These Are the Secret Meanings of the Pride Flag's Colors

The rainbow wasn't an arbitrary choice.

lgbt pride flag meaning of the pride flag's colors

No matter who you are, where you live, or how involved you are in the LGBTQIA+ community, you can probably identify the rainbow pride flag. The famous six-color pattern has come to represent LGBTQIA+ people worldwide, cropping up on everything from buttons and pins to sneakers and scrunchies.

However, despite the prevalence of this symbol today, the pride flag has seen a few rounds of notable modifications since its inception less than 50 years ago. To understand the meaning of the colors in this bright symbol of equality, we've uncovered the secret meaning of each hue in the rainbow pride flag.

The Origins of the Pride Flag

Before the rainbow pride flag was created, there was another symbol for the LGBTQIA+ community: a pink triangle. This triangle, however, had a loaded, homophobic history. Throughout the Holocaust, the Nazis forced those whom they labeled as gay to wear inverted pink triangle badges, just as they forced Jewish people to wear a yellow Star of David.

In the late 1970s, the pink triangle was somewhat reclaimed by the gay community. "Gay people wear the pink triangle today as a reminder of the past and a pledge that history will not repeat itself," read one 1977 letter to the editor in Time. Still, activists recognized the need for a more empowering symbol.

The First Rainbow Flag

Enter: Gilbert Baker, the man who would create the first rainbow pride flag. In the late '70s, Baker was living in San Fransisco when he met writer Cleve Jones, filmmaker Artie Bressan, and rising activist Harvey Milk (of course, Milk was assassinated in 1978 after winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977). The trio encouraged Baker to create a positive emblem for the LGBTQIA+ community.

Baker agreed and he looked to his community for inspiration, specifically those dancing at San Francisco's music venue Winterland Ballroom one night. According to the website for his estate, he wrote:

The crowd was as much a part of the show as the band. Everyone was there: North Beach beatniks and barrio zoots, the bored bikers in black leather, teenagers in the back row kissing. There were long-haired, lithe girls in belly-dance get-ups, pink-haired punks safety-pinned together, hippie suburbanites, movie stars so beautiful they left you dumbstruck, muscle gayboys with perfect mustaches, butch dykes in blue jeans, and fairies of all genders in thrift-store dresses … We were all in a swirl of color and light. It was like a rainbow.

A rainbow. That's the moment when I knew exactly what kind of flag I would make.

eight color pride flag designed by gilbert baker
The eight-stripe rainbow pride flag, as created by Gilbert Baker.Shutterstock

The Eight Original Pride Flag Colors

The earliest version of Baker's rainbow pride flag, from 1978, included eight colors: hot pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, and violet. According to the website for his estate, Baker assigned a special meaning to each color of his pride flag.

  • Hot pink = Sex
  • Red = Life
  • Orange = Healing
  • Yellow = Sunlight
  • Green = Nature
  • Turquoise = Magic/Art
  • Indigo = Serenity
  • Violet = Spirit

The Pride Flag Colors Today

Almost immediately after the eight-color rainbow pride flag was unveiled, it was modified. After Milk was assassinated on November 27, 1978, demand for the flag increased dramatically. Since hot pink fabric was difficult to come by, Baker dropped that stripe from his flag to meet the demand.

In 1979, the flag was changed again. According to Baker's estate, that was because when it was hung vertically from the lamp posts of San Francisco's Market Street, the center stripe (turquoise) was obscured by the similarly-colored lamp post itself. Baker dropped yet another stripe, which resulted in the six-stripe version of the flag we use today, which is red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. The blue that replaced the indigo now symbolizes harmony.

Here are the meanings behind the colors in the current pride flag:

  • Red = Life
  • Orange = Healing
  • Yellow = Sunlight
  • Green = Nature
  • Blue = Harmony
  • Violet = Spirit
rainbow pride flag in belgium
People wearing different LGBTQIA+ flags at the Pride Parade in Belgium (the one on the right specifically being bisexual pride).Shutterstock

Beyond the Rainbow

Today, there are even more pride flags out there. As Ariel Sobel of Pride points out, a plethora of other flags were designed to represent different groups within the LGBTQIA+ community. Flags have been created for people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, asexual, polyamorous, intersex, transgender, genderfluid, genderqueer, polysexual, agender, aromantic, non-binary, and more!

So whether you're holding a rainbow flag at a Pride parade or wearing one on an item of clothing, you'll do so knowing everything it stands for. And for more ways to be the best ally you can be, make sure you're aware of the 11 Stereotypes People Should Stop Believing About the LGBTQ Community.

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Ashley Moor
Ashley hails from Dayton, Ohio, and has more than six years of experience in print and digital media. Read more
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