The Gay Pride Flag: Exploring the History and Meaning

Gay Progress Pride Flag

First designed by artist and activist Gilbert Baker in 1978, the rainbow pride flag—also known as the gay flag—was created as a symbol of hope and strength. Baker created the original design at the request of Harvey Milk. Milk was the first openly gay elected official in California state history. In its original print, the gay flag had eight colored stripes, each with its own unique meaning. The first versions of the rainbow flag were flown on June 25, 1978 in San Francisco. The initial flying was nine years after the Stonewall riots at the Freedom Day parade. A year later in 1979, Baker modified to flag to become the six-striped rainbow flag that we recognize today.

When Gilbert Baker was searching for the symbol to use for the gay community, he saw how much pride a flag instilled in people, and he wished the same for the LGBTQ community. In an interview, he said, “Our job as gay people was to come out, to be visible, to live in the truth, as I say, to get out of the lie. A flag really fit that mission, because that’s a way of proclaiming your visibility or saying, ‘This is who I am!’” Waving, displaying, flying a rainbow flag was a way to openly display our truth.

Before the rainbow flag was created, the LBGTQ+ community generally used the pink triangle as a symbol. This was adapted from the upside-down triangle badge that gay prisoners in WW2 concentration camps were forced to wear. During the 1970s, the Gay Activists Alliance used the Lambda as its symbol because it represents energy and balance. These symbols are still relevant and seen today, but on a lesser scale. Some other symbols also are a purple hand print, blue feathers, green carnations and ace playing cards. All for different meanings and contexts.

Gay Flag Colors

Each color of the rainbow holds a significant meaning as it represents a different aspect of the LGBTQ+ community. Red symbolizes life, orange represents healing and vitality, yellow signifies sunlight and happiness, green for nature and serenity, blue stands for harmony and peace, while purple (or violet) is a symbol of spirit and human dignity. Hot pink and turquoise, the two colors that were removed from the original design, represented sex and magic, respectively. Hot pink was removed due to the fabric color not being readily available. Turquoise then was later omitted because he wanted an even number of stripes on each side. United, these six stripes stand for the gay pride movement as a visible declaration of pride.

As its symbol of pride and self-worth grew, the rise of other LGBT flags rose as well. Despite being referred to as the “Gay Pride Flag” when first created, it has now come to represent a much broader and inclusive community. In 1998, the bisexual pride flag was created by Michael Page, a bisexual activist from Florida. Page created a three-striped flag consisting of pink, purple and blue (from top to bottom). The colors represented women (fuchsia) with men (royal blue) and their attraction to both genders (violet). The flag was first unveiled on December 5, 1998.

Transgender Pride Flag

Transgender Pride Flag

The transgender pride flag was created in 1999, by Monica Helms, an openly transgender woman. First flown at a pride parade in Phoenix, Arizona in 2000, the flag consists of five horizontal stripes: two light blue, two pink, and one white stripe in the center. The light blue and pink stripes represent traditional colors for baby boys and girls, with a white stripe in the middle, represents those who are transitioning, intersex, or otherwise gender-nonconforming.

Lesbian Pride Flag

Lesbian Pride Flag

Similarly, in 1999 the lesbian flag was also created. First designed by Sean Campbell and published and display in the June 2000 Palm Springs edition of the Gay and Lesbian Times pride issue. The original design involves a labrys, a double-headed axe symbolizing strength on one side and feminism on the other. Today, the flag is broadly recognized as containing seven stripes. It combines three shades of orange and three shades of pink with a white stripe dividing them.

The Rainbow flag was not truly established as the universal symbol for LGBTQ+ pride until 1994. During the month of June, on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Gilbert Baker made a mile-long version. In 2003, Baker created the longest of flag to date and displayed it at Key West Pride in Florida. The flag stretched 1.25 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean along Key West’s Duval Street.

Agender Pride Flag

Agender Pride Flag

Pansexual Pride Flag

Pansexual Pride Flag

Non-Binary Pride Flag

Non-Binary Pride Flag

The Future of Gay Pride Flags — A Celebration of Unity and Progress

As the world becomes increasingly accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, so does the use of flags. The use of pride flags continues to evolve and expand to represent the community’s growing diversity. This grants the invention of more flags to raise more awareness, wider recognition, and then later acceptance. Some flags that have been created in recent years are: the pansexual flag, the nonbinary flag, the intersex flag, the agender flag, the bear flag, the asexual flag, etc. The list continues and each represent the unique struggles, identities, and experiences within the LGBTQ+ community.

The use of pride flags for the LGBTQ+ community symbolizes the beauty of unity and celebrates the progress made in the fight for equality. The continued recognition and adoption of diverse pride flags ensures the representation of all members of the LGBTQ+ community and fosters an inclusive culture that celebrates our differences. As the awareness of the LGBTQ+ flag grows, so does where it is being seen. The rainbow has transitioned past being solely on a pride flag and now is everywhere: underwear, shirts, tattoos, etc.


Gay pride flags, including the iconic rainbow flag, are more than just symbols of representation and celebration. They are offered as a lens to see the world through the eyes of the LGBTQ+ community. The versatility of a flag gives a sense of normalcy that had undeniably aided the causes of the LGBTQ+. They represent hope, unity, diversity, and inclusion. They remind us of the progress made in the fight for equal rights and continue to inspire us in our ongoing efforts for a more just and equal world. Through bright, bold colors and inspiring designs, pride flags proudly display the beauty of community and belonging. So, when you see a pride flag, take a moment to appreciate the history behind the colors. And the powerful message it represents.

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After decades of pushing for solidarity, the rainbow flag is an international symbol for LGBTQ pride and can be seen flying proudly, during both the promising times and the difficult ones, all around the world. It has gained an identity of its own. The rainbow flag now represents a safe space where there may have been doubt or unease before. It gathers us and centers us behind a unifying goal to never hide again and to be authentically yourself. As every day passes, one more person sees themselves etched into the rainbow pride flag. That there is now another person who can live to be the best version of themselves, proudly.