Rainbow flag

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For the LGBT pride flag, see Rainbow flag (LGBT movement).
A six-band rainbow flag.

A rainbow flag is a multicolored flag consisting of the colors of the rainbow. The actual colors shown differ, but many of the designs are based on the traditional scheme of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, or some more modern division of the rainbow spectrum (often excluding indigo, and sometimes including cyan instead).

There are several independent rainbow flags in use today. The most widely known worldwide is the pride flag representing LGBT pride. The peace flag is especially popular in Italy and the cooperative flag symbolizes the international co-operative movement. It is also used by Andean people to represent the legacy of the Inca Empire (Wiphala) and Andean movements.

Rainbow flags in various cultures and movements[edit]

European history[edit]

The choice of the rainbow in the form of a flag harkens back to the rainbow as a symbol of biblical promise. According to the Bible, God first created the rainbow as a sign to Noah that there would never again be a world-wide flood,[1][2] also known as the Rainbow covenant. The reformer Thomas Müntzer (1489–1525) connected socially revolutionary claims with his preaching of the gospel. He is often portrayed with a rainbow flag in his hand. The Thomas Müntzer statue in the German town of Stolberg also shows him holding a rainbow flag in his hand.

In the German Peasants' War of the 16th century, the rainbow flag together with the peasants' boot ("Bundschuh") was used as the sign of a new era, of hope and of social change.

South America (pre-Columbian)[edit]

Current flag of the city of Cusco, wrongly associated with the Inca Empire.
Main articles: Wiphala and Flag of Cuzco

A flag with a seven-striped rainbow design is used in Peru,[3] Bolivia and Ecuador is anachronically associated with Tawantin Suyu, or Inca territory. Even today in the city of Cusco, Peru it is common to see the flag around the city displayed even in government buildings and in Cusco main square. The flag is inspired on the wiphala which was part of Inca symbolism and used in the Tahuantinsuyo and traces its existence to the early 1920s.

Some specialists suggest that there are chronicles and some references that support the idea of a banner attributable to the Inca. In 1534 during the invasion and occupation of the city of Qusqu today Cusco, the Spaniards found the first resistance of Qhishwa-Aymaras and saw between the multitude, objects similar to the flag of strips and pictures of seven colors of the rainbow. The existence and the use of this emblem probably has been from the same creation of Tiwanaku for more than 2000 years.[4][5]

However, recent investigations state that there is no historical reference to an Inca or Tawantisuyo flag or banner until the early 1920s. According to Peruvian historiography, the Inca Empire never had a flag. María Rostworowski, a Peruvian historian known for her extensive and detailed publications about Peruvian Ancient Cultures and the Inca Empire, said about this: "I bet my life, the Inca never had that flag, it never existed, no chronicler mentioned it".[6] Also, according to the Peruvian newspaper El Comercio, the flag only dates to the first decades of the 20th century,[7] and even the Congress of the Republic of Peru has determined that flag is a fake by citing the conclusion of the National Academy of Peruvian History:

"The official use of the wrongly called 'Tawantinsuyu flag' is a mistake. In the pre-Hispanic Andean world the concept of flags did not exist, it did not belong to their historic context".[8]
National Academy of Peruvian History

Thomas Paine[edit]

American Revolutionary War writer Thomas Paine had proposed that the rainbow flag be used as a maritime flag, to signify neutral ships in time of war.[9][10][11]

Buddhist flag (1885)[edit]

Main article: Buddhist flag

A flag to represent Buddhism was designed in Sri Lanka in 1885 and modified to its current form in 1886. In 1950 it was adopted by the World Fellowship of Buddhists to be a symbol of all forms of Buddhism around the world.

It consists of six vertical colored segments, the first five of which are usually blue, yellow, red, white, and orange, while the sixth is a combination of the first five. Variant colors are often found.

First Armenian Republic proposal (1919)[edit]

Rainbow flag proposed for Armenia by artist Martiros Saryan.

Rainbow flag proposed after Armenia regained independence after World War I. It was designed by famous Armenian artist Martiros Saryan. It was not adopted as the country instead went with three stripes using the colors used in a past Armenian kingdom. The artists used muted, richer, "oriental" colors reflecting Armenian fabrics and carpets.

Cooperative movement (1921)[edit]

Until 2001, the International Co-operative Alliance used a rainbow flag

A seven-colour rainbow flag is a common symbol of the international cooperative movement. The rainbow flag has been the cooperative emblem since 1921 when the International Co-operative Congress of World Co-op Leaders met in Basel, Switzerland to identify and define the growing cooperative movement’s common values and ideals to help unite co-ops around the world.

In Essen, Germany in 1922, the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) designed an international co-op symbol and a flag for the first "Co-operators' Day," which was held in July 1923. After some experiments with different designs, a famous French cooperator, Professor Charles Gide, suggested using the seven colours of the rainbow for the flag. He pointed out that the rainbow symbolized unity in diversity and the power of light, enlightenment and progress. The first co-op rainbow flag was completed in 1924 and was adopted as an official symbol of the international cooperative movement in 1925.

In 2001, the ICA's official flag was changed from a rainbow flag to a rainbow logo flag on a white field, to clearly promote and strengthen the cooperative image, but still use the rainbow image. Other organizations sometimes use the traditional rainbow flag as a symbol of cooperation.

Like the rainbow, this flag is a symbol of hope and peace. The seven colours from flags around the world fly in harmony. Each of the seven colours in the co-operative flag have been assigned the following meaning:

  • red: stands for courage;
  • orange: offers the vision of possibilities;
  • yellow: represents the challenge that GREEN has kindled;
  • green: indicates a challenge to co-operators to strive for growth of membership and of understanding of the aims and values of co-operation;
  • light blue: suggests far horizons, the need to provide education and help less fortunate people and strive toward global unity.
  • dark blue: suggests pessimism: a reminder that less fortunate people have needs that may be met through the benefits of cooperation.
  • violet: is the colour of warmth, beauty, and friendship.

The ICA has been flying a flag with its official logo since April 2001, when its Board decided to replace the traditional rainbow flag. Its use by a number of non-cooperative groups led to confusion in several countries around the world.

— ICA, [12]

Meher Baba (1924)[edit]

Main article: Meher Baba's flag

Meher Baba designed a rainbow flag on April 23, 1924. It is flown each year near his samadhi (tomb-shrine) in Meherabad, India during the week of Amartithi (the anniversary of his death on January 31, 1969). Baba explained the symbolism, saying, "The colors in the flag signify man's rise from the grossest of impressions of lust and anger – symbolized by red – to the culmination in the highest state of spirituality and oneness with God – symbolized by sky blue." [13][14]

Peace movement (1961)[edit]

Main article: Peace flag

This rainbow flag in Italy was first used in a peace march in 1961, inspired by similar multi-coloured flags used in demonstrations against nuclear weapons. It became popular with the Pace da tutti i balconi ("peace from every balcony") campaign in 2002, started as a protest against the impending war in Iraq. The most common variety has seven colours, purple, blue, azure, green, yellow, orange and red, and is emblazoned in bold with the Italian word PACE, meaning "peace".[15][16]

Common variations include moving the purple stripe down below the azure one, and adding a white stripe on top (the original flag from the 60s had a white stripe on top). This flag has been adopted internationally as a symbol of the peace movement.

Bene Ohr Jewish movement, U.S.A. (1961)[edit]

In 1961, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi designed the rainbow tallit (prayer shawl) as a symbol of the Kabalah for the members of the Jewish Bene Ohr ("The Children of Light"). It is a vertically presented rainbow, with each colour separated by black stripes of varying thicknesses. The colors represent aspects of God; the black stripes and white spaces represent aspects of creation and protection.[17]

LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Pride (1978)[edit]

The rainbow flag was popularized as a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) pride and diversity by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. This version is also sometimes called 'the freedom flag'. The different colors symbolize diversity in the gay community, and the flag is used predominantly at gay pride events and in gay villages worldwide in various forms including banners, clothing and jewelry. For the 25th Anniversary of the Stonewall riots, held in 1994 in New York city, a mile-long rainbow flag was created and post-parade cut up in sections that have since been used around the world.

The flag was originally created with eight colors, but pink and turquoise were removed for production purposes, and since 1979 it has consisted of six colored stripes. It is most commonly flown with the red stripe on top, as the colors appear in a natural rainbow.[18] Aside from the obvious symbolism of a mixed LGBT community, the colors were determined to symbolize: life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow), nature (green), harmony (blue), and spirit (purple/violet).[citation needed] The removed colors stood for sexuality (pink) and art/magic (turquoise).[citation needed]

The latest version of the Rainbow flag (LGBT movement), was designed in response to the election of Donald Trump as US President. In this incarnation, the Orange stripe is replaced with a Black one. This modification was done to oppose Trump's stated values and 2017 policies[19]; in social media he is often associated with the color orange due to perceptions of skin tone[20]. It was also done to symbolically unify the activist agendas of the LGBT community with those of Black Lives Matter. Color symbolism associated with the stripes also makes the statement that for Healing (orange) to happen, it must include justice for African Americans and Black people everywhere.

LGBT Rainbow flag replacing the orange stripe with a black stripe.

Jewish Autonomous Oblast (1996)[edit]

Another variation of rainbow flag is used by Jewish Autonomous Oblast, situated in the Far Eastern Federal District of Russia, by the Chinese border. Proportions 2:3. Adopted first of October 1996.[21]

The Jewish Autonomous Oblast has a flag with a seven-colour rainbow. The number of colours is meant to symbolize the seven-branched Jewish Menorah.

Pachakutik political party[edit]

In Ecuador, a rainbow flag is used by the Pachakutik political party, which is composed mostly of left-wing indigenous people.

Patriots of Russia political party[edit]

Rainbow is used as an element of flag of Patriots of Russia (Russian: Патриоты России, Patrioty Rossii) political party.


Main article: Noahidism

In religion, Noahidism use rainbow symbols as signs of their faith – the rainbow representing the covenant with God after the flood and the seven colours representing each of the Laws.[citation needed]

Gallery of rainbow flags[edit]


  1. ^ Christian symbols Glossary
  2. ^ Symbol of God's Everlasting Covenant with Mankind
  3. ^ Flagspot.net
  4. ^ History of Wiphala
  5. ^ Social Design Notes: The Wiphala
  6. ^ Bandera Gay o Bandera del Tahuantinsuyo Terra.com
  7. ^ "La Bandera del Tahuantisuyo" (PDF) (in Spanish). Retrieved 12 June 2009. 
  8. ^ "La Bandera del Tahuantisuyo" (PDF) (in Spanish). Retrieved 12 June 2009. 
  9. ^ New York: A Guide to the Empire State, Federal Writers Project, editors. New York State Historical Association, 1940, page 246 (American Guide Series)
  10. ^ online text from New York: A Guide to the Empire State
  11. ^ One Life at a Time, Please, Edward Abbey. New York: Henry Holt, 1988, ISBN 0805006036, page 58
  12. ^ Official website of ICA
  13. ^ Lord Meher, by Bhau Kalchuri, Manifestation Inc. 1986, p. 618
  14. ^ The History of Meher Baba's Rainbow Flag
  15. ^ Bandiere di Pace.org ('Flags of Peace' in Italian)
  16. ^ Amnesty International
  17. ^ http://upstel.net/~rooster/tallis.html - retrieved 6 December 2011.
  18. ^ History of the Gay Pride Rainbow Flag
  19. ^ http://thejoshuablogs.blogspot.com/2016/08/heres-proof-of-donald-trumps-racism.html
  20. ^ [1]
  21. ^ Jewish Autonomous Region (Russia)