Alternative Pride Flags

Jake Hall, a queer freelance journalist, writes a brief history of alternative Pride flags, their inspiration and what they tell us about the development of LGBTQIA+ activism

By Google Arts & Culture

Author: Jake Hall

Gay Pride Flag in Stockholm by Jonatan Svensson Glad

In June 1978, an eight-striped rainbow flag designed by American artist and activist Gilbert Baker was displayed for the first time at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade. 

By 1979, two colours had been removed––hot pink, due to difficulties sourcing the fabric, and then turquoise, due to alleged disputes over the odd number of stripes. This new, six-striped iteration quickly became the most recognisable symbol of the LGBTQ+ community worldwide...

... but the last few decades have seen numerous alternative Pride flags, which make little or no reference to Baker’s original rainbow, emerge to varying degrees of success.

Leather gays at Cologne Pride Parade 2014 by Uwe Aranas

The Leather Flag

The first notable alternative was debuted in 1989, at Chicago’s Mr. International Leather event. To commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots, BDSM writer Tony DeBlase debuted a “proposed design idea” for a Leather Pride flag...

... which featured nine horizontal stripes; four royal blue and four black, with a white stripe in the middle. In the top left hand corner is a large red heart. In his accompanying speech, DeBlase credited “the Leather men and women" for visibly showing up and advocating...

 for their rights at Pride parades. This flag was his attempt to give them a “similar simple, elegant banner that would serve as a symbol of their own identity and interests.”

The bisexual pride flag by Peter Salanki

The Bisexual Flag

In 1998, Michael Page’s Bisexual Pride Flag was unveiled for the first time. His design built on the pink and blue “bi-angles” sometimes used as a bisexual symbol, but he added a slimmer stripe of purple in the middle to unify the colours.

“The key is to know that the purple pixels of colour blend unnoticeable into the pink and blue, just as in the ‘real’ world, where bi people blend unnoticeable into both the gay, lesbian and straight communities,” Page wrote, citing the invisibility of bisexuality in LGBTQIA+

Transgender pride flag by sarahmirk

The Transgender Flag

In 1999, trans activist and U.S. Navy Veteran Monica Helms was influenced by Michael Page to create another alternative flag for the trans community. By this point, flag creators understood that they would likely be reproduced...

... so Page advised Helms to “keep it simple––the less stitches, the cheaper it is to make and sell.” The resulting Trans Pride flag was debuted in 2000, at the Arizona Pride Parade. Helms chose to use five stripes: two baby pink, the traditional ‘girl’s’ colour, two baby blue..

... the traditional ‘boy’s colour’, and a central white stripe to recognise those whose identities fall outside the gender binary.

Asexual network at Stockholm Pride by trollhare

The Asexual Flag

As online sexuality forums grew in popularity, so did the number of alternative Pride flags. In 2010, users of the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) site voted extensively to decide what eventually became the Asexual Pride flag, made up of four stripes purple, black, white and grey.

Winning Orange-Pink Lesbian Pride Flag

The Lesbian Flag

There is no official lesbian flag, but a ‘lipstick lesbian’ flag with a lipstick kiss across the top, left-hand corner was debuted in 2010. This caused controversy and claims that the flag erased butch and gender non-conforming lesbians, so now the most commonly-seen version features stripes which span various shades of orange and lavender, with one white stripe in the middle to represent those with unique relationships to womanhood.

Pride 2004 bears by Pretzelpaws

The Bear Pride Flag

The last decade has also spawned dozens more designs. Some are tied to gender identity, like the Non-Binary flag, or sex, like the Intersex Pride flag. Others are tied to subculture, like the “Bear Pride Flag”. In the LGBTQ+ community, a “Bear” is a term used to describe larger, hairier bodies, and it’s been adopted as a marker of identity, symbolised by a largely brown design. 

 Alongside various kink flags (Pony and Rubber are just two more examples), these flags represent visibility for specific sub-communities who might not otherwise feel included or represented by the original rainbow.

Credits: Story

Jake Hall is a U.K.-based freelance journalist, and author of 2020 book ‘The Art of Drag’. They also dabble in consultancy and curation, homing in frequently on all things sexy, weird and queer. 

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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