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Different Rainbow Flags and Their Meanings

The rainbow flag is one of the most common symbols of the LGBTQ community today, but it is not as straightforward as others may seem to think. The rainbow flag is representative of all types of genders, sexualities, and sexual orientations. Hence, members of the LGBTQ community have come up with variations for the rainbow flag.

However, did you know that aside from representing the escape from binary gender norms, the rainbow flag was also used by other groups and cultures to represent other concepts?

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In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at all the iterations of the rainbow flag and how it was ultimately used as a symbol of peace and pride not just by the LGBTQ community, but other groups throughout history.

Buddhist Flag

buddhist flag

One of the first times a rainbow flag was ever hoisted was in Colombo, Sri Lanka in 1885. This version of the rainbow flag was used to represent Buddhism. The original Buddhist flag had a long streaming shape but it was changed to the normal flag size for ease of use. 

  • Blue – Universal compassion
  • Yellow – Middle Path
  • Red – Blessings of Practice (achievement, wisdom, virtue, fortune and dignity)
  • White – Purity
  • Orange – Wisdom of Buddha’s teachings

The sixth vertical band is a combination of the 5 colors that represents a compound aural color which stands for the Truth of Buddha’s teaching or the ‘essence of life’.

The Buddhist rainbow flag has also seen some changes throughout the years. The flag colors also vary depending on which Buddhist nation it is used in. For example, the Buddhist flag in Japan uses the color green instead of orange, while the Tibetan flag also interchanges the orange color for brown.

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Co-operative Movement

Cooperative movement flag

The rainbow flag (with the 7 colors of the spectrum in the right order) is also the international symbol for the co-operative movement or the movement that sought to protect laborers from unfair working conditions. This tradition was established back in 1921, at the International Co-operative Congress of World Co-op Leaders in Switzerland. 

Back then, co-ops were growing in number and the group wanted something to identify them all and unite co-operatives all around the world. Professor Charles Gide’s suggestion of using the colors of the rainbow was accepted to symbolize unity amid diversity and progress.

For the Co-operative movement, the colors of the rainbow represented the following:

  • Red – Courage
  • Orange – Hope
  • Yellow – Warmth and friendship
  • Green – The continuous challenge for growth
  • Sky Blue – Unlimited potential and possibilities
  • Dark Blue – Hard work and perseverance 
  • Violet – Warmth, beauty, respect for others

International Peace Flag

Pace flag

Before becoming a global symbol of LGBTQ Pride, the rainbow flag was a symbol for peace. It was first used as such during a peace march in Italy in 1961. Protesters got the inspiration from demonstrations against nuclear weapons that used similar multi-colored banners. Variations of the peace rainbow flag have the word Pace, the Italian word for peace, and Eirini the Greek word for peace, printed in the center.

Queer Pride Flags (LGBTQ Pride Flag)

The traditional rainbow flag has symbolized the modern LGBTQ movement since 1977. But of course, you’ve already seen other versions of the pride flag. Listed below are several variations of the LGBTQ pride flag and what they represent.

Gilbert Baker Pride Flag

San Francisco artist and army veteran Gilbert Baker’s pride flag is considered the traditional LGBTQ flag, with the color pink on top of the normal colors of the rainbow. Baker thought of the rainbow as a symbol for the LGBTQ community after he was challenged by gay rights activist Harvey Milk to sew a symbol of pride and unity for the gay community. As a result, Baker came up with this flag. It was said that he drew inspiration from Judy Garland’s song entitled “Over the Rainbow”. 

However, it wasn’t until 1978 that the colors of the rainbow officially flew to represent the LGBTQ community. Baker brought the traditional pride flag to the San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade on June 25, 1978 and hoisted his flag for the first time. 

Here are the meanings behind each color of the traditional LGBTQ pride flag:

  • Hot Pink – Sex
  • Red – Life
  • Orange – Healing
  • Yellow – Sunshine
  • Green – Nature 
  • Turquoise – Art
  • Indigo – Serenity & Harmony
  • Violet – Spirit 

1978-1999 Pride Flag

This version of the Pride Flag was created solely out of lack of supply of hot pink fabric. Paramount flag Company and even Gilbert Baker used this for the purposes of mass distribution and it became widely accepted as the iconic LGBTQ flag.

Gay Pride Flag

The gay pride flag is very similar to the first two mentioned pride flags. However, it lacks the colors pink and turquoise. At the time, both hot pink and turquoise were hard to manufacture. Plus, some people did not like the odd number of stripes on the flag with the absence of hot pink. Thus, for the symbol of gay pride, both colors were dropped entirely. Another change that happened was that indigo was replaced by royal blue, a more classic variation of the color itself. 

Bisexual Flag

Bisexual flag

The bisexual flag was designed by Michael Page back in 1998, to increase visibility and representation for bisexuality within the LGBTQ community and the society as a whole.

The flag has 3 colors, consisting of pink (which represents the possibility for same sex attraction), royal blue (for the possibility of opposite sex attraction), and a deep shade of lavender (which shows the possibility of attraction for anyone along the gender spectrum).

Transgender Flag

Transgender flag

Transgender woman Monica Helms designed this flag and first displayed it at the pride parade in Phoenix Arizona in 2000. 

Helms explained that she chose the colors baby blue and pink as the traditional colors for young boys and girls. She also added the color white in the middle to symbolize the period of transition and members of the LGBTQ community who are gender neutral and those who identify as intersex. 

Helms added that the pattern was created intentionally to indicate correctness or transgenders trying to find correctness in their own lives.

Pansexual Flag

pansexual flag

The pansexual flag has no known creator. It simply surfaced on the internet by 2010. But the colors on the pansexual flag means the following: Pink and blue symbolizes the gendered persons (either male or female), while the gold in the middle represents those who are members of the third sex, mixed genders, or genderless.

Lipstick Lesbian Pride Flag

Lipstick lesbian flag

The lipstick lesbian flag represents the feminine lesbian community with 7 shades of pink and red stripes. It also has a lipstick mark on the upper left corner of the flag. Without the kiss mark, some people believe that it stands for other kinds of lesbians. However, there is no official flag for this section of the LGBTQ community.

Bigender Flag

Bigenders are people who believe themselves to have double genders. This means they experience two separate genders at the same time. The two genders can be a combination of binary or non-binary genders. Hence, the bigender flag is shown to have both shades of pink and blue, with one white stripe in the middle of two lavender stripes. The white color represents the possible shift to any gender. The lavender stripes are the combination of pink and blue, while the colors pink and blue represent binary genders, male and female.

Asexual Flag

asexual flag

The Asexual pride flag came up in 2010 to increase asexual visibility and awareness. The colors of the asexual flag are black (for asexuality), grey (for grey asexuals who may experience sexual desires in certain conditions and demisexuals), white (for sexuality), and purple (for community). 

Polyamory Flag

Polyamory flag

The polyamory celebrates the infinite number of partners available to a polyamorous person. The polyamory flag features a golden pi symbol in the middle to represent the selection of partners and the first letter of the word polyamory. The color blue represents openness and honesty among all partners, red symbolizes love and passion, while black signifies solidarity for polyamorous individuals who choose to keep their relationships secret.

Gender Queer Flag

Gender queer flag

Sometimes referred to as the nonbinary flag, the gender queer flag features three colors: lavender for androgyny, white for agender, and green for nonbinary people. This flag was created in 2011 by videographer Marilyn Roxie. 

However, a separate nonbinary flag was also created in 2014 by Kyle Rowan as an option. This flag has four colors namely yellow for genders outside the binary, white for those with more than one genders, purple for genderfluid people, and black for agender people.

Straight Ally Flag 

This flag was created to allow straight men and women to support the LGBTQ community, especially through their participation during Pride March. The flag bears a rainbow arrow inside a black and white flag showing the support of heterosexuals to those from the LGBTQ community.

People of Color Inclusive Flag

People of color pride flag

This pride flag was first used in Philadelphia to represent LGBTQ members who are also people of color. That’s why the colors black and brown were added on top of the rainbow.

Progress Pride Flag

Progress pride flag

Daniel Quasar, who identifies as queer and nonbinary, created this latest pride flag to fully represent the entire LGBTQ community. Quasar changed the traditional gay pride flag and added stripes on the left side of the flag. Xe added white, pink, and baby blue to represent transgender people, while black and brown were used to include queer people of color and members of the community who succumbed to AIDS.

Wrapping Up

The number of pride flags are many, with variations added all the time to express another aspect of the LGBTQ community. It’s likely that there will be more flags added in the future, as times progress, but for now the above are the most notable flags representing the LGBTQ community.

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.