I don’t know who needs to hear this, but the traditional gay pride flag you probably see everywhere is just one of many that already exist in the LGBTQ+ world. And while this rainbow flag might be the most universally recognizable one, there are so many other individualized flags that represent people on every part of the gender couple hookup and sexuality spectrum.
Think about it this way: If the rainbow flag can be compared to the United States flag, then in the same way we have individual state flags for Kansas, New York, Texas, etc., you can also can have individual gender identity/sexual orientation flags for people who are transgender, bisexual, asexual, etc.
In other words: “It’s a coalition of different identities across axes of identity, orientation, expression, sexual desire, and romantic desire,” says Hannah Simpson, a LGBTQ+ writer, speaker, and activist.
And these flags go even deeper because they create a space for someone to celebrate exactly who they are. (And honestly, we love to see it.)
So to help familiarize yourself, we’ve compiled a list of all the LGBTQ+ flags with the meanings and history behind them. Whether you’re a member of the LGBTQ+ community or an ally, we promise this will be a learning course actually worth taking.
The Gilbert Baker Pride Flag
The meaning: According to Robert Deam Tobin, PhD, who teaches courses in gay and lesbian studies and queer theory at Clark University, the gay pride flag “was and is a cheerful, upbeat, optimistic, and instantly identifiable symbol of the LGBTQ+ community-and has caught on throughout the world, in big cities and little ones.” He also notes: “The colors were chosen from the rainbow, a symbol of hope ever since Noah’s flood.”
The history: “Gilbert Baker created the rainbow flag in San Francisco in 1978, as the gay community was flourishing and beginning to fight for its rights,” explains Tobin, noting that the Stonewall Riots took place in 1969 and the first gay pride parade took place in 1970.
And fun fact: Tobin says the flag was originally supposed to have eight colors instead of the six we see today, but Gilbert wound up having to axe both turquoise and pink to make the design simple enough for mass production.
The Updated Philadelphia Pride Flag
The meaning: This flag, Tobin says, was created recently as a response “to new developments in the LGBTQ+ community, particularly to be inclusive in terms of race and trans issues.”
The history: The updated flag was developed by Daniel Quasar in 2018. “In 2017, the so-called ‘Philadelphia flag’ had incorporated a black and a brown stripe on top of the six colors of the rainbow flag,” Tobin explains. “Quasar’s version moved the black and the brown to the side as part of a triangle that also included the colors of the trans flag intersecting with the now-traditional rainbow flag.”
The Demisexual Pride Flag
The meaning: Demisexual is a sexual orientation that is used to describe people who “need to feel a strong emotional connection with someone in order to feel any sexual attraction to them,” according to a previous Cosmopolitan article.
And for this flag specifically, you can notice the colors to understand the meaning. “Anytime you see purples, greens, and yellows in flags, these are colors that are not linked to gendered norms, so you know the flag is highlighting people who reject these binaries,” says Simpson. So while demisexual is not a gender identity, you can still assume the purple line is used as an example of “rejecting” traditional attraction.
The history: According to the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at University of Northern Colorado, “It is unknown how or when the flag came to be, but it is very similar to the asexual flag in its use of colors, which was based off the AVEN logo.”
The Polyamorous Pride Flag
The meaning: First, it’s important to understand the term. “Polyamory is a form of consensual nonmonogamy that emphasizes emotional connection among multiple partners,” says Elisabeth Sheff, PhD, author of The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, who previously told Cosmopolitan. And the infinity heart sign on top of all the colors is truly where you see its meaning. “The infinity heart sign represents the infinite love for multiple partners at the same time,” according to the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at University of Northern Colorado.
The history: It can be traced all the way back to Jim Evans in 1995, who “wanted to create an anonymous symbol for the polyamorous community,” according to the Gender & Sexuality Resource Center at University of Northern Colorado. You’re now looking at the modified version that was created in Colorado in 2017 by the University of Northern Colorado poly community, according to their website.
The Lesbian Pride Flag
The meaning: This is the newest version of the lesbian pride flag, and Tobin explains it is “trying to signal toward diversity with the orange line suggesting gender nonconformity.”
The history: There’s a lot of history when it comes to lesbian pride flags, so buckle up, people: “There are actually a variety of lesbian flags,” says Tobin. “In addition to the one shown here, there is also a purple one created in 1999-ironically, or problematically, by a man.”
In addition to being designed by a dude, Tobin explains that particular flag was problematic because it featured “a double-edged axe, known as a labrys, set in an inverted triangle” that looked a lot like “the black triangle used to identify some lesbians in Nazi concentration camps.” An updated one came in 2010 featuring shades of pink and a lipstick stain as an ode to “lipstick lesbians,” but this new one is here to symbolize diversity.
The Trans Pride Flag
The meaning: This is the transgender pride flag and it purposely plays with the traditional colors for baby boys and girls.
The history: “Monica Helms created the transgender pride flag in 1999,” says Tobin. “In my work on local gay history, I’ve noticed that the 1990s is when many groups start adding the ‘T’ for transgender to their names. This flag is becoming quite well recognized, in part because the trans community has had to fight many battles: ensuring medical access, fighting discrimination in the military and elsewhere, providing resources for trans youth, taking on hostile state laws, and fighting discriminatory ballot measures.”