Gay Lesbian Rainbow Pride Symbols
What do they mean?
The rainbow flag has become the easily-recognized colors of pride for the gay community. The multicultural symbolism of the rainbow is nothing new -- Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition also embraces the rainbow as a symbol of that political movement. The rainbow also plays a part in many myths and stories related to gender and sexuality issues in Greek, Native American, African, and other cultures.
Use of the rainbow flag by the gay community began in 1978 when it first appeared in the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Freedom Day Parade. Borrowing symbolism from the hippie movement and black civil rights groups, San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in response to a need for a symbol that could be used year after year. Baker and thirty volunteers hand-stitched and hand-dyed two huge prototype flags for the parade. The flags had eight stripes, each color representing a component of the community: hot pink for sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit.
The next year Baker approached San Francisco Paramount Flag Company to mass-produce rainbow flags for the 1979 parade. Due to production constraints -- such as the fact that hot pink was not a commercially-available color -- pink and turquoise were removed from the design, and royal blue replaced indigo. This six-color version spread from San Francisco to other cities, and soon became the widely-known symbol of gay pride and diversity it is today. It is even officially recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers. In 1994, a huge 30-foot-wide by one-mile-long rainbow flag was carried by 10,000 people in New York's Stonewall 25 Parade.
The pink triangle is easily one of the more popular and widely-recognized symbols for the gay community. The pink triangle is rooted in World War II times and reminds us of the tragedies of that era. Although homosexuals were only one of the many groups targeted for extermination by the Nazi regime, it is, unfortunately, the group that history often excludes. The pink triangle challenges that notion and defies anyone to deny history.
The history of the pink triangle begins before WWII, during Adolf Hitler's rise to power. Paragraph 175, a clause in German law prohibiting homosexual relations, was revised by Hitler in 1935 to include kissing, embracing, and gay fantasies as well as sexual acts. Convicted offenders -- an estimated 25,000 just from 1937 to 1939 -- were sent to prison and then later to concentration camps. Their sentence was to be sterilized, and this was most often accomplished by castration. In 1942 Hitler's punishment for homosexuality was extended to death.
Each prisoner in the concentration camps wore a colored inverted triangle to designate their reason for incarceration, and hence the designation also served to form a sort of social hierarchy among the prisoners. A green triangle marked its wearer as a regular criminal; a red triangle denoted a political prisoner. Two yellow triangles overlapping to form a Star of David designated a Jewish prisoner. The pink triangle was for homosexuals. A yellow Star of David under a superimposed pink triangle marked the lowest of all prisoners -- a gay Jew.
Stories of the camps depict homosexual prisoners being given the worst tasks and labors. Pink triangle prisoners were also a proportionally large focus of attacks from the guards and even other inmates. Although the total number of homosexual prisoners is not known, official Nazi estimates were an underwhelming 10,000.
Although homosexual prisoners reportedly were not shipped en masse to the death camps at Auschwitz, a great number of gay men were among the non-Jews who were killed there. Estimates of the number of gay men killed during the Nazi regime range from 50,000 to twice that figure. When the war was finally over, countless many homosexuals remained prisoners in the camps, because Paragraph 175 remained law in West Germany until its repeal in 1969.
The Leather Pride Flag is a symbol for the leather community, which encompasses those who are into leather, Levi's, sadomasochism, bondage and domination, uniform, cowboys, rubber, and other fetishes. The flag was created by artist Tony DeBlase and first displayed on May 28, 1989, at the Mr. Leather contest in Chicago. Although the flag is often common in the gay community, it is not a "gay-only" symbol.
The Bear Pride Flag is a symbol used by some "bears," gay men marked by an abundance of hair on their face, chest, and body. Bears also tend to be older, and perhaps larger or chubby. There does not seem to be one single symbol that represents bears in general. Rather, many symbols have been adopted by local clubs, bars, and other bear groups.
The colors of the flag represent the various types of bears in the culture.
The AIDS Awareness Ribbon, or red ribbon, is commonly seen adorning jacket lapels and other articles of clothing as a symbol of solidarity and a commitment to the fight against AIDS.
The Ribbon Project was conceived in 1991 by Visual AIDS, a New York-based charity group of art professionals that aims to recognize and honor friends and colleagues who have died or are dying of AIDS. Visual AIDS encourages arts organizations, museums, commercial galleries, and AIDS support groups to commemorate those lost to AIDS, to create greater awareness of AIDS/HIV transmission, to publicize the needs of Persons With AIDS, and to call for greater funding of services and research. Inspired by the yellow ribbons honoring American soldiers of the Persian Gulf War, the color red was chosen for its "connection to blood and the idea of passion -- not only anger but love, like a valentine," as stated by Frank Moore of Visual AIDS.
Worn by host Jeremy Irons, the ribbon made its public debut at the 1991 Tony Awards, and soon became a popular and politically correct fashion statement for celebrities and other awards ceremonies. Because of this popularity, some activists worry that the ribbon has become simple lip service to AIDS causes; in one particular incident the First Lady Barbara Bush wore a red ribbon while sitting in the audience with her husband, but when she stood at the President's side during his speech, her ribbon was conspicuously missing.
Gender Symbols are common astrological signs handed down from ancient Roman times. The pointed Mars symbol represents the male and the Venus symbol with the cross represents the female. Double interlocking male symbols have been used by gay men since the 1970s. Double interlocking female symbols have often been used to denote lesbianism, but some feminists have instead used the double female symbols to represent the sisterhood of women. These same feminists would use three interlocking female symbols to denote lesbianism. Also, some lesbian feminists of the 1970s used three interlocking female symbols to represent their rejection of male standards of monogamy.
The astrological sign of Mercury is traditionally the symbol of transgendered peoples. In Greek mythology, Hermes (the Greek version of the Roman god Mercury) and Aphrodite (the goddess of love) had a child named Hermaphroditus. That child possessed both male and female sexual organs, hence the term hermaphrodite. Also, rituals associated with the worship of Aphrodite are believed to have been highly sexual, involving castration, transvestism, and homosexual relations.
The lambda symbol seems to be one of the most controversial symbols concerning its meaning. There are several differing opinions as to why the lambda was chosen as a gay symbol and what it means. However, most sources agree on a few things:
The lambda was first chosen as a gay symbol when it was adopted in 1970 by the New York Gay Activists Alliance. It became the symbol of their growing movement of gay liberation. In 1974, the lambda was subsequently adopted by the International Gay Rights Congress held in Edinburgh, Scotland. As their symbol for lesbian and gay rights, the lambda became internationally popular.
But where history ends, speculation begins. No one seems to have a definitive answer to why the lambda was originally chosen as a gay symbol. Some suggest that it is simply the Greek lower-case letter l for liberation. Others disagree, citing the use of lambda in physics to denote energy (the energy we have when we work in concert) or wavelength (are gays and lesbians on a different wavelength?). Lambda may also denote the synergy of the gay movement, the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The lambda also may represent scales and balance, and the constant force that keeps opposing sides from overcoming each other -- the hook at the bottom of the right leg signifies the action needed to reach and maintain balance. The ancient Greek Spartans regarded the lambda to mean unity, while the Romans considered it "the light of knowledge shed into the darkness of ignorance." Reportedly, Ancient Greeks may have also placed the lambda on shields of gay men and their lovers who were among the fighting elite of the Greek Army.
The labrys is a double-sided hatchet or axe commonly used in ancient European, African, and Asian matriarchal societies as both a weapon and a harvesting tool. Greek artwork depicts the amazon armies of Europe wielding labrys weapons. Amazons ruled with a dual-queen system in which one queen was in charge of the army and battle, and the other queen stayed behind to administer the conquered cities. Amazons were known to be ferocious and merciless in battle, but once victorious they ruled with justice. Today, the labrys is a lesbian and feminist symbol of strength and self-sufficiency.
Also, the labrys played a part in ancient mythology. Demeter, the goddess of the earth, used a labrys as her scepter. Rites associated with the worship of the Demeter, as well as Hecate (the goddess of the underworld), are believed to have involved lesbian sex.
L = Lesbian
G = Gay
B = Bisexual
T = Transgender
Q = Queer / Questioning
I = Intersex