Pride was designed – not as a celebration, as it is today – but as a protest born of anger, passion, and shame. For the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual) community, Pride is the result of our endured humiliation, our bruises, and even deaths. Around the world, numerous laws impose severe punishments for members of the LGBTIA+ community every day. Even in the United States, where significant advancements have occurred, the queer communities face a constant barrage of new laws that threaten to erode our histories and futures.
History is our experience - our stories live there. The power of symbols and iconology has played such a vital role in our history. These are three of the most influential symbols that tell a piece of that LGBTQIA+ story.
The Pink Triangle
World War II bore many tragic stories, and although the LGBTQIA+ community was not the only group targeted by Nazi Germany, history often excludes their stories. Men, women, and children imprisoned in concentration camps wore inverted colored triangles that identified their reason for imprisonment. Gays and Lesbian were forced to wear an inverted pink triangle.
It was believed by Nazi Germany that queer people were a direct threat to the survival of Germany. The pink triangle subjected the wearer to some of the harshest conditions, torture, experimentation, and deaths. After reclaiming the pink triangle in the 1970s, the symbol, now rotated to be right side up, became the identifier of the Gay Liberation Movement. It was a bold attempt to transform the symbol from one of degradation into one of pride and liberation.
In response to the largely ignored and governmentally trivialized HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) created the "Silence=Death" project in 1987, adopting this triangle to declare that 'silence about the oppression and annihilation of gay people, then and now, must be broken as a matter of our survival.'
Fueled by this mission, ACT-UP pressured government officials to act through demonstrations, protests, and activism. President Reagan had remained completely silent on the "gay plague" until 1985. Even after the government recognized the seriousness of the epidemic, little was done to control pharmaceutical companies' prices, which gouged prices for life-saving drugs like AZT as high as $10,000 a year. By 1990, roughly 27,500 HIV/AIDS-related deaths had occurred.
History is our experience - our stories live there.
"And to 'sell' activism in an apolitical moment, the poster needed to be cool, and to intone 'knowing.' It needed to be both rarified and vernacular at the same time. It needed to give the impression of ubiquity and to create its own literacy. It needed to insinuate itself into being. It needed to be advertising." – Avram Finkelstein, collaborative designer of the ACT-UP poster, "Silence=Death"
In 1964, a man named Randy Wicker led one of the first major public protests against the U.S. military for their treatment of homosexual service members. Following the 1969 Stonewall Riots in which police raided a small New York gay bar, Wicker took the equality sign from civil rights movement imagery and created the buttons using the sign. The noteworthy difference was its beautiful lavender color - the inspiration deriving from a 1929 Cole Porter lyric "And of lavender, my nature's got just a dash in it" - one which Wicker understood to mean possessing a quality of queerness.
In 1980, the Human Rights Campaign was created by Steve Endean with the hopes to move gay and lesbian rights legislation into the mainstream by supporting gay- and lesbian-friendly candidates. Inspired by the symbol of freedom held by the Statue of Liberty, the first HRC logo manifested as a torch. As the years passed, the HRC realized a need to rebrand to accommodate their growing advocacy work. A series of 11 logos were designed and proposed by Stone Yamashita. After much debate, the blue and yellow Human Rights Campaign logo as we know it today came to life, becoming one of the most arguably identifiable symbols in LGBTQIA+ culture.
The Pride Flag, created by a U.S. Army veteran named Gilbert Baker at the request of Harvey Milk in 1977, represents both the amazing achievements of the LGBTQIA+ communities and acts as a reminder of our struggles and obstacles moving forward. An outward celebration of our spirit, each color on the original 8-color, 30-foot long, hand-dyed and stitched rainbow flag held significance: hot pink – sex; red – life; orange – healing; yellow – sunlight; green – nature; turquoise – magic/art; indigo – serenity; and violet – spirit.
Since the debut of the original 8-color Baker Pride Flag in 1977, the flag has undergone several changes. Following Harvey Milk's assassination in 1978, the demand for the new flag grew exponentially as many people wished to celebrate his life. Due to the difficulty in obtaining enough hot pink fabric, the stripe was eliminated the same year. Further removal of the turquoise stripe over complications of producing the dye, resulted in what most recognized as the modern-day Pride flag.
One doesn't nullify the other's message or intent but rather forms a unique conversation about our values, identities, and struggles. Each flag opens an opportunity for dialogue to learn from our community.
In 2018, the city of Philadelphia adopted a new version of the Pride flag featuring a black and brown stripe. The "More Color More Pride" campaign strives to educate people on the new flag, drawing attention to the struggles of the underrepresented people of color in the LGBTQIA+ community dealing with systemic police violence. The flag has further been updated by Daniel Quasar to also include the blue, pink, and white colors of the transgender flag.
There has been some who have expressed distaste for the new flag design; but the LGBTQIA+ community of all racial, ethnic, and gender identities must remember that their collective history is built upon the same foundation of standing up against unlawful and unjust authorities - just as those at Stonewall did 50 years ago when they rose against police brutality.
Activist and the creator of the Transgender Pride Flag offers pointed insight: "The rainbow flag is like the American flag. All the flags that are out there under it are like state flags." One doesn't nullify the other's message or intent but rather forms a unique conversation about our values, identities, and struggles. Each flag opens an opportunity for dialogue to learn from our community. Personalizing our experiences and expressing that through our banner of choice only elevates the understanding that we are all unique creations worthy of being celebrated.
LGBTQIA+ history is a long, often intertwined, and endlessly expansive story. Even writing this, it's nearly impossible to include or mention all the people, symbols, and events that have had ignited change and impacted queer history. From moments like the Stonewall Uprising and the Upstairs Lounge; to the Anita Bryant "pie-ing"; to the AIDS quilt; to countless victims of hate crimes like the murder of Matthew Shepard; the countless murders of trans women, specifically trans women of color; the horrific Pulse Nightclub massacre; and to the current phenomenon in queer primetime representation in media like RuPaul's Drag Race and Pose, the LGBTQIA+ community recognize that their perseverance and power is mandated by their history - one that we all must proud celebrate.
History is our experience - our stories live there. Remember those who paved the way, and celebrate the Pride they've designed for you.