The Pride flag has become one of the most widley used and recognized symbols of the gay pride movement. The Rainbow Flag as we know it today was developed by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. At the time, there was a need for a gay symbol which could be used year after year for the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade. He took inspiration from many sources, from the hippies movement to the black civil rights movement, and came up with a flag with eight stripes. Color has always played an important power in the gay right movement- Victorian England symbolized homosexuality with the color green, lavender became popular in the 1960s, and the pink triangle has caught on as well- and the colors of the gay flag were no different. He explained that the colors stood for a different aspect of gay and lesbian life: Hot pink for sexuality, Red for life, Orange for healing, Yellow for the sun, Green for nature, Blue for art, Indigo for harmony, Violet for spirit.

The gay community has been one of the hardest hit by the AIDS epidemic. A San Francisco group suggested a modification to the traditional rainbow flag by adding a black stripe to the bottom of it to commemorate everyone who we've lost to the AIDS virus over the years. Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, a well-decorated Vietnam War Veteran who is dying of AIDS, proposed that when a cure for AIDS was found, all of the black stripes should be removed from these flags and burned in Washington D.C.

The Leather Pride Flag was created by artist Tony DeBlase and was first displayed on May 28, 1989 at the Chicago Mr. Leather contest. It stands as a symbol for the leather community- people who are into leather, sado-masochism, bondage, domination, uniforms, rubber and other kind of sexual fetishes. This flag is most often found in the gay community, but it encompasses all orientations.

"Bear" is an affectionate term used for a gay man with an abundance of body hair, especially on his face and chest. Bears also tend to be a bit older and chubbier, but this is a convenient stereotype. The Bear Pride Flag symbolizes this group. It was developed by a Seattle bear bar named Spags. The blue stripes represents the sky and the green stripe represent the earth. In between these two are all the bears of the world- white for polar bears, black for black bears, and brown for brown bears. The yellow paw print is the sun, representing the spirit. While this is the most widely seen bear symbol, it is not really official. Bear groups tend to develop their own individual flags and symbols to represent them.

As most everyone knows, the pink triangle is a symbol taken directly from the Nazi concentration camps. Usually when concentration camps and Nazis are mentioned, most people tend to think of Jews and the Jewish Holocaust (for good reason). But the fact that a large number of homosexual prisoners were in those same camps is an often ignored or overlooked fact of history. The real story behind the pink triangle begins prior to World War II. Paragraph 175, a clause in German law, prohibited homosexual relations (much like many states in the U.S. today have laws against "crimes of nature"). In 1935, during Hitler's rise to power, he extended this law to include homosexual kissing, embracing, and even having homosexual fantasies. An estimated 25,000 people were convicted under this law between 1937 and 1939 alone. They were sent to prisons and later concentration camps. Their sentence also included sterilization, most commonly in the form of castration. In 1942, Hitler extended the punishment for homosexuality to death. Prisoners in Nazi concentration camps were labeled according to their crimes by inverted colored triangles. "Regular" criminals were denoted by a green triangle, political prisoners by red triangles and Jews by two overlapping yellow triangles (to form the Star of David, the most common Jewish symbol). Homosexual prisoners were labels with pink triangles. Gay Jews- the lowest form of prisoner- had overlapping yellow and pink triangles. In the 1970s, the pink triangle started to be used in conjunction with the gay liberation movement. When people, especially public figures such as law makers, were confronted with such a symbol, they risked being associated with the Nazis if he or she were to attempt to openly limit or prosecute gays. In the 1980s, when the triangle's popularity truly began to take off, ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) adopted the it as their symbol, but turned it upright to suggest an active fight rather than passive resignation. I've also been told that some people wear their triangles pointing up if they personally know somebody who has died of AIDS. In any case, the pink triangle is definitely a symbol very closely connected to oppression and the fight against it, and stands as a vow never to let another Holocaust happen again. Like the word "queer," it is a symbol of hate which has been reclaimed and now stands for pride

The Pink Triangle was used exclusively with male prisoners- lesbians were not included under Paragraph 175. However, women were arrested and imprisoned for "antisocial behavior," which include anything from feminism, lesbianism, and prostitution to any woman who didn't conform to the ideal Nazi image of a woman: cooking, cleaning, kitchen work, child raising, passive, etc. These women were labeled with a black triangle. Just as the pink triangle has been reclaimed, lesbians and feminists have begun using the black triangle as a symbol of pride and sisterhood.

These symbols have long been used to represent men and women. Symbols like these were given to each of the Roman gods. They all involve a circle with some kind of identifying marks attached to it. The circle with an arrow attached at roughly the two o'clock position stands for Mars. This symbol has come to stand for men. The circle with the cross extending down stands for Venus a symbol of femininity.So, Venus symbol represents women.
Joining the two symbols together can mean several things. When compared to the symbols' common uses in the gay, lesbian, and bisexual movements, it would obviously seem to indicate heterosexuality. In fact, one web site author I've seen felt left out by the gay movement's many pride symbols and so proclaimed that this symbol was a heterosexual's way of showing pride in his or own own orientation. More power to him. Also, at one time this linking of the male and female symbols also represented the combined forces of the gay and lesbian movements. It has also been used to show an understanding of the differences and diversity between men and women.

In the 1970s, gay men began using two interlocking male symbols to symbolize male homosexuality. The two, of course, had to be slightly off-center to avoid the arrow of one intersecting the circle of the other. Around the same time, some lesbians started using two interlocking female symbols to symbolize female homosexuality.
Indicating bisexuality with the gender symbols can get both fun and complicated. While male-male and female-female symbols are instantly recognizable, bisexual configurations can be confusing to some. Basically, it starts with whatever sex the bisexual person is and puts a male symbol on one side and a female on the other- a combination of the straight and gay symbols.

Another symbol though, disregards the Mars and Venus symbols altogether and uses the Mercury symbol. In Greek mythology, Aphrodite (Venus) had a child with Mercury (Hermes). The child was named Hermaphroditus and possessed both male and female genitalia. Thus the origin of the word hermaphrodite. Since Hermaphroditus didn't have a specific symbol, the symbol for Mercury was borrowed in this instance to represent a transgendered person. Mercury's symbol has a cross extending down to represent femininity and a crescent moon at the top to represent masculinity. The two are placed at opposite ends of the circle to strike a balance between the male and female parts. This symbol seems to speak more to those trangendered persons who identify hermaphroditically or andgroynously.
Transgendered people have two symbols to choose from. The first and most obvious is a merging of the male and female symbols rather than interlocking. By putting both the cross and the arrow on the same ring, it symbolizes the male and female parts inherent in one person. This symbol is the most inclusive of the two and most recognizable. In the simplest sense, it indicates some level of androgyny.

The labrys is less popular now that it once was, even though its connection to lesbianism and women began thousands of years ago. The labrys is basically a double bladed axe or hatchet which can be used for both harvesting and as a weapon. The first labrys is believed to have been created over 8,000 years ago. It was favored by tribes of female Amazons that roamed the area around what is now Kazakstan in central Asia. It has also been linked to the early town of Catal Huyuk in what is now Turkey around 6,000 BCE as a tool for clearing ground. Catal Huyuk was a peaceful town which worshipped the Earth goddess and prospered without conflict for 1,500 years

The purple rhino made its first appearance in December 1974. It was created by two Boston gay rights activists The entire campaign was intended to bring gay issues further into public view. The rhino started being displayed in subways in Boston, but since the creators didn't qualify for a public service advertising rate, the campaign soon became too expensive for the activists to handle. The ads disappeared, and the rhino never caught on anywhere else.

For more gay history and symbols, click here.