Symbols of the Gay Community
The Alyson Almanac describes the Rainbow flag as follows:
In 1978, Gilbert Baker of San Francisco designed and made a flag with six stripes representing the six colours of the rainbow as a symbol of gay and lesbian community pride. Slowly the flag took hold, offering a colourful and optimistic alternative to the more common pink triangle symbol. Today it is recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers, and is flown in lesbian and gay pride marches worldwide. In 1989, the rainbow flag received nationwide attention after John Stout successfully sued his landlords in West Hollywood, when they prohibited him from displaying the flag from his apartment balcony. Meanwhile, Baker is still in San Francisco, and still making more flags.
The Rainbow Flag by Steven W. Anderson appeared in GAZE Magazine (Minneapolis), #191, on 28 May 1993, p. 25: Colour has long played an important role in our community’s expression of pride. In Victorian England, for example, the colour green was associated with homosexuality. The colour purple (or, more accurately, lavender) became popularised as a symbol for pride in the late 1960s – a frequent post-Stonewall catchword for the gay community was “Purple Power”. And, of course, there’s the pink triangle. Although it was first used in Nazi Germany to identify gay males in concentration camps, the pink triangle only received widespread use as a gay pop icon in the early 1980s. But the most colourful of our symbols is the Rainbow Flag, and its rainbow of colours – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple – represents the diversity of our community.
The first Rainbow Flag was designed in 1978 by Gilbert Baker, a San Francisco artist, who created the flag in response to a local activist’s call for the need of a community symbol. (This was before the pink triangle was popularly used as a symbol of pride.) Using the five-striped “Flag of the Race” as his inspiration, Baker designed a flag with eight stripes: pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. According to Baker, those colours represented, respectively: sexuality, life, healing, sun, nature, art, harmony, and spirit. Baker dyed and sewed the material for the first flag himself – in the true spirit of Betsy Ross.
Baker soon approached San Francisco’s Paramount Flag Company about mass producing and selling his “gay flag”. Unfortunately, Baker had hand-dyed all the colours, and since the colour “hot pink” was not commercially available, mass production of his eight-striped version became impossible. The flag was thus reduced to seven stripes.
In November 1978, San Francisco’s gay community was stunned when the city’s first openly gay supervisor, Harvey Milk, was assassinated, Wishing to demonstrate the gay community’s strength and solidarity in the aftermath of this tragedy, the 1979 Pride Parade Committee decided to use Baker’s flag. The committee eliminated the indigo stripe so they could divide the colours evenly along the parade route – three colours on one side of the street and three on the other. Soon the six colours were incorporated into a six-striped version that became popularised and that, today, is recognized by the International Congress of Flag Makers.
In San Francisco, the Rainbow Flag is everywhere: it can be seen hanging from apartment windows throughout the city (most notably in the Castro district), local bars frequently display the flag, and Rainbow Flag banners are hung from lampposts on Market Street (San Francisco’s main avenue) throughout Pride Month. Visiting the city, one cannot help but feel a tremendous sense of pride at seeing this powerful symbol displayed so prominently.
Although the Rainbow Flag was initially used as a symbol of pride only in San Francisco, it has received increased visibility in recent years. Today, it is a frequent sight in a number of other cities as well – New York, West Hollywood, and Amsterdam, among them. Even in the Twin Cities, the flag seems to be gaining in popularity. Indeed, the Rainbow Flag reminds us that ours is a diverse community – composed of people with a variety of individual tastes of which we should all be proud.
Sources used for this article were found at Quatrefoil Library in St. Paul, and include: “Vexed by Rainbows”, by Paul Zomcheck, in “Bay Area Reporter” (June 26, 1986); “Rainbow Flag” in “The Alyson Almanac” (1989); and “The Rainbow Flag”, in “Parade 90: San Francisco Gay/Lesbian Freedom Day Parade and Celebration” (June 24, 1990).
Pink Triangle & Black Triangle
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 coloured 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 labours. Pink triangle prisoners were also a proportionally large focus of attacks from the guards and even other inmates. Although the total number of the homosexual prisoners is not known, official Nazi estimates were an under whelming 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. In the 1970s, gay liberation groups resurrected the pink triangle as a popular symbol for the gay rights movement. Not only is the symbol easily recognized, but also it draws attention to oppression and persecution – then and now. In the 1980s, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) began using the pink triangle for their cause. They inverted the symbol, making it point up, to signify an active fight back rather than a passive resignation to fate. Today, for many the pink triangle represents pride, solidarity, and a promise to never allow another Holocaust to happen again.
Like the pink triangle, the black triangle is also rooted in Nazi Germany. Although lesbians were not included in the Paragraph 175 prohibition of homosexuality, there is evidence to indicate that the black triangle was used to designate prisoners with anti-social behaviour. Considering that the Nazi idea of womanhood focused on children, kitchen, and church, black triangle prisoners may have included lesbians, prostitutes; women who refused to bear children, and women with other “anti-social” traits. As the pink triangle is historically a male symbol, the black triangle has similarly been reclaimed by lesbians and feminists as a symbol of pride and solidarity.
Gender Pride & related Symbols – Back to the top
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. Gay men have used double interlocking male symbols 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 1970’s used three interlocking female symbols to represent their rejection of male standards of monogamy.
Also in the 1970s, gay liberation movements used the male and female symbols superimposed to represent the common goals of lesbians and gay men. These days, the superimposed symbols might also denote a heterosexual aware of the differences and diversity between men and women. A transgender person might superimpose the male and female symbols in such a way that the arrow and cross join on the same single ring.
The astrological sign of Mercury is traditionally the symbol of transgender peoples. In Greek mythology, Hermes (the Greek version of the Roman god Mercury) and Aphrodite (the goddess of love) had a child named Hermaphrodites. 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.
In the symbol itself, the crescent moon at the top is supposed to represent the masculine, and the cross at the bottom represents the feminine. The ring represents the individual, with the male and the female balanced at either side.