What Does the Rainbow Pride Flag Mean?

Rainbow Pride flag

In the handful of symbols that represent the LGBTQ+ community and Pride, the Pride flag is at the forefront. It’s impossible to think of Pride Month without imagining the iconic rainbow Pride flag. We’re taking a look at the history of the rainbow Pride flag and various aspects of the Pride flag meaning.

The famous flag has become an enduring symbol of pride and support for lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, non-binary, gender non-conforming people, pansexual and queer people. You probably know that the Pride flag is a rainbow, but did you know that the design of the flag has changed over the years, and that each color has a specific meaning?  

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The History of the Pride Flag

The rainbow Pride flag was designed in 1978 by artist and gay rights activist Gilbert Baker. He came up with the design after prominent gay rights leader Harvey Milk urged him to create a new, positive symbol that the entire LGBTQIA+ community could rally behind. 

Up until that point, a pink triangle had symbolized the gay rights movement, Baker explained in his memoir, Rainbow Warrior: My Life In Color. 

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However, that symbol “represented a dark chapter in the history of same-sex rights,” he wrote. “[Adolf] Hitler conceived the pink triangle during World War II as a stigma placed on homosexuals in the same way the Star of David was used against Jews. It functioned as a Nazi tool of oppression. We all felt that we needed something that was positive, that celebrated our love.”

Baker thought a rainbow flag would better represent the beautiful diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. He also considered the powerful symbolic significance of rainbows throughout history. 

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“A Rainbow Flag was a conscious choice, natural and necessary. The rainbow came from earliest recorded history as a symbol of hope,” Baker wrote. “In the Book of Genesis, it appeared as proof of a covenant between God and all living creatures. It was also found in Chinese, Egyptian and Native American history. A Rainbow Flag would be our modern alternative to the pink triangle. Now the rioters who claimed their freedom at the Stonewall Bar in 1969 would have their own symbol of liberation.”

Rainbow flags were first flown at the 1978 “Gay Freedom Day” parade in San Francisco, and they quickly became the most popular symbol of gay pride. They were soon mass-produced and flown at Pride events around the country, and the rainbow flag has become a ubiquitous symbol of Pride today.  

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Pride Flag Meaning

Each color on the Pride flag has a specific meaning.

The original flag designed by Baker had eight stripes. <p>iStock</p>
The original flag designed by Baker had eight stripes.


The original, eight-stripe flag designed by Baker had the following meanings for each color: 

Hot pink = Sex 

Red = Life

Orange = Healing 

Yellow = Sunlight 

Green = Nature 

Turquoise = Magic/Art 

Indigo = Serenity 

Violet = Spirit 

The hot pink and turquoise stripes were subsequently removed—the pink, because it was difficult to source fabric of that color, and the turquoise, because organizers of the 1979 San Francisco Pride parade wanted a flag with an even number of stripes. 

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Today’s flag has six colors: red, orange, yellow, green, royal blue and violet.

The modern Pride flag has six stripes. <p>iStock</p>
The modern Pride flag has six stripes.


There are other, location-specific versions of the Pride flag with added meanings, such as this eight-stripe flag created in Philadelphia in 2017. The added black and brown stripes represent diversity and inclusivity. It's aptly named the Philadelphia Pride Flag.

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<em>This version of the Pride flag was developed in Philadelphia in 2017 and is called the Philadelphia Pride Flag.</em><p>iStock</p>
This version of the Pride flag was developed in Philadelphia in 2017 and is called the Philadelphia Pride Flag.


In addition to the iconic rainbow Pride flag, several other flags with different symbols and color combinations exist to celebrate various gender identities and orientations under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella, including asexual, bisexual, genderfluid, and non-binary, and several others.

The Progress Pride Flag, which includes the Trans community, on a button. <p>Marek Studzinski/Unsplash</p>
The Progress Pride Flag, which includes the Trans community, on a button.

Marek Studzinski/Unsplash

For instance, another very popular rainbow Pride flag is the Progress Pride Flag, which has the six colors of the modern Pride flag with five colors creating a triangle on the left-hand side. As HRC reported, this flag was created by Daniel Quaser and evolved the Philadelphia Pride Flag. The three of the five colors are white, pink and light blue, which represent the Trans community. The black and brown colors represented people of color within the LGBTQ+ community and the black stripe, specifically, also represented those lost in the HIV/AIDS crisis.

The last popular rainbow Pride flag is the Intersex-Inclusive Progress Pride Flag which takes the Progress Flag above and adds a yellow triangle on the far left-hand side with a purple circle in the middle, which is the Intersex flag. This flag debuted in 2021 and was created by Valentino Vecchietti.

Next up:
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