Saturday, August 18, 2012

Queer and Godless Symbols: Part 1

As our communities become more diverse, we find new ways of signaling our identities to each other through flags, symbols, and other trinkets.  For the sake of the straight, cis, queer, trans, theist, or atheist folks out there who have ever asked a question like, "Do straight allies have their own flag?" or "What the hell is a FSM?" this primer is just what you need!

Queer Flags

For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to separate these into categories, provide pictures and give a quick run-down of who and what they represent.

Rainbow Flag - Represents the general LGBTQ community, more specifically gay and lesbian.  The mixture of colors symbolize the "colorful" variety in the queer community and the six individual colors symbolize life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow), nature (green), harmony (blue), and spirit (purple).

Transgender Flag - Represents the transgender umbrella that can encompass transsexual, crossdresser, intersex, and other gender-variant communities.  The pink and blue colors represent female and male identified people, respectively, while the white stripe represents intersex and others who consider themselves outside the gender binary.
Bisexual Flag - Represents the bisexual community.  The deep pink represents female attraction, the deep blue represents male attraction, and the purple in the middle represents attraction to any other gender in-between.

Asexual Flag - Based on the Asexual triangle (see Queer Symbols below).  The gradient from black to purple represents the sliding scale from complete asexuality to sexuality, based on Kinsey's original sexuality scale.

Genderqueer Flag - Represents the Genderqueer community, a catchall for those who identify outside of the typical gender binary.  The lavender represents those who identify with male and female (mixture of blue and pink), the green represents those who identify as neither male or female (inverse of lavender), and the white (sometimes replaced with black) represents people who reject gender all together.

Pansexual Flag - Represents the pansexual community.  Similar to the bisexual flag, the three colors represent female attraction (pink), male attraction (blue), and gender-variant attraction (yellow).

Straight Ally Flag - Represents straight (and/or cis) allies.  The rainbow "A" in the middle of the black and white stripes represents involvement and protection of the LGBTQ community.

Bear Flag - A subculture of gay men that appreciates specific secondary sex characteristics such as generous body and facial hair.  The various colors represent the different varieties of skin/hair color and the paw print represents, well duh, bears!

Leather Flag - Represents the Leather and/or BDSM community, which encompasses all sexual orientations.  The heart represents love (something many "vanilla" people might not see in BDSM relationships), the black and blue have been said to represent leather and denim or bruises, depending on who you ask, the white has been said to represent purity or perhaps "mocha" and "vanilla" allies.  The color symbols are often contested because the flag's designer refused to specify his symbolism, leaving it up to each person to decide.

Polyamory Flag - Represents the Polyamorous community, people in relationships with more than one person.  The blue represents the honesty and trust required in poly relationships, the red represents passion and love, and the black represents the secrecy that is sadly required in our society.  The Greek letter "pi" in the middle is for the first letter in polyamory and it is gold to represent cherishing all relationships, be they friendly, romantic, physical, or a combination.

Queer Symbols

Wow!  That's a lot of flags!  That's why, for simplicities sake we generally just use the rainbow flag.  Imagine trying to explain all of these flags in a casual conversation to someone.  Here's some of the symbols that have been used throughout LGBT history, many of which are still used in various frequency today.

Pink Triangle -  One of the first gay pride symbols.  Originally used as a badge by the Nazis to denote male homosexuals in concentration camps, it has since been inverted (now pointing up) and turned into a symbol of openness and freedom.

Straight Ally Triangle -  Represents Straight Allies or sometimes denotes an LGBT "safe space".  The green circle surrounding the pink triangle represents the protection of allies for the LGBT community.

Green Carnations - Once used as a signal between gay men, either as a identifying accessory or a gift to another man, particularly during the Ancient Greek and later Victorian Eras.  Famously worn in Oscar Wilde's lapel.

Violets - Similar to Green Carnations, but for lesbian and bisexual women.  Based on a poem by Sappho (an ancient Greek lesbian poet) in which she describes her lover and her wearing garlands of violets.  The coded gift of violets was especially popular among queer women from the 1910s to the 1950s.

Labrys - Symbol often used in ancient Minoan Crete, believed to be a matriarchal society.  It has since been adopted by the lesbian community in diminishing popularity since the 1970s.  Often seen as a tattoo on the inner wrist or a pendant.

Greek Lambda - Adopted by the Gay Activist Alliance in the 1970s.  Signifies unity against oppression and thus has been used by many oppressed communities besides LGBT.  For this reason, the LGBT lambda is often pink in order to specify.

Transgender Symbol - An amalgamation of the traditional male and female symbols.  The "arrow" on the upper right represents male-identified people, the "plus" on the bottom represents female-identified people, and the combination of both on the upper-left represents gender-variant identified people.

Asexual Triangle - Similar to the Asexual flag, but the gradient is from white to black with a purple outline.

Purple Hand - No longer popular, but tells an interesting story.  In 1969 the Gay Liberation Front staged a protest outside the San Francisco Examiner for negative articles on LGBT people and bars.  The staff inside the building dumped purple ink on the protesters below, who used it to scribe "Gay Power" and other symbols all over the building and covered it with purple hand prints.  The crowd was subsequently brutally beaten by the police who arrived on the scene.  It was later used with varying success as a warning to gay-bashers in gay neighborhoods.

Whew!  That's a lot to cover in one blog entry.  If I missed a flag or symbol of your particular liking, I apologize.  I tried to be as thorough and inclusive as possible.  Don't forget to check out Part 2 where I talk about Godless Symbols.


  1. I never knew about the straight ally flag! I'm a straight woman and I've always been a strong supporter of LGBT rights but felt like I had no place in the community or way to represent my support, this is perfect.

    1. I'm glad you can show off your support with style now!

  2. Do you know any group that sells Straight Ally flags? I am looking for flags (3' x 5') with both the stripes and the pink triangle in green circle designs.

    1. You might try a custom shop like Zazzle. I know of a shop in Dallas that carries them (TapeLenders) but I'm not sure of an online place to buy them yet.