The LGBTQ+ Pride Flag Through the Ages

Virgin Radio

30 Jun 2021, 09:30

You’ll almost certainly have seen the six-stripe rainbow Pride flag being displayed from buildings, cars, and even clothes this June to celebrate Pride month… But did you know that the flag we see today has evolved over the ages, and is still evolving? Here’s a short rundown of the Pride flag through the years…

The Pink Triangle

Before the rainbow became an almost universal symbol for the LGBTQ+ community, there was another symbol which was associated with its members. You might have seen the Pink Triangle on posters and Pride outfits, but before it was reclaimed as a symbol of strength and remembrance, it was used in the Holocaust to mark out gay men, many of whom were sent to concentration camps because of their sexualities. 

Although the Pink Triangle was usually not used for lesbians and other members of the LGBTQ+ community during the Holocaust (many of these people were branded with a black triangle to show that they were considered ‘asocial’), since the end of World War Two, it has become a symbol for much of the community; of defiance, resilience and strength, as well as to remember the thousands of LGBTQ+ people who suffered. Perhaps most notably, a recoloured version of the triangle featured on the iconic ‘Silence = Death’ poster which was used to raise awareness of the AIDS crisis.

The Original Rainbow Flag

Although the rainbow is, of course, a natural symbol, we owe its inception as the defining emblem of the Pride movement to artist Gilbert Baker, who performed as a drag queen in San Francisco in the 1970s. Baker saw the instant recognisability of the American Flag, with its stars and stripes symbolising millions of people, and decided that the LGBTQ+ community needed a similar icon. 

Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in California, and a friend of Baker’s, had made a speech encouraging gay people to come out and make their identities visible; thus Baker sprung into action.


There’s been much debate over why Baker decided to adopt the rainbow as a symbol of LGBTQ+ Pride, but in an interview with MoMA (who, incidentally, acquired the flag as part of their design collection in 2015), he suggested that the real reason was actually very simple; ‘it’s a natural flag - it’s from the sky!’, he said.

But the different vibrant colours of the rainbow also serve to represent the diversity of the community ‘in terms of race, gender, ages, all of those things’, and indeed each colour represents a different quality which Baker associated with members of the community:

·  Hot Pink – Sex

·  Red – Life

·  Orange – Healing

·  Yellow – Sunlight

·  Green - Nature

·  Turquoise – Magic/Art

·  Indigo – Serenity

·  Violet – Spirit

Once the original flag was designed, Baker and about thirty volunteers and friends hand-dyed rolls of fabric and sewed them together (his drag queen costume skills coming in handy!), and it was hung in the United Nations Plaza in downtown San Francisco on the 25th June 1978. The flag was born, and the rainbow became synonymous with the LGBTQ+ community.

The Six-Stripe Flag is Born

Shortly after the original eight-stripe Pride flag was debuted in San Francisco, the city was struck by tragedy. Harvey Milk, one of the inspirations behind the flag, was assassinated by a former colleague on November 28th 1978, and because of this demand for the flag greatly increased as people rushed to pay their respects. 

To meet this demand, Baker dropped the hot pink colour from the flag’s design, as it was difficult to acquire the fabric. Briefly, a seven-stripe version of the flag was used, but since the flags were mostly hung from lampposts around the city, the middle stripe was often obscured from view.

The easiest way for Baker to rectify this was to remove another stripe from the flag and make it even again, so he decided to remove the turquoise colour, leaving the six stripes which still make up many flags today; red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

The Progress Flag

More recently, as more letters have been added to the LGBTQ+ acronym to celebrate the diversity of the community, more colours have also been added to the flag. Perhaps the most common updated version is known as the ‘Progress Flag’, which was created by Portland-based graphic designer Daniel Quasar in 2018.

The flag features the original six stripes from Baker’s design, plus a chevron shape which aims to represent movement in a forward, positive direction. Inside the chevron are five additional stripes; black and brown to represent marginalised members of the LGBTQ+ community, and light-blue, pink and white, which are the colours of the Transgender Pride flag.

The Latest Version

Even since 2018, the Progress Flag has been updated to reflect changes within the community; the most recent being the inclusion of a yellow stripe inside the chevron with a purple circle, which represents the intersex community.