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LGBT symbols

Over the course of its history, the LGBT community has adopted certain symbols for self-identification to demonstrate unity, pride, shared values, and allegiance to one another. These symbols communicate ideas, concepts, and identity both within their communities and to mainstream culture. The two symbols most recognized internationally are the pink triangle and the rainbow flag.[1][2][3]

Letters and glyphs

Gender symbols

Lesbian and gay male interlocked gender sex symbols

The female and male gender symbols are derived from the astronomical symbols for the planets Venus and Mars respectively. Following Linnaeus, biologists use the planetary symbol for Venus to represent the female sex, and the planetary symbol for Mars to represent the male sex.

Two interlocking female symbols (⚢) represent a lesbian or the lesbian community, and two interlocking male symbols (⚣) a gay male or the gay male community.[4][5] These symbols first appeared in the 1970s.[5]

The combined male-female symbol (⚦) is used to represent androgyne or transgender people; when additionally combined with the female (♀) and male (♂) symbols (⚧) it indicates gender inclusivity, though it is also used as a transgender symbol.[6][7]

Lambda

Lower-case lambda

In 1970, graphic designer Tom Doerr selected the lower-case Greek letter lambda (λ) to be the symbol of the New York chapter of the Gay Activists Alliance.[8][9] The alliance's literature states that Doerr chose the symbol specifically for its denotative meaning in the context of chemistry and physics: "a complete exchange of energy–that moment or span of time witness to absolute activity".[8]

The lambda became associated with gay liberation,[10][11] and in December 1974, it was officially declared the international symbol for gay and lesbian rights by the International Gay Rights Congress in Edinburgh, Scotland.[12] The gay rights organization Lambda Legal and the American Lambda Literary Foundation derive their names from this symbol.

Plants and animals

Green carnation
Sweet flag plant

In 19th-century England, green indicated homosexual affiliations, as popularized by gay author Oscar Wilde, who often wore a green carnation on his lapel.[13][14] According to some interpretations, American poet Walt Whitman used the sweet flag plant to represent homoerotic male love because of its phallic connotations.[15]

Roses have been associated with male love in both ancient Greece and modern Japan.

The term bara (薔薇), "rose" in Japanese, has historically been used in Japan as a pejorative for men who love men, roughly equivalent to the English language term "pansy".[16][17]: 40  Beginning in the 1960s, the term was reappropriated by Japanese gay media: notably with the 1961 anthology Ba-ra-kei: Ordeal by Roses [ja], a collection of semi-nude photographs of homosexual writer Yukio Mishima by photographer Eikoh Hosoe,[17]: 34  and later with Barazoku (薔薇族, lit. "rose tribe") in 1971, the first commercially produced gay magazine in Asia.[18] The use of the rose as a prominent symbol of love between males is supposedly derived from the Greek myth of King Laius having affairs with boys under rose trees.[19] Since the 2000s, bara has been used by non-Japanese audience as an umbrella term to describe a wide variety of Japanese and non-Japanese gay media featuring love and sex between masculine men.[20] The rose is also the sacred flower of Eros,[21] the Greek god of love and sex, and patron of love between men.[22] Eros was responsible for the first rose to sprout on Earth, followed by every flower and herb.[23] Roses are a symbol of pederasty in ancient Greece: handsome boys were metaphorically called roses by their male admirers in homoerotic poems such as those by Solon, Straton, Meleager, Rhianus, and Philostratos.[24]

Animals that lovers gave as gifts to their beloved also became symbols of pederastic love, such as hares, roosters, deer, felines and oxen, as a metaphor for sexual pursuits.[25][26]

Violets, symbol of Sapphic love.

Violets and their color became a special code used by lesbians and bisexual women.[27][28][29] The symbolism of the flower derives from several fragments of poems by Sappho in which she describes a lover wearing garlands or a crown with violets.[30][31] In 1926, the play La Prisonnière by Édouard Bourdet used a bouquet of violets to signify lesbian love.[32] When the play became subject to censorship, many Parisian lesbians wore violets to demonstrate solidarity with its lesbian subject matter.[33]

A white lily, the de facto symbol of the yuri genre

White lilies have been used since the Romantic era of Japanese literature to symbolize beauty and purity in women, and are a de facto symbol of the yuri genre (yuri (百合) translates literally to "lily"),[34] which describes the portrayal of intimate love, sex, or emotional connections between women.[35] The term Yurizoku (百合族, lit. "lily tribe") was coined in 1976 by Ito Bungaku, editor of the gay men's magazine Barazoku (see above), to refer to his female readers.[36][37] While not all those women were lesbians, and it is unclear whether this was the first instance of the term yuri in this context, an association of yuri with lesbianism subsequently developed.[38] In Korea and China, "lily" is used as a semantic loan from the Japanese usage to describe female-female romance media, where each use the direct translation of the term – baekhap (백합) in Korea[39] and bǎihé (百合) in China.[40]

Blåhaj

Small and large variants of Blåhaj, displayed from the bottom (above) and side (below)

The IKEA plush toy shark Blåhaj (stylized BLÅHAJ, Swedish pronunciation: [ˈbloːhaj], lit.'blue shark'; colloquially anglicised as /ˈblɑːhɑːʒ/, /ˈblɑːhɑː/ or /ˈblh/) is commonly associated with LGBT culture, in particular the transgender community, in part due to being colored similarly to a transgender pride flag.[41] Early origins of this are traced back to around 2020 and in 2021 IKEA ran an ad-campaign to support same-sex marriage in Switzerland featuring the shark.[42]

In response to this popularity, IKEA Canada hosted a giveaway in November 2022, offering transgender people a special edition Blåhaj in the colors of a transgender pride flag, with the winner's name embroidered on its fin.[43]

Lavender rhinoceros

A lavender rhinoceros, a symbol used as a sign of gay visibility.

Daniel Thaxton and Bernie Toale created a lavender rhinoceros symbol for a public ad campaign to increase visibility for gay people in Boston helmed by Gay Media Action-Advertising; Toale said they chose a rhinoceros because "it is a much maligned and misunderstood animal" and that it was lavender because that is a mix of pink and blue, making it a symbolic merger of the feminine and masculine. (Lavender had already been used to represent LGBT people in other contexts).[44][45][46] However, in May 1974, Metro Transit Advertising said its lawyers could not "determine eligibility of the public service rate" for the lavender rhinoceros ads, which tripled the cost of the ad campaign. Gay Media Action challenged this but were unsuccessful. The lavender rhinoceros symbol was seen on signs, pins, and t-shirts at the Boston Pride Parade later in 1974, and a life-sized papier-mâché lavender rhinoceros was part of the parade. Money was raised for the ads, and they began running on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority's Green Line by December 3, 1974, and ran there until February 1975. The lavender rhinoceros continued as a symbol of the gay community, appearing at the 1976 Boston Pride Parade and on a flag that was raised at Boston City Hall in 1987.[47]

Outside of Boston, Theatre Rhinoceros, located in San Francisco, and founded in 1977, based its name on this symbol.[48] Theatre Rhinoceros, also called Theatre Rhino, or The Rhino, is a gay and lesbian theatre.[49] It claims to be the world's longest-running professional queer theatre company.[50]

Unicorns

Capital Pride festival attendee carrying an inflatable unicorn in Washington, D.C.

Unicorns have become a symbol of LGBT culture due to earlier associations between the animal and rainbows being extended to the rainbow flag created in 1978 by Gilbert Baker.[51]

Alice Fisher of The Guardian wrote in 2017, "The unicorn has also done its bit for the LGBT community in the last century... Rainbows and unicorns are so intrinsically linked (the association is also a Victorian invention) that it's unsurprising that the magic creature started to appear on T-shirts and banners at Gay Pride around the world, with slogans such as 'Gender is Imaginary' or 'Totally Straight' emblazoned under sparkling rainbow unicorns."[52]

Gay Star News said in 2018 that unicorns are the "gay, LGBTI and queer icons of our time".[53]

Other symbols

Symbols of the LGBT community have been used to represent members' unity, pride, shared values, and allegiance to one another.

Asexual and aromantic symbols

Ace ring, worn on the right middle finger.

The ace ring, a black ring worn on the middle finger of one's right hand, is a way asexual people signify their asexuality. The ring is deliberately worn in a similar manner as one would a wedding ring to symbolize marriage. Use of the symbol began in 2005.[54][55]

Aro ring, worn on the left middle finger.

The aro ring, a white ring, worn on the middle finger on one's left hand is a way aromantic people signify their identity on the aromantic spectrum. Use of the symbol began in 2015.[56] This was chosen as the opposite of the ace ring which is a black ring worn on the right hand.[57]

Ace playing cards, due to the phonetic shortening from asexual to ace, are sometimes used to represent asexuality. The ace of hearts and ace of spades are used to symbolize romantic asexuality and aromantic asexuality respectively.[58] Likewise, the ace of clubs is used to symbolize gray asexuality and grayromanticism, and the ace of diamonds is used to symbolize demiromanticism and demisexuality.[59]

A pin depicting an arrow with the fletching representing the Aromantic Pride flag colors

Another symbol often used by aromantic people is arrows or an arrow as the word arrow is a homophone to the shortened word aro used by aromantic people to refer to themselves.[60]

Biangles

The biangles symbol of bisexuality, designed by artist Liz Nania

The biangles symbol of bisexuality was designed by artist Liz Nania as she co-organized a bisexual contingent for the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1987.[61][62] The design of the biangles began with the pink triangle, a Nazi concentration camp badge that later became a symbol of gay liberation representing homosexuality. The addition of a blue triangle contrasts the pink and represents heterosexuality. The two triangles overlap and form lavender, which represents the "queerness of bisexuality", referencing the Lavender Menace and 1980s and 1990s associations of lavender with queerness.[63]

Michael Page stated that when designing the bisexual flag he took the colors and overlap from the biangles.[64]

Double crescent moon

The double crescent moon bisexuality symbol, designed by Vivian Wagner

Some bisexual individuals object to the use of a pink triangle in the biangles symbol of bisexuality (see above), as it was a symbol that Adolf Hitler's regime used to tag and persecute homosexuals. In response, a double crescent moon symbol of bisexuality was devised by Vivian Wagner in 1998.[65][66] This symbol is common in Germany and surrounding countries.[66]

Freedom Rings

Freedom Rings, designed by David Spada in 1991, are six aluminum rings, each in one of the colors of the rainbow flag. These rings are worn by themselves or as part of necklaces, bracelets, and key chains.[67] They are a symbol of gay pride, and were originally sold as a fundraiser for the 1991 San Francisco Gay Freedom Day Parade and quickly became a national trend. In June 1992, several of MTV's on-air hosts wore Freedom Rings in recognition of Pride Month, elevating their visibility.[68][69] They are sometimes referred to as "Fruit Loops".[70]

Gaysper

Gaysper
Versions of Gaysper on a t-shirt, involving a lesbian flag (left), a transgender flag (upper middle), a rainbow flag and COGAM symbol (lower middle), and a bisexual flag (right)

Gaysper is an LGBT symbol based on the ghost emoji (U+1F47B, "👻") of Android 5.0. It is a modification of the original icon that uses a background with the colors of the rainbow flag. It became popular in Spain from April 2019 following a tweet posted on the official account of the populist far-right party Vox, after which a multitude of users belonging to the LGBT movement began to use it as a symbol.[71][72] The icon has established itself as an example of the phenomenon of reappropriation of elements of the anti-LGBT discourse in contemporary society through social networks.[73][74] Other versions derived from the original symbol involving other flags belonging to the LGBT community, such as the transgender flag, or the bisexual flag, have also become popular.[73][75][76]

Handkerchief code

Handkerchiefs worn in back pockets can communicate sexual interests

In the 1970s, the modern handkerchief (or hanky) code emerged in the form of bandanas, worn in back pockets, in colors that signaled sexual interests, fetishes, and if the wearer was a "top" or "bottom".[77][78] It was popular among the gay leather community of the United States[79] and the cruising scene more broadly.

High five

There are many origin stories of the high five,[80] but the two most documented candidates are Dusty Baker and Glenn Burke of the Los Angeles Dodgers professional baseball team on October 2, 1977, and Wiley Brown and Derek Smith of the Louisville Cardinals men's basketball team during the 1978–1979 season.[81][82] In any case, after retiring from baseball, Burke, who was one of the first openly gay professional athletes, used the high five with other gay residents of the Castro district of San Francisco, where for many it became a symbol of gay pride and identification.[81]

Purple hand

On October 31, 1969, sixty members of the Gay Liberation Front, the Committee for Homosexual Freedom (CHF), and the Gay Guerilla Theatre group staged a protest outside the offices of the San Francisco Examiner in response to a series of news articles disparaging people in San Francisco's gay bars and clubs.[83][84] The peaceful protest against the Examiner turned tumultuous and was later called "Friday of the Purple Hand" and "Bloody Friday of the Purple Hand".[83][85][86][87] Examiner employees "dumped a barrel of printers' ink on the crowd from the roof of the newspaper building", according to glbtq.com.[88] Some reports state that it was a barrel of ink poured from the roof of the building.[89] The protestors "used the ink to scrawl slogans on the building walls" and slap purple hand prints "throughout downtown [San Francisco]" resulting in "one of the most visible demonstrations of gay power" according to the Bay Area Reporter.[83][86][85] According to Larry LittleJohn, then president of Society for Individual Rights, "At that point, the tactical squad arrived – not to get the employees who dumped the ink, but to arrest the demonstrators. Somebody could have been hurt if that ink had gotten into their eyes, but the police were knocking people to the ground."[83] The accounts of police brutality include women being thrown to the ground and protesters' teeth being knocked out.[83][90] Inspired by Black Hand extortion methods of Camorra gangsters and the Mafia,[91] some gay and lesbian activists attempted to institute "purple hand" as a symbol against anti-gay attacks, but the symbol was only briefly used.[92][93] In Turkey, the LGBT rights organization MorEl Eskişehir LGBTT Oluşumu (Purple Hand Eskişehir LGBT Formation), also bears the name of this symbol.[94]

White knot

A white knot

The white knot is a symbol of support for same-sex marriage in the United States. The white knot combines two symbols of marriage, the color white and "tying the knot," to represent support for same-sex marriage.[95] The White Knot has been worn publicly by many celebrities as a means of demonstrating solidarity with that cause.[96]

The white knot was created by Frank Voci in November 2008, in response to the passage of Proposition 8 in California and bans on same-sex marriage and denial of other civil rights for LGBT persons across the nation.[97]

Triangle badges of Nazi Germany

One of the oldest of these symbols is the downward-pointing pink triangle that male homosexuals, male bisexuals, and transgender women in Nazi concentration camps were required to wear on their clothing. The badge is one of several badges that internees wore to identify what kind of prisoners they were.[98] Many of the estimated 5,000–15,000 gay men imprisoned in concentration camps did not survive.[99] The pink triangle was later reclaimed by gay men, as well as some lesbians, in various political movements as a symbol of personal pride and remembrance.[100][101] AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP) adopted the downward-pointing pink triangle to symbolize the "active fight back" against HIV/AIDS "rather than a passive resignation to fate."[102]

The pink triangle was used exclusively with male prisoners, including transfeminine individuals, as cisgender lesbians were not included under Paragraph 175, a statute which made homosexual acts between males a crime.[103] Lesbian sexual relations were illegal only in Austria and historians differ on whether they were persecuted or not, due to lack of evidence.[104] Some lesbians were imprisoned with a black triangle symbolizing supposed "asociality", this symbol was later reclaimed by postwar lesbians.[101]

Pink triangle Black triangle Pink and yellow triangles
The downward-pointing pink triangle used to identify homosexual men and transgender women in the concentration camps. The downward-pointing black triangle used to mark individuals considered "asocial". The category included homosexual women, nonconformists, sex workers, nomads, Romani, and others. The downward-pointing pink triangle overlapping a yellow triangle was used to single out male homosexual prisoners who were Jewish.

Flags

Created in 1978, the rainbow flag is the most commonly used pride flag.[105][106]
A rainbow flag flying.

A pride flag is any flag that represents a segment or part of the LGBT community. Pride in this case refers to the notion of LGBT pride. The terms LGBT flag and queer flag are often used interchangeably.[107]

Pride flags can represent various sexual orientations, romantic orientations, gender identities, subcultures, and regional purposes, as well as the LGBT community as a whole. There are also some pride flags that are not exclusively related to LGBT matters, such as the flag for leather subculture. The rainbow flag, which represents the entire LGBT community, is the most widely used pride flag.

Numerous communities have embraced distinct flags, with a majority drawing inspiration from the rainbow flag. These flags are often created by amateur designers and later gain traction online or within affiliated organizations, ultimately attaining a semi-official status as a symbolic representation of the community. Typically, these flags incorporate a range of colors that symbolize different aspects of the associated communities.

Gallery

Symbols

Simple icons

Flags

Sexual orientation–based flags

Romantic attraction–based flags

Gender identity–based flags

Other flags

Location-based flags

Encoding

Unicode name[165] symbol hex dec Associated wording[165]
MERCURY U+263F ☿ Intersexuality
DOUBLED FEMALE SIGN U+26A2 ⚢ Female homosexuality
DOUBLED MALE SIGN U+26A3 ⚣ Male homosexuality
INTERLOCKED MALE AND FEMALE SIGN U+26A4 ⚤ Heterosexuality
MALE AND FEMALE SIGN U+26A5 ⚥ Intersex, androgynous
MALE WITH STROKE SIGN U+26A6 ⚦ Transgender
MALE WITH STROKE AND MALE AND FEMALE SIGN U+26A7 ⚧ Transgender
VERTICAL MALE WITH STROKE SIGN U+26A8 ⚨
NEUTER U+26B2 ⚲
MEDIUM WHITE CIRCLE ⚪︎ U+26AA ⚪ Asexuality, sexless, genderless.[a]

Many of these symbols have unrelated meanings in other fields, notably as alchemical symbols and planetary symbols.

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Also used as equivalent to U+26AC MEDIUM SMALL WHITE CIRCLE (⚬) Engaged, betrothed (genealogy), wedding ring. Cf. also U+25CB WHITE CIRCLE (○), female in genealogies and pedigrees.

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