The history of the transgender pride flag
With thread & needle, Busty Ross sewed an iconic flag
In 1978, legendary former San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk was one of the several “friends and colleagues” of the artist and activist Gilbert Baker. They suggested he use his talents to create a flag that represented Gay Pride. Baker, the midwestern judge’s son, landed in San Francisco in 1972 while serving in the U.S. Army. He was very vocal in gay rights activism and belonged to a drag group at one point, calling his drag character Busty Ross.
The first Pride flag had eight colors; they represented:
Because of printing problems on a mass scale, two of the eight original colors, hot pink and indigo, had to be dumped from the flag design (boo). The abridged flag design has become iconic, serving as a symbol for gay pride worldwide. Various takes on the original gay rights flag have spawned since its creation, including the Trans Pride flags. New designs are welcomed and embraced by the diverse flag creators.
Gilbert Baker, also known as Busty Ross: seamstress of the original Pride flag, passed away in 2017. There is a square in Paris, France, dedicated to his memory – it celebrates his many years as a gay rights activist, whose iconic imagery has symbolized a worldwide civil rights movement since the 1970s.
Monica Helms & the transgender pride flag
The original pink, blue, and white striped flag that Monica Helms sewed together in Macon, Georgia, in 1999 now hangs in Washington D.C. at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. When the mother of two (and grandmother of two) worked in the engine room of a US Navy submarine from the mid to late 1970s, she probably couldn’t have guessed that her handiwork would be hanging in such a high-profile forum.
She might have hoped during those years that she spent deep inside a United States Navy submarine, that by the year 1999, the same year that she created the Trans Pride Flag, she would be moving closer than ever to her lifelong goal of transitioning to female.
A Phoenix native, Helms went straight from high school into the military and subsequently served in the US Navy until 1978. She began her journey as a woman in 1997. Three years later, the flag she created as a symbol of Trans rights and diversity debuted at Phoenix’s pride parade. The flag she designed is a play on blue and pink traditional gendered colors, with a white stripe symbolizing outside of the binary.
Jennifer Pellinan’s trans flag design
Monica Helms, when interviewed in 2016, Monica Helms said that she had encountered at least 6 different designs for alternate Transgender Pride flags. Other than her original flag, the most enduring of the group is a five-color design that depicts a gradient transition of color from blue to pink.
Introduced on her (now defunct) Geocities site, The Transgender Flag Project, Jennifer said, regarding her public domain flag design, “The colors on the flag are from top to bottom. Pink, light purple, medium purple, dark purple, and blue. The pink and the blue represent male and female. The 3 purple stripes represent the diversity of the TG community as well as genders other than male and female.”
Pellinan’s design, though not as widely known as the design by Helms, is welcomed by the former seaman as a unique and artistic expression of Trans Rights. Although her flag design is the most displayed and flown, Helms has said that she welcomes new interpretations of pride flags, including Trans Pride. As times and people change, all new visions of equal rights will be happily accepted by her.
Story by David Van Der Ede