Beyond the rainbow: An abridged history of Pride flags

Progress pride flag (new design of rainbow flag) waving in the air with blue clear sky, Celebration ...
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This month, rainbows are everywhere in celebration of Pride, as the rainbow flag has become ubiquitous with the LGBTQ community. But if you've ever been to a Pride event then you know that the rainbow flag is never the only one to make an appearance. With all of the Pride flags flying around, it can be hard to keep track of each one. Don't worry, though, because I'm here to help break down the different Pride flag meanings.

Sometimes, people like to dismiss any flag that isn't the rainbow one. Why would you need your own design, after all? Here's the thing: While the rainbow flag is great, not everybody feels represented by it. To some, that flag only represents small subsections of the LGBTQ+ community — namely, cisgender white men. So from the bisexual Pride flag to the transgender Pride flag to the Philadelphia Pride flag, people across the world have designed their own flags to ensure that their communities are being celebrated.

Knowing the history and meaning behind different Pride flags can help you appreciate them better. Although this is far from a comprehensive list, let's take a look at six of the more popular flags that you're likely to come across.

Gay Pride flag


Before the rainbow flag, the pink triangle, used to mark gay people in Nazi Germany, was a symbol for the gay rights movement. In 1978, that changed when Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag. As Mic previously reported, he picked the rainbow, a symbol from nature, because "it expressed our diversity in terms of our gender, our races, our ages, and all the ways that we're different and yet connected."

However, the six-striped version often flown today isn't Baker's original design. The first rainbow flag included eight colors with different meanings: pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise for art, blue for serenity, and purple for spirit.

Pink was the first color to go. As Gizmodo reported, Baker approached Paramount Flag Co. (a company that no longer exists today) to mass-produce his design for the 1978 Pride Parade in San Francisco. Because pink wasn't a hugely popular color for flags, it wasn't an option for mass production, and Baker removed it.

Then, following the assassination of San Francisco's openly gay commissioner Harvey Milk, the 1979 Pride Parade Committee wanted to use Baker's flag to honor him. Gay Pride New Orleans' history states that the committee removed the turquoise stripe so the colors could be divided evenly, with three on each side of the street. That decision left us with the six-colored flag that most of us know today.

Bisexual Pride flag


The next popular flag to be introduced was the bisexual Pride flag in 1998. Designed by Michael Page, the flag first appeared on the now-defunct website Bi Cafe. The bisexual flag has three stripes: one broad magenta stripe at the top, a similarly broad blue stripe at the bottom, and a lavender band in the middle.

Why those colors and the different sizes? Before Page created the flag, the bisexual community often used a triple triangle motif called Biangles. It's two overlapping triangles, one pink and one blue, that create a smaller purple triangle in the space where they meet. Page took colors and a concept that the community was already using and turned it into a flag.

In a history of the bi flag captured by the Internet Archive, Page explained, "The pink color represents sexual attraction to the same sex only (gay and lesbian). The blue represents sexual attraction to the opposite sex only (straight) and the resultant overlap color purple represents sexual attraction to both sexes (bi)."

He continued: "The key to understanding the symbolism of the bisexual Pride flag is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue, just as in the 'real world,' where bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities."

Transgender Pride flag


Without transgender people, there is no Pride. Many credit a Black transgender activist, Marsha P. Johnson, with beginning the Stonewall Riots that kicked off an entire movement.

But in 1999, Monica Helms, a transgender woman and Navy veteran, decided that the trans community needed its own flag. She created a flag that consists of five stripes: two baby blue, two pink, and then a white stripe in the middle. Per Helms, "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."

Helms's flag debuted in 2000 at the Pride parade in Phoenix, Arizona. In August 2014, Helms donated the first version of the flag to the Smithsonian, where it now lives as part of a special LGBTQ+ collection.

Philly Pride Flag

In 2017, Philadelphia made waves when it debuted its own version of the rainbow flag. Everything was the same as the OG rainbow flag, except for the inclusion of black and brown stripes at the very top. These colors were added to specifically call attention to people of color within the LGBTQ+ community.

"In 1978, artist Gilbert Baker designed the original rainbow flag," the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs's More Color More Pride campaign states. "So much has happened since then. A lot of good, but there’s more we can do. Especially when it comes to recognizing people of color in the LGBTQ+ community. To fuel this important conversation, we've expanded the colors of the flag to include black and brown."

Some people were upset by the change, saying that the rainbow flag is already about unity. However, racism in the LGBTQ+ community is abundant. In Philadelphia especially, the Gayborhood is notorious for it. So the city's creation of a Pride flag that calls attention to people of color is its own way of reckoning with that unfortunate reality.

Progress Pride Flag


I'll admit that this next flag isn't one I've seen around too often — but it's also one of the newer flags out there. In 2018, Daniel Quasar, a graphic designer, developed the Progress Pride flag by adding a five-colored chevron to the classic rainbow flag.

On his website, Quasar describes his design as a "reboot" of the original Pride flag. He kept the rainbow flag's six colors separate because he didn't want to take away from their original meaning. The colors of the trans flag and the brown and black stripes from the Philly Pride flag were moved to the left side of the flag and given a new chevron-style shape. The arrow points to the right to show forward movement, Quasar's site explains.

So, why was a new design necessary at all? "This new design forces the viewer to reflect on their own feelings towards the original Pride flag and its meaning as well as the differing opinions on who that flag really represents, while also bringing into clear focus the current needs within our community," Quasar explained on his site. "You can't avoid the message as it is right there in front of you."

New Progress Pride Flag

Now there's an even newer version of the Progress Pride flag. Released in 2021, intersex designer and activist Valentino Vecchietti worked with Intersex Equality Rights U.K. to create this revamp of Quasar's design. Per Advocate, Vecchietti's design incorporates the intersex flag — yellow with a purple circle in the middle — which was introduced in 2013 by Morgan Carpenter of Intersex Human Rights Australia.

What's the meaning of the intersex flag itself? In a post, Carpenter said that he stayed away from colors traditionally associated with specific genders, like blue or pink. Both yellow and purple have been regarded as intersex colors, he explained.

As for the circle, Carpenter stated, "The circle is unbroken and unornamented, symbolizing wholeness and completeness, and our potentialities. We are still fighting for bodily autonomy and genital integrity, and this symbolizes the right to be who and how we want to be."