While at the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association media summit this weekend, my friend and wonderful activist/writer Faith Cheltenham of BiNet USA was wearing a bisexual pride flag as part of her outfit. This led to a brief discussion, among the festivities, that while most sexual identity groups have their own flag, lesbians do not.
Lesbians have had many different kinds of symbolism in our history (and, truly, the word “lesbian” being used to define a woman who has same-sex relationships only came into regular use in the 1950s. Based on lady-loving poet Sappho’s home on The Isle of Lesbos, the term “lesbian” was used to describe gay women, and most often, an insult. But activists and Daughters of Bilitis founders Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin began using the word to describe themselves and others like them, which then traveled around the U.S. in their newsletter-turned-magazine, The Ladder. According to Marcia M. Gallo‘s Different Daughters: A History of the Daughters of Bilitis and the Rise of the Lesbian Rights Movement, The DOB had a a symbol and a membership card that included a triangle in “selected club colors (sapphire blue and gold)” and the French phrase “Que Vive,” which means “on alert or on guard.”
Other early symbols of lesbianism included a labrys, an axe-like weapon that was created to be used in combat. It became a part of lesbian and feminist imagery based on its use by Grecian amazons (women warriors) who were seen as “anti-male.” In a Readers’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Studies, Rachel E. Poulson writes that, “although no essential connection exists between Amazons and homosexuality, members of the lesbian community valued the example of Amazons as strong, brave, women-identified women and claimed these qualities as part of their heritage.”
In 1999, a gay male graphic designer named Sean Campbell created a flag for Lesbian/Labrys Pride. According to The Queerstory Files, Sean was working on a special Pride edition of the Palm Springs Gay and Lesbian Times and created “rather than hunt around getting copyright clearance for photos and images Sean came up with the imaginative idea of designing flags for various sections of the lgbt community.” The flag has made a little traction on the internet, but has never been widely recognized as one for the lesbian community.
A “Lipstick Lesbian Pride” flag is also found on Wikipedia and a few other websites, but is also not a widely-used symbol.
The rainbow flag that we all recognize as a symbol of both gay and LGBT pride is used in an all-encompassing manner, but as bisexual, transgender, pansexual, asexual and other identities create and use their own specific colors and lines to tout their pride, it would seem lesbians could use something similar. The rainbow flag, created by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978, sought to represent different things with each colored stripe (hot pink: sexuality (later removed because of lack of fabric availability); red: life; orange: healing; yellow: sunlight; green: nature; turquoise: magic/art; indigo/blue: serenity/harmony; violet: spirit). Of course, none of these qualities are gay male specific (nor are they even “gay” specific), so the rainbow could effectively seek to represent lesbians as well. But even sectors of the community have their own flags, from bears to BDSM and leather cultures.
Two other symbols that are known to be lesbian-specific include interlocking women symbols and an inverted black triangle. While the former is self-explanatory, the former is based on the Nazi concentration camp labeling system. Male prisoners who were thought to be homosexual were forced to wear pink triangles, while women who were “arrested and imprisoned for anti-social behavior” (aka feminists, lesbians, prostitutes and “any woman who didn’t conform to the ideal Nazi image of a woman: cooking, cleaning, kitchen work, child raising, passive, etc.”) were made to wear black triangles. Although this wasn’t what inspired the Daughters of Bilitis to include a black triangle on their emblem, it is interesting that it happened to be one of the first examples of its reclamation and use of something positive. Much like the word “lesbian,” the historically negative affiliation with the black triangle was turned into a way to show pride and identity.
So what would a lesbian flag look like? Well, to look at what inspired other flags, Michael Page created the bisexual flag using pink to represent same-sex attraction, blue to represent opposite sex attraction and purple in the middle to represent “sexual attraction to both sexes.”
Trans flag designer Monica Helms says the light blue stripes represent “the traditional color for baby boys” while the pink is for girls. The middle white stripe is “for those who are intersex, transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender.”
The pansexual pride flag utilizes blue and pink in a similar way to the other two, signifying male and female spectrum identities and attractions, while yellow is in the middle to represent “non-binary attraction such as androgynous, agender, bigender, genderfluid, transgender and intersex people.”
To borrow from a little bit of everyone a tad, a lesbian flag might be something like this, with the pink used for women who identify on the female spectrum and are interested in relationships with women, and the black triangle for the symbolization of our pride in being identified, or “on guard” as the Daughters of Bilitis might say.
I’m not proposing I create the lesbian pride flag, or that this design of mine be utilized by lesbians of the world forever more, but I do think we could benefit from something like this of our own. Flags are used as powerful signaling devices; patriotic symbols of messages and purpose that can be used in times of celebration and demonstration. So, maybe I’m just jealous that everyone else has this kind of symbol to hoist at parades or wear to dinner parties, but wouldn’t it be great to have one of our own?