The Changing Face of the Pride Flag

Jake Hall, a queer freelance journalist, looks at key changes to the Pride flag design over the last few decades, and unpacks their importance in LGBTQIA+ activism

By Google Arts & Culture

Author: Jake Hall

Pride Flag (2019) by Young Communicators YarmouthTime and Tide Museum

Activism and iconography have always gone hand in hand. Political movements have long relied on images and symbols to create visibility and communicate their goals, and the global LGBTQ+ Liberation movement is no different.

The six-striped ‘Rainbow Flag’ is currently the most commonly-seen iteration worldwide, but designs have been changed, amended and critiqued over the last few decades.

Prisoners in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen

Prior to 1978, the LGBTQ+ community had no real symbol. The closest equivalent was the upside-down pink triangle, a symbol printed on the uniforms of gay concentration camp prisoners in Nazi Germany to mark them out for disproportionately cruel punishment.

These stories trickled into mainstream consciousness throughout the 1970s, most notably with the publication of Heinz Heger’s memoir, The Men With The Pink Triangle. Activists began wearing these triangles in the name of awareness-raising, solidarity and reclamation.

LGBT 8 Stripes Flag

By the late 1970s, LGBTQ+ communities began to hunger for a more joyous, optimistic symbol, one free of the brutal, barbaric past of Nazi concentration camps. In 1978, American artist, drag queen and activist Gilbert Baker led a team of 30 volunteers...

... to create the original, eight-striped Rainbow Flag, which was raised above San Francisco’s United Nations Plaza during the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade.

For logistical reasons, the eight-stripe design was soon replaced by a seven-stripe version and, finally, the more commonly-known six-stripe version pictured earlier.

C.d. Kirven with the Trans Pride Flag while Get Equal flies the Bisexual & Rainbow Pride Flags

LGBTQ+ iconography took a darker turn throughout the 1980s, with AIDS activists reclaiming and inverting the famous pink triangle to protest the government’s mishandling of the epidemic, as well as the media’s virulently homophobic coverage.

Throughout the 1990s, activists including Michael Page, creator of the Bisexual Pride flag, and Monica Helms, creator of the Trans Pride flag, flown for the first time in 2000, began to create new symbols designed to represent more specific demographics.

Philadelphia's People of Color Inclusive Flag

The last few decades have seen an acceleration of LGBTQ+ visibility, and in many cases, erasure of trans activists and people of colour who paved the way for today’s increased acceptance. In 2017 the city of Philadelphia drew attention...

... to this historical white-washing by launching a Pride flag with black and brown stripes. “So much has happened since [1978]. A lot of good, but there’s more we can do,” read a press statement. “Especially when it comes to recognising people of colour in the LGBTQ+ community."

"To fuel this important conversation, we’ve expanded the colours of the flag to include black and brown.”

Rachael Moore & Henrie Dennis by Bojan Cvetanović

Discussions of inclusivity, awareness and due credit have driven variations of Baker’s original design, from the Social Justice Pride flag to South Africa’s own national version.

Perhaps the best-known is artist Daniel Quasar’s 2018 'Progress Flag’, which combined elements of Philadelphia’s version and the Trans Pride flag. Even this design is constantly undergoing changes––just two weeks ago, intersex activist Valentino Vecchietti unveiled a new version of the Progress Flag, which incorporated the yellow background and purple circle of the intersex flag.

With more choice than ever, it's now up to organisers to choose which version they display.

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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