featured Inequality

Why Do We Have A Rainbow Flag For LGBT Pride?

01:32Ciaran McCormick

The Foreign Office, led by Boris Johnson, has reversed its policy banning the flying of rainbow flags at British embassies around the world. Previously, the only flags that were allowed were the Union Flag and those of British countries, overseas territories and the European Union. They attracted criticism for failing to display it for Pride in 2015.


However, the reverse of the decision has been greeted happily, coinciding with Brighton Pride in 2016. Local embassies will now have the decision to fly it, though people will no doubt have to pressure them to do so. The rainbow flag is an important and emboldening symbol for the whole LGBT community and their allies.

A photo of me soaking up the colour in Brighton for Pride 2016

What is the rainbow flag?

It is a symbol of the vivid tapestry of human genders and sexual identities, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and asexual people. The rainbow flag promotes tolerance and diversity, allowing people to express themselves through a common theme of colour.


The flag allows people to express their pride not just at being LGBT+ people but as strong, resilient individuals who have to overcome prejudice to live happy lives. When I was younger and not yet open and comfortable with my sexuality, I bought a bag with a subtle rainbow decorating it to give me strength and courage whilst wearing it.



It is a wonderful symbol for young people to see lining their streets, hopefully giving them the same hope that I once felt. It is a loud and bold theme for public events and is a signal to everyone who sees it that other people support of people to love as they choose.

Where did it come from?

The flag was designed by gay activist Gilbert Baker in the 1970s. He was challenged by Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected politician in California, to come up with a symbol for the community. He designed an eight-striped flag of colours that has been adapted over the years to become the flag we now use. It has now replaced other symbols such as the Greek lambda symbol and pink triangle to become the defining symbol of LGBT+ people.

Each colour represents a different beautiful value:


What other flags are there?

Rainbow flags have inspired a range of other celebratory patterns of colour aiming to celebrate different gender and sexual orientations.

Some have also paid respects to the suffering and tragedies they have faced. For example, AIDS activists designed a version with a black stripe across the bottom. Leonard Matlovich, a Vietnam veteran and gay activist hero who appeared on the front cover of Time magazine, said that when AIDS was beaten, the black stripes should be burned off. Sadly, it came too late for him as he died of complications from the condition.

Other identities have created their own flags to fly in celebration of their own place in the community. The great thing about these is that they can give due recognition to the uniqueness of their identities but still allow the rainbow flag to unite them with everyone else. Bisexuality has a flag of magenta, lavender and blue. Pansexuality is pink, yellow and blue and asexuality is black, grey, white and purple.


Why do we not have a straight pride flag?

The rainbow flag is not just celebrating that LGBT people exist and are proud to be who they are. After all, heterosexual people also exist and many have had to overcome many struggles. However, straight people are not targeted with violence, prejudice and hatred based on their sexuality and so don’t tend to feel pride at having overcome these challenges.

The political reasons for having rainbow flags and pride parades such as solidarity and protesting inequality do not apply to straight people who enjoy the privilege of not being seen as abnormal for their sexuality.

It is worth noting that with the numbers and power enjoyed by heterosexual people, they could easily have created a straight pride flag, but they haven’t done so consistently because there has been little appetite for a community based around heterosexuality. Vladimir Putin created a straight pride flag with the hashtag #realfamily. If you believe in straight pride, that is the company you keep.

Unease and criticism of the idea of a straight flag and heterosexual pride normally comes from how it is used. Many use it to deflect from the good reasons for celebrating the LGBT community, saying that it is unimportant, pandering to a gay agenda, or giving in to a ‘peverted minority’.

Whilst it might not be the biggest issue in the world, the people it affects feel strongly about it and governments are capable of doing multiple things at once. Comments on social media reacting to this policy change show that these outdated views persist. Love is love.

So go to a pride parade. Drape yourself in a rainbow flag. Celebrate life.

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