The meaning and history behind the rainbow flag

The meaning and history behind the rainbow flag

Every June, whether it’s on television or social media, whether you’re walking down the street or visiting your favorite establishment, rainbow flags can be seen everywhere. Most of us know these flags are representative of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride, and that June is LGBTQ+ Pride Month, but how many of us know what those flags represent — and why there seems to be so many variations.

Let’s explore the history of LGBT Pride Month and the meaning behind the LGBTQ+ Pride Flag — and its many iterations.

Shortly after the Stonewall Riots in June 1969, pride marches and demonstrations were being organized in cities throughout the United States. By the 1980s and 1990s, the tenor for many of these events had shifted from protests to celebrations of pride and acceptance. LGBTQ+ Pride Month has become an annual occurrence each June commemorating the violent events at the Stonewall Inn. In 1999, Pride Month gained official national recognition by President Bill Clinton who declared June to be “Gay & Lesbian Pride Month.”

The rainbow flag itself was first adopted in 1978 as an eight horizontal stripe rainbow colored flag. Created by Gilbert Baker at the request of San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk for the 1978 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day parade. Previously, LGBTQ+ communities had commonly used a downward pointing pink triangle as their symbol, a reference to the World War II Nazi practice of using pink triangles to identify gay men in concentration camps. Milk and others sought a new symbol for LGBTQ+ communities that focused on inspiration rather than oppression

In its original design, each of the eight stripes had a specific meaning:

• Pink: Sex
• Red: Life
• Orange: Healing
• Yellow: Sunlight
• Green: Nature
• Turquoise: Art
• Indigo: Harmony
• Violet: Spirit

Originally, each flag was hand sewn and dyed, but as demand grew, they had to shift to mass production. Production issues involving the availability of certain dye colors led to the removal of pink and turquoise, and indigo was changed to a more common blue color. The resulting six-color flag is now the most common version of the LGBTQ+ flag.

While most of us are most familiar with the six-color version of the rainbow flag, there are dozens of variations and other flags now used to represent different communities. Among the more recognizable pride flags are:

Transgender Pride Flag: Created by Monica Helms in 1999, this flag has five horizontal stripes‚ two light blue, two pink, and one white. The light blue represents the traditional color for baby boys, the pink represents the traditional color for baby girls, and the white (the center stripe) represents those who are transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender.

Progress Pride Flag: Created by Daniel Quasar in 2018, this flag features — in addition to the common horizontal rainbow stripes — angled black and brown stripes to represent people of color, as well as light blue, pink and white to incorporate elements of the Transgender Pride Flag. In 2021, a purple circle surrounded by yellow was added to the Progress Pride Flag to represent intersex human rights. 

Bisexual Pride Flag: Created by Michael Page in 1998, the Bisexual Pride Flag features three horizontal stripes — a wide pink stripe (representing same sex attraction), a wide blue stripe (representing opposite sex attraction), and a narrow purple stripe in the middle (representing attraction to both sexes).

Pansexual Pride Flag: Originated from an anonymous social media account in the early 2010s, the Pansexual Pride Flag consists of three horizontal stripes — pink, yellow and blue. Unofficially, pink represents attraction to women, blue represents attraction to men, and yellow represents attraction to non-binary people.

PPI is an open and affirming agency and welcomes the LGBTQI+ community. At present, we are offering a transgender support group at our Storrs location. Please call 860.420.2450 for more information.