Natalie Phox in 2009, blends the two stereotypical gender-binary baby colors, pink and blue, in lavender stripes on the side and a gradient in the middle. (source)
The transgender pride flag was created by Monica Helms, a transgender woman, in 1999. The two colored stripes represent the traditional colors for baby boys and girls, and the white is for those of intersex, neutral, or other genders.
The flag is intentionally symmetric so that however you hang it, it is in the ‘correct’ orientation. Helms says this was to represent transgender people finding “correctness” in their lives. (source)
The Genderqueer Pride flag was created by Marilyn Roxie in 2010 with help from the Genderqueer internet community. The lavender is a mix of the traditional blue and pink gender colors for people who are a little of both, the green is meant to be the “inverse” of lavender for those outside the binary, and the white represents gender neutrality. (source)
“Genderqueer” is a term I have become increasingly fond of lately. It’s an extremely inclusive “catch-all” for anyone who doesn’t feel like they fit into one of the two standard gender definitions. Unlike most other pride flags, which represent groups of people who ‘are’ something (people who are gay, transgender, asexual, etc.), genderqueer is for people who are not either of the traditional 2 genders. It’s a group for people who feel like they don’t fit into the normal definition, and I think that’s pretty awesome.
(Added on 6/27/15)
Genderfluid is a term for someone who’s gender changes over time. Their gender identity can vary at random or in response to different circumstances. Gender fluid people may also identify as multigender, non-binary and/or transgender. (source)
The flag was created by JJ Poole, and the colors represent the various states that genderfluid people may find themselves in – pink for feminine, blue for masculine, purple for a mix of the two, white for no gender, and black for all genders. (source)
At a very basic level rubber fetishism is similar to leather fetishism, in that it revolves around clothing made of rubber (latex, PVC, polyurethane, etc.). Likewise, it has developed a significant number of associated sub-fetishes. (source)
The Rubber Pride flag has existed since 1994, developed by Peter Tolos and Scott Moats. It was created by the two during a Vulcan America meeting in the hopes it could be used for rubber enthusiasts to find like-minded partners. Since the Rubber community is significantly smaller than the Leather or Bear communities, and its members tend not to wear their gear in public, it was especially difficult back then for fetishists to find each other.
The flags designers wanted something different from the uniform horizontal stripes that had become standard for pride flags, so they chose a black base with red and yellow for their brightness. The yellow was originally intended to represent watersports, and the red blood, but the interpretation has changed since.
Instead of using straight bars they added the zigzag to make a ‘V’ (since it had come out of a Vulcan America meeting) and also because the flag indicates a kink. Peter Tolos cheerfully said “It’s a kinky flag!” (source)
The Master/slave pride flag was debuted at the Master/slave conference in Washington DC on July 29, 2005. (doesn’t a Master/slave conference sound way more fun than WWDC?) It was designed by Master Tallen and his slave Andrew. (source)
Before the creation of this flag the M/s (and Dom/sub) community tended to use the Leather Pride flag, but Master Tallen felt this was inappropriate since plenty of members of the M/s community did not identify as leather or kink fetishists. (nor were they all gay men, the group the leather flag is most commonly associated with)
The symbols represent, to nobody’s surprise, master and submissive. The single vertical line is for authority, power, or dominance. The grouping of three horizontal lines is apparently a standard psychological symbol for submission or ‘passive intellect.’ (source) I assume they went with black and red because they’re dramatic and pretty.
(Added on 6/27/15)
Ownership is derived from the Master/slave dynamic, with a greater emphasis on rules and defined behavior between owner and property. There is a pretty legit website with a 10-point manifesto, starting with the following:
1. What is Possession?
Central to O&P is the concept of Possession: having control and use for one’s own purposes of that which is possessed, involving some or all of the rights associated with property ownership. This is asymmetric and unequal in status. While the submissive is in the dominant’s possession they are fundamentally there for the dominant, obeying the dominant, and subject to the dominant’s decisions. The dominant is the submissive’s superior, just as an employer is their servant’s superior. The unambiguous, honest, and hierarchical nature of O&P provides clarity about what is to be done, and who is to do it, without the manipulation and unstated quid pro quo of so many relationships. (source)
The website also goes into extensive detail about the design of the flag, and it’s pretty obvious the designer knew what they were doing since they mention things like the rule of tincture, the first rule of heraldic design. The shield represents the owner as protector and head of household, and the circle represents the collar, a pretty universal symbol for submissives and slaves. The striped background is a shoutout to the original leather pride flag, with the emphasized color difference helping to illustrate the extreme power dynamic of the relationship. (source)
(Added on 6/27/15)
Adult Baby / Diaper Lover (ADBL) is a fetish community based around adults role playing as babies or using classic baby items such as diapers. This can be sexual, but is not necessarily so. (source)
I feel this is one of the more self-explanatory flags – the pin is a diaper pin, and the colors are the usual pastel gendered baby colors. (source)
There is also this white-striped heart over a pink and blue background symbol that is associated with this community, but I can’t find additional information about it as a flag – it mostly seems to exist as Zazzle merchandise. (source)
“Fat Fetish” is fairly self explanatory, although there are many self-identified fetish classifications inside of the general community. These include ‘fat body worship,’ ‘erotic weight gain,’ and ‘growth role-play.’ (source) The flag is fairly new, created in 2011 by Kevin “The Cosmopolitan” Seguin. (source) The colors are based off of Neapolitan Ice Cream, which I find rather clever. :)
This is actually the second version of the flag – the first version, which had a similar theme but was much simpler, met with some resistance by the community.
(Added on 6/27/15)
Pony Play is the fetish practice of treating humans as horses, which can include things like wearing hooves and ears (similar to puppy play), wearing tack (bridles, saddles, etc.) and pulling carts. (source)
The flag was created by Carrie P (Mystic Storm) in 2007. The predominant black background honors the leather community at large, and the other colors represent various aspects of the pony community. The horse shoes represent, well, ponies. (source)
(Added on 6/27/15)
I have found remarkably little information on this flag – I can find its existence mentioned in various places, but only one source for the image itself, which has no information beyond a note that it’s been around for a while but the creator is unknown. (source)
Uniform Fetish revolves around wearing uniforms during play – very often these will be military uniforms, but I have seen the term used in a very broad sense as well (think nurses and schoolgirls).
Feather (Drag) Pride
The Feather Pride flag is associated with the Drag community. The symbol is a phoenix, representing the fiery passion that sprang up in the drag community during the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. (source)
The flag was created by Sean Campbell, the same man who created the labrys Lesbian Pride flag above. Campbell designed several other flags for niche communities, but these seem to be the two that have survived in common usage.
Most graphics pulled from Google Images.