Attend any pride event or talk to people in online LGBT communities, and you’ll see a range of symbols being used. Just what do all of these symbols mean? And where did they come from? This post delves into the significance of some of the most common symbols associated with the LGBT movement.
The rainbow is probably the most well known LGBT symbol. Rainbows have been used to showcase peace and diversity throughout history, however they did not become strongly associated with the LGBT community until 1978.
It was in this year that artist and activist Gilbert Baker popularized the rainbow flag as a symbol of gay pride. It originally contained 8 colors, but was reduced to 6 colors in 1979 for production purposes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. Each color has its own meaning, but together they symbolize diversity. From the 90s onwards, it became associated with not just gay pride, but LGBT pride overall.
There are many variations of the LGBT rainbow flag – some of which represent specific groups within it such as the transgender community or lesbians. Rainbows are no longer just used in flags and are sometimes used in clothing, face paint and equipment to show pride.
Double Venus/Double Mars
The venus symbol (♀) has long been associated with femininity – and in many cases heterosexual femininity. However, in the 1970s, two interlocking venus symbols (⚢) would become popular symbols within the lesbian community.
This would also lead to popularity of the ‘double mars’ (⚣), made up of two interlocking mars symbols to symbolize male homosexuality. Both are still commonly used today by members of the LGBT community.
There are a few transgender symbols, however the most prominent is the ‘⚧’ symbol. This is a combination of the male mars symbol and female venus symbol.
The history of this symbol can also be traced back to the 1970s alongside the double venus and double mars. The transgender symbol was first used to symbolize general inclusivity by all LGBT groups, but it became more specifically associated with transgenderism over time.
The ‘λ’ symbol is known as a ‘lambda’ – it is the 11th letter of the Greek alphabet. The lambda was first adopted by gay rights activists in the 1950s and has since become a common LGBT symbol.
There are mixed opinions as to why it was first adopted. Some believe that it was to symbolize energization of the LGBT cause (as λ is a symbol of energy in science). The symbol may also be related to the Ancient Greeks, who were known to be relatively accepting of homosexuality and who would sometimes use the lambda on shields when going to war.
A labrys is a double-bladed axe. This symbol was popularly adopted by the lesbian community in the 1970s and is still sometimes seen as rallies and festivals.
Like the lambda, it is believed to have been inspired by the Ancient Greeks who were more sexually liberal and who would use this axe in battle. The labrys is viewed as a symbol of strength in the fight for homosexual women’s rights.
The black triangle has much darker origins than many of the other LGBT symbols listed above. Black triangles were originally used to label homosexual prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. After the second world war, the gay community began to repurpose these black triangles as symbols of homosexual rights.
You are most likely to see activists using black triangles when protesting against issues of discrimination or inequality – often in order to make parallels between current injustices and those committed by the nazis.
The pink triangle derives from the black triangle. It is typically used to represent joy and pride, as opposed to the black triangle, which is more of a symbol of frustration and injustice.
Pink triangles are most commonly used by members of the gay and lesbian community, but like the rainbow are sometimes used by all LGBT groups.
Two overlapping blue and pink triangles are a symbol commonly used by the bisexual community. These triangles are sometimes referred to as ‘biangles’.Like the black triangle, the biangles derive from the triangle symbols used by Nazis to prosecute homosexuals. They have been repurposed and reclaimed as a symbol of pride and are typical used in a positive way.