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A queer flag guide: meanings and history behind LGBTQ+ pride flags

Robyn Exton

Jun 19, 2023

A queer flag guide: meanings and history behind LGBTQ+ pride flags

Since it’s Pride month, you’ll likely find yourself lost in a colorful sea of flags this season. So, there is no better time to brush up on your queer flag knowledge than now.  With dozens of queer flags recognized by different parts of the LGBT+ community, there’s even more to explore when it comes to history and meanings behind it all! 

From the gender queer flag to the original 1980s rainbow flag designed for the San Francisco Gay Freedom Parade in 1978, queer flags have had a vibrant evolution that reflect unique and shared experiences among people of different genders and sexualities. 

We’ve previously discussed other pride flags here on the HER blog, from the lesbian pride flag to the bisexual flag. It’s time to dig even deeper and explore history, meanings, and – of course – colorful designs that represent the other diverse identities in our community.

The origins of the rainbow flag

A group of people carry a large 8-colored rainbow flag, which is the original design of the LGBT pride flag at Tennessee’s Memphis Pride Parade in June 2022.

Source: Christine Tannous

The LGBT+ community owes a lot of its current civil rights standing to activism, which has a lot of symbols attached to it depending on the movement. The first recorded use of the rainbow flag to represent the gay rights movement was at the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade in June 1978.

San Francisco holds a special place in the LGBT rights movement, having been the home to Harvey Milk, the first openly-gay person to be elected as a public government official in California at the time in the 1970s. Unfortunately, Milk was assassinated in a homophobic hate crime in 1978, showing that acceptance still had a way to go even in a progressive city like San Francisco. 

Harvey Milk has a long legacy, one of which is commissioning his friend Gilbert Baker to design a symbol for the gay rights movement, or so the story by Baker goes. Activists Lee Mentley and Faerie Argyle Rainbow also take credit for the design. One thing is for certain: the original rainbow gay pride flag was first flown in San Francisco in 1978. 

This rainbow flag was designed for the 1978 San Francisco gay march and has eight colors: hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet.

Source: Gilbert Baker 

The original rainbow flag has eight colors representing different aspects of LGBT+ people’s lives: hot pink representing sex, red representing life, orange for healing, yellow for sunlight, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet representing spirit.

The evolution of the umbrella flag: queer flags today

Much has changed since the 1970s brought us the first rainbow flag to symbolize the LGBT+ rights movement. One of the most obvious things that has changed is our language. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, there wasn’t as hyper-specific vocabulary as we have now to describe unique identities. Oftentimes, the “gay rights movement” was used by trans groups, bisexual groups, and other groups that were also fighting for equal rights. So, the term “umbrella” refers to the fact that our symbols can encompass many different identities, much like the rainbow pride flag was used to represent different groups decades ago.

So naturally, flag designs can reflect these changes, as well. Other things can affect the designs we see today, like something as simple as manufacturing. For example, two colors were dropped from the original 1978 rainbow flag design because hot pink and turquoise were too expensive to produce on a mass scale. The rainbow flag we usually see now has six colors because of this design choice.

The current umbrella rainbow pride flag

The queer flag image today has six colors instead of eight. There is now red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

Source: Wikipedia/Unknown

This pride flag is now understood to represent the entire LGBT+ community, from gay men to non-binary queers, so you’ll see many different kinds of people waving it year-round. 

But, of course, there are dozens of other iterations of even the umbrella flag itself. The newest designs strive for inclusivity: they keep in mind the unique experiences of LGBT people of color, Black LGBT people, and other marginalized groups in the LGBT community. 

The Philadelphia LGBT+ pride flag

The Philadelphia LGBT pride flag has eight colored stripes: black, brown, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet.

Source: Homissorflag

In 2017, the city of Philadelphia added brown and black stripes on top of the other six colors.

This Pride flag brought an influx of backlash from white LGBT+ people who opposed highlighting the unique experiences and contributions of the people of color in our community. This is another reason why flags like these are so important: to show that a lot of progress has been made, and there’s still a long way to go if so many people oppose such a design! 

The progress pride flag

Two hands reach for each other in front of the pride progress flag, which has the six colors of the LGBT pride flag and a chevron on the left-hand side with black, brown, blue, pink, and white stripes.

The progress pride flag similarly highlights people of color and transgender people. As a reminder, trans people have always been a part of the LGBT+ movement, and many trans people of the 20th century used the rainbow flag to represent their own unique fight for rights. 

Graphic designer Daniel Quasar designed the progress flag based on the Philadelphia flag redesign. It has the six rainbow stripes we’re used to seeing, and the black and brown stripes now make a chevron pattern on the left-hand side of the flag. The light blue, pink, and white colors of the transgender pride flag accompany the black and brown stripes.

The intersex-inclusive progress pride flag

Intersex-inclusive progress pride flags hang between buildings in a city. This flag has the six rainbow stripes, with a chevron pattern of brown, black, pink, blue, and white stripes, as well a purple circle superimposed on a yellow triangle.

In 2021, the progress pride flag got – surprise, surprise – another makeover! This time by Valentino Vecchietti, an intersex activist. The chevron pattern on the left-hand side of the progress flag, and its variations, symbolizes the forward movement of our community, and how we continue to evolve and learn from each other.

On that note, let’s move onto more specific queer flags that reflect unique gender and sexual identities! 

A breakdown of gender identity pride flags

A person carries a sign that says “Trans rights are human rights” at a Pride march. The sign has the trans flag on it.

Source: Reuters

Pride flags can get way more specific if you want them to be! 

When it comes to gender, there are so many ways to experience your relationship to it. Cultural differences, how you were socialized, and your own personal story can dictate how you see yourself versus how the outside world sees you. 

Gender-specific pride flags are plentiful, so we’ll share some right now with you, including:

  • The non-binary pride flag
  • The androgyne pride flag
  • The intersex pride flag 
  • The genderfluid pride flag
  • The pangender flag
  • The drag performer flag, for those who love to play with gender 

The non-binary pride flag

The non-binary pride flag has four stripes: yellow, white, purple, and black. Non-binary people don’t necessarily identify as men or women.


Kye Rowan, a user on Tumblr, designed the non-binary flag, which represents people who do not identify as either men or women. Or, at least, not entirely. Every non-binary person is different. Some feel more aligned with womanhood, like non-binary lesbians, while others feel more aligned with manhood. Non-binary is sometimes used interchangeably with the label genderqueer, but it’s really up to you to decide which label you vibe with the most.

There’s no right or wrong way to be non-binary, so the symbolism behind the flag hits the nail on the head. The yellow represents the existing outside of the binary (man vs. woman), while the black represents people with no gender. White reflects all or more than one gender, while purple represents a mixture of both men and women genders. 

The androgyne pride flag

Unlike most other pride flags, the androgyne has vertical stripes instead of horizontal ones. There are three colored stripes. From left to right: pink, purple, and blue.

Source: Fandom

Androgyne refers to being androgynous, and it’s a non-binary identity where someone feels both masculine and feminine. The flag was designed by Tumblr user Saveferris in 2013.

The intersex pride flag

A purple circle is superimposed on a yellow background to show the intersex pride flag.

Source: Wikipedia

The intersex flag partly inspired the progress pride flag redesign that we previously talked about earlier in the article. The progress pride flag incorporates the purple circle and yellow background of the original intersex flag, which was created in 2013 by Morgan Carpenter of Intersex Human Rights Australia. 

The colors are, notably, not typically associated with any specific gender, much like pink and blue are. The circle represents wholeness, which fights against the false idea that intersex people need to be “fixed.”

The intersex experience is quite unique, as intersex people can be either cis or trans. This means that they could identify with the gender assigned at birth (as in, cis) or they could diverge from this gender assignment (ergo, trans). It just goes to show the cracks in the current medical and societal systems we have in place. 

The genderfluid pride flag

The genderfluid flag has five horizontal stripes: pink, blue, purple, black, and white.

Source: Tumblr

Being genderfluid means you don’t feel like your gender is fixed. It can change over time, and it’s not necessarily binary. Maybe one day you’re a woman, and the next you’re a man, and the third day you’re a secret third gender that only you feel privy to.

Tumblr user JJ Poole created the genderfluid flag in 2012. The colors have different meanings: pink represents femininity, blue represents masculinity, purple represents masculinity and femininity, black represents the lack of gender, and white represents all genders.

The pangender flag

The pansexual pride flag has seven horizontal stripes. The flag is also horizontally symmetrical in color: with yellow stripes, beige stripes, gray stripes, and one singular white stripe in the center.

Source: Fandom

What if you’re all genders? It’s called being pangender and has a flag, too! This flag was designed by Cari Rez Lobo, a Tumblr user, in 2015. Its sexual counterpart is pansexual

We all understand by now that there are more than two genders and that gender, in general, is a silly concept we’ve come up with as a society. So why limit the amount we can have?

A pride flag for drag queens, drag kings, and drag performers

The drag pride flag has three horizontal stripes: purple, white, and blue. There is a pink crown superimposed in the center of the flag.

Source: Drag Pride

It was the iconic drag king Gabriel A. Reid-Wray (@Itstransking on TikTok) who said that “drag is an act, trans is who you are” to explain the difference between transgender identities and drag. In the end, drag is an elaborate performance where artists tell a story through singing, dance, and fashion! 

Gender identity is a different ball game. Some feminist scholars like Judith Butler might call femininity a performance, and in a cisheteronormative world, that could be true, but gender is still who you are. Whether you have a gender or not, it can be an important aspect of your identity. 

That being said, especially with drag performers under attack across the United States, being one is certainly something to be proud of. 

The drag pride flag has three colors: purple represents passion for drag, white represents performers’ character, and blue represents self-expression. The crown in the center of the flag represents leadership.

Breaking down queer pride flags for sexual and romantic attraction

A person waving a small rainbow pride flag at an LGBT Pride March celebration.

Source: Getty

Sexual attraction and romantic attraction can overlap, and sometimes not so much. You can be a lesbian asexual, or bisexual aromantic, meaning the way you experience sexual and romantic attraction can differ from each other. Either way, there are so many ways to show your pride to the outside world with flags that represent so many different identities.

We love the neptunic pride flag, which shows love towards women towards non-men, and we love the sapphic flag too, for all the women-loving-women out there. And of course, for the fluid abrosexuals, you’ve got your own flag too. 

Here are some more pride flags to inspire you to show your true colors! 

The polyamory pride flag

This polyamorous flag has three vertical stripes: blue, red, and black. It has a yellow pi symbol in the center of the flag.

Source: Pride Nation

A polyamorous person can be straight and cisgender, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that every polyamorous person is queer. At the same time, it’s no secret that polyamory is a pretty popular configuration in queer relationships. If you’re polyamorous and queer, feel free to show your pride with the polyamory pride flag during Pride month!

The original polyamory pride flag was created by Jim Evans in 1995. It has blue, red, and black horizontal stripes with a Pi sign in the center of the design. Like other flags in this list, there have been several campaigns to change the official flag,  so there are several other variations floating around the internet.

The saturnic pride flag

The saturnic flag has six horizontal stripes of varying yellow colors and one white stripe.

Source: LGBTQIA Wiki

Now we’re getting celestial with it! Saturnic refers to the attraction to non-binary people. The flag and term were created by Tumblr user Arco-pluris in 2018. The flag has six horizontal stripes of varying yellow colors and one white stripe that make a gradient pattern together. 

Similar to the intersex flag, yellow has no particular gender association like blue or pink does, so it’s a good fit for a flag that represents people who are attracted to non-binary people.

The uranic pride flag

The uranic flag has four horizontal gradient stripes at the top going from deeper blue to lighter blue. The fifth and sixth stripe are light yellow colors.

Source: LGBTQIA Wiki

You may have noticed a pattern by now: there are a range of sexualities that are based on the solar system – isn’t that cool? Unlike neptunic and saturnic, though, uranic refers to the attraction to men and masculine non-binary people. 

The Tumblr user loud-and-queer created the saturnic flag in 2017. The flag has four horizontal stripes of varying blue colors and two yellow stripes at the bottom.

The straight ally pride flag

Six black and white stripes are in the background. Then, on top of the black and white pattern, the six rainbow color pattern from the LGBT flag make an pattern in the shape of an A to represent allyship.

Source: Wikipedia

We wouldn’t want the straights to feel left out, now, would we? Just kidding. But in all seriousness, if you’ve been invited to Pride celebrations and want to show your allyship, showing this flag will send the message loud and clear! The flag was first used in the 2000s, but its designer remains unknown. 

The future of the queer flag

People carry different variations of the pride flag as they march at an LGBT Pride Parade.

Source: Armando Franco/AP

We’ll never know for certain what the next iterations of the umbrella flag will look like. We also don’t know what micro-labels will have their own flag next. But none of that should matter when it’s time to show your pride, as long as you feel seen and accepted by whatever those around you. 

Robyn Exton

Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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