Labels, acronyms, gender pronouns, and symbols
Signs and symbols
Over many years, lesbian and gay communities around the world have used symbols to identify who we are. Often worn as badges and displayed as flags, some of the better known symbols include the rainbow flag, the pink triangle, the lambda and gender symbols.
Probably the most recognisable symbol today is the rainbow flag, but other symbols have been an integral part of our history in the fight for recognition and equality. While the red ribbon is not a symbol of being gay, many gay men wear it, which is why it is interpreted by some as an indication that the wearer is gay; this is not necessarily so.
This section is by no means exhaustive, in fact it's just the tip of the iceberg.
LGBT Symbols | Wikipedia
The Rainbow flag
Use of the rainbow flag by the gay community began in 1978 when San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker designed the rainbow flag in response to the need for a symbol that could be used year after year. The flags had eight stripes, each colour representing a component of the community:
- hot pink for sex
- red for life
- orange for healing
- yellow for sun/ sunlight
- green for nature
- turquoise for art/ magic
- indigo for harmony/ serenity
- violet for spirit
Due to production difficulties (hot pink was not commercially available), pink and turquoise were removed from the design, and royal blue replaced indigo. This six-colour version spread from San Francisco to other cities, and soon became the widely known symbol of gay pride and diversity that it is today. If you’re looking for a gay venue, a flag above the door is a welcome signpost.
Since there have been variations of the flag including a black stripe symbolising those community members lost to AIDS, and a pink triangle: originally used by the Nazis in the Second World War as a badge of shame if you were homosexual. Today it's been re-purposed by the LGBT+ movement as a symbol of pride and defiance, without any negative associations.
Recently, Birmingham LGBT launched a new community-wide inclusive Pride flag, which incorporates colours representing trans communities and queer people of colour.
Birmingham LGBT unveils new inclusive flag | I AM BHAM | 11 May 2019
The history and meaning of the rainbow Pride flag | Huff Post | 29 May 2018
The history of the rainbow flag | BBC Culture | 15 June 2016
Rainbow flag | Wikipedia
The pink triangle
The history of the pink triangle begins before WWII, during Hitler's rise to power. Paragraph 175, a clause in German law, prohibited homosexual relationships. Convicted offenders were sent to prison, and then later to concentration camps. Their punishment was to be sterilized, and this was most often accomplished by castration. In 1942, punishment for homosexuality was extended to death. Concentration camp prisoners each wore a coloured inverted triangle to designate the reason for their incarceration. Criminals wore a green triangle, political prisoners a red triangle, Jewish prisoners two overlapping yellow triangles (to form a Star of David) and the pink triangle was for homosexuals. Stories of the camps reveal that homosexual prisoners were given the worst tasks and were the focus of attacks by the guards and other inmates. Although homosexuals were only one of the many groups targeted for extermination by the Nazi regime, it is, unfortunately, our group that history often excludes.
Estimates of the number of gay men killed during the Nazi regime range from 50,000 to twice that figure. In the 1970s, gay liberation groups resurrected the pink triangle as a symbol for the gay rights movement. Not only is the symbol easily recognized, but it also 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.
Pink triangle | Wikipedia
The lambda symbol seems to be one of the most controversial of symbols, as regards its meaning. However, most sources agree on a few things: the lambda was first chosen as a gay symbol when it was adopted in 1970 by the New York Gay Activists Alliance. It became the symbol of their growing movement for gay liberation. In 1974, the lambda was adopted by the International Gay Rights Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland.
As their symbol for lesbian and gay rights, the lambda became internationally popular. However, no one seems to have a definitive answer as to why the lambda was originally chosen as a gay symbol. Some suggest that it is the Greek lower-case letter for ‘liberation’, others cite its use in physics to denote energy, eg: the energy we have when we work harmoniously. It’s also thought to mean a ‘wavelength’, eg: gays and lesbians on a different wavelength. Lambda may also denote the synergy of the gay movement, the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The lambda may also represent scales and balance, and the constant force that keeps opposing sides from overcoming each other. The ancient Greek Spartans regarded the lambda as meaning unity, while the Romans considered it “the light of knowledge shed into the darkness of ignorance”. Reportedly, Ancient Greeks placed the lambda on the shields of Spartan warriors, who were often paired off with younger men in battle. (There was a theory that warriors would fight more fiercely knowing that their lovers were both watching and fighting alongside them).
Lambda | Wikipedia
Gender symbols are graphic designs that represent gender, common astrological signs handed down from ancient Roman times. More recently, symbols for nonbinary gender identities explore variations on these.
Gay men have used double interlocking male symbols since the 1970s. Double interlocking female symbols have often been used to denote lesbianism though some feminists have instead used the double female symbols to represent the sisterhood of women. Also, gay liberation movements used the male and female symbols superimposed to represent the common goals of lesbians and gay men.
There are many more symbols other than male and female interlocking. For example, transgender equality, nonbinary individuals, genderqueer, androgyne, intersex, demi girls and demi boys, and transcommunist.
The red ribbon
The red ribbon is a symbol of solidarity and of the commitment to the fight against HIV and AIDS. The Ribbon Project was conceived in 1991 by Visual AIDS, a New York-based charity group of art professionals that aims to recognize and honour friends and colleagues who have died or are dying of AIDS. The ribbon made its public debut at the 1991 Tony Awards, but since then – in some circles – has become a popular and politically correct fashion statement for celebrities at other awards ceremonies. Because of this popularity, some activists have rightly worried that the ribbon is simply paying lip service to AIDS causes. Nevertheless, it is a powerful symbol for all of us around the world, and a unifying symbol on World AIDS Day (1 December). Today, the red ribbon is an international symbol and, for many, stands for care, concern, hope and support.
Queer X Design by Andy Campbell
"The first-ever illustrated history of the iconic designs, symbols, and graphic art representing more than 5 decades of LGBTQ pride and activism. Beginning with pre-liberation and the years before the Stonewall uprising, spanning across the 1970s and 1980s and through to the new millennium, Queer X Design celebrates the inventive and subversive designs that have powered the resilient and ever-evolving LGBTQ movement.
The diversity and inclusivity of these pages is as inspiring as it is important, both in terms of the objects represented as well as in the array of creators; from buttons worn to protest Anita Bryant, to the original ‘The Future is Female’ and ‘Lavender Menace’ t-shirt; from the logos of Pleasure Chest and GLAAD, to the poster for Cheryl Dunye’s queer classic The Watermelon Woman; from Gilbert Baker’s iconic rainbow flag, to the quite laments of the AIDS quilt and the impassioned rage conveyed in ACT-UP and Gran Fury ephemera.
More than just an accessible history book, Queer X Design tells the story of queerness as something intangible, uplifting, and indestructible. Found among these pages is sorrow, loss, and struggle; an affective selection that queer designers and artists harnessed to bring about political and societal change. But here is also: joy, hope, love, and the enduring fight for free expression and representation. Queer X Design is the potent, inspiring, and colorful visual history of activism and pride."
Queer X Design | Andy Campbell | Black Dog & Leventhal | 2019↑ Back to top