The rainbow flag has long been a symbol of the LGBTQ+ community, but it is not the only flag associated with people under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. In the 40-plus years since Gilbert Baker first introduced the rainbow flag in 1978, the rainbow flag has gone through a few changes and other flags have come to represent different orientations and gender identities.
What’s the difference between the transgender flag and the rainbow flag?
The rainbow flag has gone through various iterations over the years. It comprises red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple horizontal stripes. In 2017, Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs launched the #MoreColorMorePride campaign “in support of racial diversity, equality and inclusion in the LGBTQ neighborhoods of the city,” according to the office’s website. This included a new flag that had the six colors that had endured for decades, plus black and brown stripes. Reaction was mixed, with some people hailing the move as inclusive of people of color and others called the changes unnecessary.
OK, so what does the transgender flag look like?
The transgender flag has five horizontal stripes: two light blue, two pink and one white. As The Daily Beast reported, these colors are “a play on gendered colors with a stripe for those outside the binary.”
I didn’t even know there was a transgender flag!
There are flags for many communities under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. Transgender activist and navy veteran Monica Helms designed the transgender flag in 1999. According to Fast Company, Helms got the idea for the flag after talking with Michael Page. Page had designed the bisexual flag and had been one of the founders of Bi Visibility Day. Page suggested the transgender community needed a flag, too, and soon after that, Helms had the idea for her flag. She’s been quoted as saying the design was intentionally symmetrical top to bottom so that there was no “wrong” way to fly it:
The stripes at the top and bottom are light blue, the traditional color for baby boys. The stripes next to them are pink, the traditional color for baby girls. The stripe in the middle is white, for those who are intersex, transitioning, or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender. The pattern is such that no matter which way you fly it, it is always correct, signifying us finding correctness in our lives.
So how did Helms’ flag become a universal symbol?
Helms told The Daily Beast that she flew the flag in the color guide in Phoenix’s pride parade in 2000. She gots comments and questions from people who said they hadn’t seen it. Helms quipped back that they hadn’t seen it because she had only recently made it. From there, it spread organically, she said:
This was for me and if nobody had embraced it, it still would have been OK for me… It would have been my flag. But then people started seeing it and they thought the pattern was great and they liked the reason for the colors and it just took off.
The Daily Beast reported that the original flag was acquired by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in 2014 and displayed in the White House during Pride Month 2016. Helms expressed pride in her creation, though she didn’t ever expect it to become an ubiquitous symbol, saying, “It does please me but I am overtaken now, a little… It’s overwhelming that something that I created is being used all over the world.”
What makes this flag or other flags different from the rainbow flag? Doesn’t the rainbow flag represent all of these communities?
In an interview with Think Progress, Helms explained that the two flags don’t have to compete with each other, but rather complement each other:
Just like the American flag represents the whole country but each state has its own flag as well, Helms feels like “the rainbow flag is the LGBTQ flag for everybody, and each individual group can have their own flag for their own individuality.”
She said a similar thing when talking to The Daily Beast, saying “I say the rainbow flag is like the American flag: everybody’s underneath that… But each group, like each state, has their own individual flag.”
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