The rainbow flag has become the easily recognized colors of pride for the gay community. The multicultural symbolism of the rainbow is nothing new -- Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition also embraces the rainbow as a symbol of that political movement. The rainbow also plays a part in many myths and stories related to gender and sexuality issues in Greek, Native American, African, and other cultures.
Use of the rainbow flag by the gay community began in 1978 when it first appeared in the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade. Borrowing symbolism from the hippie movement and black civil rights groups, San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in response to a need for a symbol that could be used year after year. Baker and thirty volunteers hand stitched and hand dyed two huge prototype flags for the parade. The flags had eight stripes, each color representing a component of the community: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit. The next year Baker approached San Francisco Paramount Flag Company to mass-produce rainbow flags for the 1979 parade. Due to production constraints -- such as the fact that hot pink was not a commercially available color -- pink and turquoise were removed from the design, and royal blue replaced indigo. This six color version spread from San Francisco to other cities, and soon became the widely known symbol of gay pride and diversity it is today.
It is even officially recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers. In 1994, a huge 30-foot-wide by one-mile-long rainbow flag was carried by 10,000 people in New York's Stonewall 25 Parade.
The Victory Over AIDS Flag
The Victory Over AIDS Flag modifies the rainbow flag by adding a black stripe at the bottom. Suggested by a San Francisco group, the black stripe commemorates those we have lost to AIDS. Sergeant Leonard Matlovich, a much-decorated Vietnam Veteran dying of AIDS, proposed that when a cure is eventually found the black stripes
should be removed from all the flags and ceremoniously burned in Washington, D.C.
The History of the Bi Pride Flag
by Michael Page.
The first Bi Pride Flag was unveiled on Dec 5, 1998. The intent and purpose of the flag is to maximize bisexual pride and visibility. As a result of volunteer work I was doing for BiNet USA, it occurred to me that if bi-people were going to be visible at pride events and political rallies, we needed a Bi Pride Flag. At that time, there were, in my opinion, no suitable bisexual icons that were colorful or prominent enough to gain instant and long lasting recognition as a flag. At the time, there were bi angles - an inverted double triangle, the bi symbol - a 3 looped symbol created by Amazon Woman and various shaped symbols created to represent local groups of bi people.
There is no question that bi people have helped foster the gay and lesbian movement we have witnessed since the Stonewall riots of 1969. One problem for bisexuals remains their invisibility. This was also a problem for gays and lesbians prior to 1969 as very few were willing to "come out".
In 1978, Gilbert Baker of San Francisco, who I personally met in Italy at World Pride 2000, created the Rainbow Flag. Each color held it's own meaning and was intended to represent diversity of the gay and lesbian community. The effective mass visibility of this icon is indisputable.
In designing the Bi Pride Flag, I selected the colors and overlap pattern of the bi angles symbol. I selected, which to me, is the most attractive combination of pink, purple and blue. In flag-maker parlance this is magenta, lavender and royal. I decided to make the top of the flag pink and would give it 40% of the horizontal dimension.
Purple, which is the resultant color when you overlap pink and blue, would be the middle stripe and would be 20% of the dimension. The lower 40% would be blue. The pink color represents same sex attraction (gay and lesbian), the blue represents attraction to the opposite sex (straight) and the resultant overlap color purple represents sexual attraction to both (bi). The key to understanding the symbolism of the Bi Pride Flag is to know that the purple pixels of color blend unnoticeably into both the pink and blue just as in the "real world" where bi people blend unnoticeably into both the gay/lesbian and straight communities.
The Bi Pride Flag is the only bisexual symbol that is not patented, trademarked or service marked. In it's short history, the Bi Pride Flag has been visible in many important GLBT events world-wide.
The Bear Pride Flag
THE INTERNATIONAL BEAR BROTHERHOOD FLAG (© 1995 VA 763-760) Craig Byrnes, Bear Manufacturing, was designed with inclusivity in mind and represents the fur colors and nationalities of bears throughout the world. It is presented to the bear community with love and gratitude. - Craig Byrnes
The Bear Pride Flag is a symbol used by some "bears," gay men marked by an abundance of hair on their face, chest, and body. Bears also tend to be older, and perhaps larger or chubby. This most recent addition to the gay pride flags attempts to combine several symbols from the bear community.
The pink triangle is easily one of the more popular and widely- recognized symbols for the gay community. The pink triangle is rooted in World War II times, and reminds us of the tragedies of that era. Although homosexuals were only one of the many groups targeted for extermination by the Nazi regime, it is unfortunately the group that history often excludes. The pink triangle challenges that notion, and defies anyone to deny history.
The history of the pink triangle begins before WWII, during Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Paragraph 175, a clause in German law prohibiting homosexual relations, was revised by Hitler in 1935 to include kissing, embracing, and gay fantasies as well as sexual acts. Convicted offenders -- an estimated 25000 just from 1937 to 1939 -- were sent to prison and then later to concentration camps. Their sentence was to be sterilized, and this was most often accomplished by castration. In 1942 Hitler's punishment for homosexuality was extended to death.
Each prisoner in the concentration camps wore a colored inverted triangle to designate their reason for incarceration, and hence the designation also served to form a sort of social hierarchy among the prisoners. A green triangle marked its wearer as a regular criminal; a red triangle denoted a political prisoner. Two yellow triangles overlapped to form a Star of David designated a Jewish prisoner. The pink triangle was for homosexuals. A yellow Star of David under a superimposed pink triangle marked the lowest of all prisoners -- a gay Jew.
Stories of the camps depict homosexual prisoners being given the worst tasks and labors. Pink triangle prisoners were also a proportionally large focus of attacks from the guards and even other inmates. Although the total number of the homosexual prisoners is not known, official Nazi estimates were an under whelming 10,000.
Although homosexual prisoners reportedly were not shipped en masse to the death camps at Auschwitz, a great number of gay men were among the non-Jews who were killed there. Estimates of the number of gay men killed during the Nazi regime range from 50,000 to twice that figure. When the war was finally over, countless many homosexuals remained prisoners in the camps, because Paragraph 175 remained law in West Germany until its repeal in 1969.
In the 1970's, gay liberation groups resurrected the pink triangle as a popular symbol for the gay rights movement. Not only is the symbol easily recognized, but it draws attention to oppression and persecution -- then and now. In the 1980's, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) began using the pink triangle for their cause. They inverted the symbol, making it point up, to signify an active fight back rather than a passive resignation to fate. Today, for many, the pink triangle represents pride, solidarity, and a promise to never allow another Holocaust to happen again.
THE BLACK TRIANGLE
Like the pink triangle, the black triangle is also rooted in Nazi Germany. Although lesbians were not included in the Paragraph 175 prohibition of homosexuality, there is evidence to indicate that the black triangle was used to designate prisoners with anti-social behavior. Considering that the Nazi idea of womanhood focused on children, kitchen, and church, black triangle prisoners may have included lesbians, prostitutes, women who refused to bear children, and women with other "anti-social" traits. As the pink triangle is historically a male symbol, the black triangle has similarly been reclaimed by lesbians and feminists as a symbol of pride and solidarity.
The lambda symbol seems to be one of the most controversial of symbols in regards to its meaning. There are several differing opinions as to why the lambda was chosen as a gay symbol and what it really means. However, most sources agree on a few things:
The lambda was first chosen as a gay symbol when it was adopted in 1970 by the New York Gay Activists Alliance. It became the symbol of their growing movement of gay liberation. In 1974, the lambda was subsequently adopted by the International Gay Rights Congress held in Edinburgh, Scotland. As their symbol for lesbian and gay rights, the lambda became internationally popular.
But where history ends, speculation begins. No one seems to have a definitive answer why the lambda was originally chosen as a gay symbol. Some suggest that it is simply the Greek lower-case letter L for liberation. Others disagree, citing the use of lambda in physics to denote energy (the energy we have when we work in concert) or wavelength (are gays and lesbians on a different wavelength?). Lambda may also denote the synergy of the gay movement, the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The lambda also may represent scales and balance, and the constant force that keeps opposing sides from overcoming each other -- the hook at the bottom of the right leg signifies the action needed to reach and maintain balance. The ancient Greek Spartans regarded the lambda to mean unity, while the Romans considered it "the light of knowledge shed into the darkness of ignorance."
Whatever the exact meaning and origin, the lambda originally embodied a fairly militant connotation. Today, the symbol generally denotes lesbian's and gay men's concerns together. Although the lambda was never intended to be linked to any specific gender or orientation such as other symbols may be, historically this is not so: In the early
1970's the Los Angeles gay community created a flag with a lavender lambda on a simple white background. They hoped the flag would catch on to other cities, but their hopes were denied because some saw the lambda as a male symbol only.
The AIDS Awareness Ribbon, or red ribbon, is commonly seen adorning jacket lapels and other articles of clothing as a symbol of solidarity and a commitment to the fight against AIDS.
The Ribbon Project was conceived in 1991 by Visual AIDS, a New York- based charity group of art professionals that aims to recognize and honor friends and colleagues who have died or are dying of AIDS. Visual AIDS encourages arts organizations, museums, commercial galleries, and AIDS support groups to commemorate those lost to AIDS, to create greater awareness of AIDS/HIV transmission, to publicize the needs of Persons with AIDS, and to call for greater funding of services and research. Inspired by the yellow ribbons honoring American soldiers of the Persian Gulf War, the color red was chosen for its "connection to blood and the idea of passion -- not only anger, but love, like a valentine," as stated by Frank Moore of Visual AIDS.
Worn by host Jeremy Irons, the ribbon made its public debut at the 1991 Tony Awards, and soon became a popular and politically correct fashion statement for celebrities and other awards ceremonies. Because of this popularity, some activists worry that the ribbon has become simple lip service to AIDS causes; in one particular incident the First Lady Barbara Bush wore a red ribbon while sitting in the audience with her husband, but when she stood at the President's side during his speech, her ribbon was conspicuously missing.
However, the Ribbon Project remains a powerful force in spreading awareness of AIDS and stressing the need for further action and research of the disease. The sincerest hope for the Ribbon Project is that it will one day no longer be needed.
Inspired by the red ribbon, the pink ribbon became the symbol for breast cancer awareness. Although, like AIDS, breast cancer is certainly not an issue limited to the gay community, the statistics of breast cancer are historically higher in women who do not bear children. Consequently, for some lesbians breast cancer awareness and prevention is a particularly important issue.
The labrys is a double-sided hatchet or axe commonly used in ancient European, African, and Asian matriarchal societies as both a weapon and a harvesting tool. Greek artwork depicts the Amazon armies of Europe wielding labrys weapons. Amazons ruled with a dual-queen system in which one queen was in charge of the army and battle, and the other queen stayed behind to administer the conquered cities. Amazons were known to be ferocious and merciless in battle, but once victorious they ruled with justice. Today, the labrys is a lesbian and feminist symbol of strength and self-sufficiency.
In addition, the labrys also played a part in ancient mythology. Demeter, the goddess of the earth, used a labrys as her scepter. Rites associated with the worship of the Demeter, as well as Hecate (the goddess of the underworld), are believed to have involved lesbian sex.
THE HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN
The Human Rights Campaign, the largest national lesbian and gay political organization, envisions an America where lesbian and gay people are ensured of their basic equal rights -- and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community. HRC has more than 360,000 members, both gay and non-gay -- all committed to making this vision a reality. http://www.hrc.org
Information on this web page was compiled by Daniel Sullivan, JD, Psy.D.