Opinion: We need to talk about the lesbian pride flag


Courtesy of Freepik

Lesbian pride flag, designed by Emily Gwen in 2018.

It’s pride month, which means flags are flying high, including the progress flag’s new iteration that is inclusive of intersex people, along with queer and transgender people of color. This flag is a depiction of inclusivity within the queer community.

But one pride flag still has some ambiguity and confusion around it: the lesbian pride flag. Specifically, because not everyone flies the same one. 

There are two lesbian pride flags that are mainly used today. Both have seven stripes, each a different color that is meant to symbolize the lesbian community. 

Lesbian pride flag design by Emily Gwen.

One flag was designed by Emily Gwen in 2018 and is representative of the entire lesbian community withits gender variance. It shows pink, white and orange stripes, with the orange representing lesbians who may not conform to feminine qualities or appearances.

The other is Natalie McCray’s 2010 flag based on the lipstick lesbian flag. It contains pink and red stripes with a white stripe in the middle, in which red is meant to represent this faction of women. A “lipstick lesbian” is considered to be traditionally feminine in terms of manner or appearance.

Lipstick lesbian flag design by Natalie McCray. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There are several flaws in McCray’s design.

For one, it is completely exclusionary of any lesbian that does not conform to traditional gender norms. It erases lesbians who identify as butch, gender nonconforming and/or androgynous.

But deeper than that, lipstick lesbianism has been associated with women whose attraction to other women is rooted in a need for the approval of men. This deems the male gaze as being most important and shows the lesbian experience to not be a personal one, but rather one rooted in misogyny and compulsory heterosexuality.

However, it is important to remember the grim truth that lipstick lesbians have been—and still are—treated like objects. Treating the lesbian community as though its members are commodities is dehumanizing.

On the other hand, Gwen’s redesign of the flag replaced two pink stripes and the red one with three orange stripes at the top. Each of these seven stripes rightfully represents different individuals in the diverse lesbian community: dark orange for gender nonconformity, orange for independence, light orange for community, white for unique relationships to womanhood, pink for serenity and peace, dusty pink for love and dark pink for sex and femininity.

This design is refreshing and more inclusive, as it acknowledges lesbian identities and expressions that are not solely depictions of traditional femininity.

Lesbian pride must be inclusive of all facets of the community, not just ones that society is more willing to accept than others. McCray’s flag is not a representation of all lesbians, deeming it an invalid pride flag. Its exclusionary design makes it an unacceptable symbol of lesbian pride.

A pride flag for lesbians must represent all lesbians, not cherry-pick which forms of lesbianism are more or less valid. Lipstick lesbians exist. Butch lesbians exist. Nonbinary lesbians exist. Gender nonconforming lesbians exist. Trans lesbians exist. 

It’s important that the representative flag of this broad community acknowledges all of these expressions and identities. The orange and pink flag does exactly that while the pink and red flag misses the mark.

Pride cannot exist when shame exists right alongside it. This is something to remember always, not just during pride month. Be aware of the meaning of a flag before you display it, and let the orange and pink stripes wave with pride.