The is the fourth in a series where we interview Pride flag creators. This interview was conducted 28 April 2019.
Name: Erin Ptah
MM: Where are you from?
Erin: US. Raised in Maryland, lived in Massachusetts for years, moved to a swing state in time for the 2018 elections.
MM: How would you describe yourself to readers?
Erin: Gay/sapphic/queer/chapstick lesbian, cartoonist, geek, secular humanist, cat person.
MM: What led you to create your lesbian flag? You said in your post, “It just doesn’t translate so well to everyone in the community who isn’t hella femme.” Were there other reasons?
Erin: That line was talking about the lipstick lesbian flag, and how it’s not a great lesbians-in-general flag. And for a while there was a whole trend of “let’s make this the new lesbian flag design!” posts on Tumblr, so clearly other people felt the same way. But none of them seemed grounded in symbolism that already existed, and I really wanted one that was connected to our history — as much of it as possible.
MM: What other flags inspired you? You mentioned the Labrys and Lipstick flags in your post.
Erin: There’s one more flag I linked in the post, one of the new designs from the Tumblr fad: The Lesbian Flag by Oxaline. The description says it has “a happy beachy feel, bc lesbos is an island!” I thought that was a great, clever way to invoke Lesbos (talk about important history!) using only colors, and it’s why the yellow stripe on my flag is that sandy/beachy shade.
MM: What expectations did you have for the flag? How do you feel about the impact it’s had on the community?
Erin: I don’t know if it’s had any community-wide impact — I knew it was too late in the trend for yet another design to go viral, unless I got really lucky, which I didn’t. But individuals have told me they like it, which is nice.
And whether they comment or not, plenty of viewers click the links to the historical references! That’s the knowledge I really wanted to spread, so if the flag is working as a gateway to lead people there, yahtzee.
MM: Is there anything you’d like to tell the world about the flag?
Erin: It is free to use, without restriction! Put it in icons, print it on a shirt, knit it into hats, anything you like.
MM: Before 2009, the only Pride flags with the LGBT Rainbow (1978), Bisexual (1998), Labrys Lesbian (1999), and Transgender (1999) flags, all released at Pride festivals. 2009 saw the introduction of the Natalie Phox Intersex flag on Wikimedia Commons. Since then, only the Philadelphia City Hall Pride flag has been released at a Pride celebration, and the rest online (mostly on Tumblr). How do you feel online communities have shaped queer discourse?
Erin: Online communities have achieved an incredible reach that IRL-only groups never did. There are so many people who haven’t had access to a Pride parade, or couldn’t safely be seen at one anyway, but they get to meet and connect and find support with us online. Someone who’s never seen their particular experience of gender/sexuality, either in their local area or in the media, can describe it on Tumblr and have someone from the other side of the planet go “hey, cool, there’s two of us!”
The downside is that misinformation can spread through the same channels just as fast. Especially when someone puts a coating of progressive buzzwords on a homophobic or transphobic idea. And you can get people from the other side of the planet queueing up to yell at you, including people with good intentions who genuinely think they’re being progressive.
MM: Do you have any hopes for the future of the lesbian and queer communities?
Erin: I hope we can get better at supporting and understanding each other, and less vulnerable to being turned against each other. I hope we get our collective act together and mobilize more, in 2020 and beyond, instead of taking our political victories for granted and our civil-rights progress as inevitable.
MM: Do you have any advice for other activists who are looking to create new flags?
Erin: The LGBTQ flag market is getting pretty saturated at this point! So, I don’t know, just have fun with it?
MM: If you’re comfortable answering: How old were you when you created the flag?
Erin: I was 30! Ten years earlier, the whole idea of having separate flags for every gender/orientation hadn’t caught on. Half the ones you saw at Pride parades were based on shared interests, like the bear and kinkster flags. There was a lesbian-specific flag — you skipped it in your overview, it made its debut in a printed publication in 2000 — but I’m not surprised it didn’t get big at the time, because people weren’t seeking it out.
…the internet probably drove that cultural shift, come to think of it. Tumblr in particular, because of how image-driven it is. With physical flags, mass-production is easier when there’s a limited number of designs. Online, the more distinct flags you have, the more different pretty graphics you can make. And when people start seeing flags for other specific identities, they get to thinking “hey, I oughta get me one of those.”
(It’s fun and all, but I do like the unifying power of the more umbrella flags. Which is why mine made a point of including references to as many different lesbian experiences as possible, so it’s explicitly celebrating all of us together.)
We hope you enjoyed this interview. Be sure to check out our index of Pride Flags and other educational resources. If you value these resources, want to help them thrive, and have some extra cash, consider checking out our shop, including several Lesbian flags (Erin’s is in the works or available by request), or making a donation. Donations help pay for website hosting and covering our time spent working on the project.