A Brief History of Pride Flags

First gay Pride flag with 8 horizontal stripes: hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet.

A Brief History of Pride Flags

In 1977, Harvey Milk challenged Gilbert Baker, an openly gay activist, to create a symbol for the gay community. Baker made an 8-color variation on the rainbow flag, a prominent symbol of peace. Problems sourcing materials eventually condensed it back down to the classic 6-stripe rainbow in 1979.

It started a tradition of striped queer Pride flags. The next three weren’t until the bi flag (1998), lesbian Labrys (1999), and trans flag (1999). In 2009, Natalie Phox’s Intersex flag is posted to Wikimedia commons. It is the first flag unveiled online. With the exception of the Philadelphia City Hall flag, every flag since has been unveiled online.

Some, like the Asexual flag, are collaborative community efforts that may not have been possible without the Internet. As different online communities flourish, as new ways of thinking about identity form, flags pop up like mushrooms in the fertile soil.

Tumblr was founded in 2007. Amid it’s tumult and broken code, a queer community begins to form there. In 2010, Jasper, justjasper, posts the pan flag to Tumblr. Of the 26 flags in the current collection, 13 were posted to Tumblr. Countless more lesser known flags have been posted there. Tumblr has played an incredibly important role in an ever more vibrant, connected, and proud queer community.

I am writing this after Tumblr announcement about curtailing “adult content.” Born out of a combination of not believing they can sell ads next to “porn,” a desperate attempt to not be sued under SESTA/FOSTA in the US, and prepare for Article 13 in the EU. The chilling effect these laws are having on queer discourse has already begun. I worry very dearly for our future, and for the flags we might not be able to save from these fires of censorship. The Genderfluid primary source was removed two days after we secured an interview with the creator.

Although it’s one of the oldest flags, the Labrys flag never really caught on. The Lipstick flag is from 2010, but it didn’t gain traction until 2015 when it was reposted to Tumblr with the lips removed. Many butch lesbians felt excluded by the femininity of the Lipstick flag, leading to the creation of two butch flags in 2016 and 2017. In June of 2018, Lydia wrote a Medium article documenting the racism, biphobia, and general meanness on the Lipstick flag creator, along with a proposal for a new flag. This unleashed a campaign for a new lesbian flag and a trend of new designs. As of June 2019, the Sadlesbeandisaster flag appears to have won out as the next main lesbian flag.

As we collected Pride flags from various sources for our patches, we became keenly aware of all the context missing from the reposts. Who had made these flags? How old were they? What community did they incubate in? Why were they made and what did they mean to their creator? Was the current community meaning now different (see the bi flag)? In our keenness to disseminate them, we were losing important parts of our history.

This, then, is our attempt to collect what we do know about the flags that have made the biggest impacts in the community. We’ll add to it over time as we obtain new information or collect flags.