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Pride Art & Graphic Design: From the Pink Triangle Origins to the Gilbert Font

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Curious about the origins of Pride Art? In this article, we'll take a look at the origins of the Pink Triangle, the Gilbert Baker pride flag, Keith Haring's LGBT art, and the Gilbert font.

The LGBT community and their fight for equality have made great strides. Graphic design and specific LGBT visuals have played an important role in many protests throughout the years. In this article, we'll look at everything related to LGBT art, from the universal symbol for LGBT people, the rainbow flag designed by Gilbert Baker. We'll go as far back as the origin of the infamous Pink Triangle. We'll analyze and take a look at the visual language of the different LGBT groups that were formed throughout the years and how they've progressed. 

The Pink Triangle: From Discrimination to Pride Art

This symbol was enforced during the Nazi period in Germany from 1933 to 1945. A downward-pointing triangle was sewn onto the shirts of camp prisoners to identify them as LGBT individuals. The Nazis assigned a black triangle badge for sex workers, lesbians, trans men, and those they called anti-social people. The anti-gay law in Germany was made in 1871, many individuals remained in jail until the 1970s, and the law was finally revoked in 1994. 

In the 1970s, the pink triangle was reclaimed as a symbol of liberation. The triangle began to appear amongst more LGBT groups. Gran Fury was a collective of activists from New York City that came together to end the AIDS crisis. In the late 1980s, the group designed a poster with the pink triangle pointing upwards and with the words "Silence = Death". The triangle became a symbol of the AIDS defense movement. While LGBT rights have evolved, the Pink Triangle has become an empowering representation of the dark past and the need to overcome the discrimination that many people still face to this day. 

Many of the Grand Fury visuals were minimalist and powerful, stripping away any elements that weren't necessary to communicate the idea of the LGBT community as clearly as possible.

SilenceDeath Project
Silence=Death Project

Mattachine Society: Early LGBT Art

The Mattachine Society was one of the earliest organizations in the U.S. that wanted to protect and improve the rights of gay men during the 1950s. Their visual approach was calmer and more pacifying; the images represented peacemaking rather than a demand for change.

Later on, after the spontaneous and violent Stonewall Riots, the Mattachine campaign took a different approach. Their graphic style represented real LGBT demands and they were written on windows of the Stonewall Inn. The message read, "We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful quiet conduct on the streets of the Village" — Mattachine

Mattachine Society Homosexuals are Different From The New York Public Library
Mattachine Society, Homosexuals are Different, From The New York Public Library

Gay Liberation Front Poster

The Gay Liberation Front chose bolder and more prominent visuals. They confidently used the word "gay" alongside provocative symbols that sparked discussions on sexuality. The group was formed right after the Stonewall Riots in the late 1960s. The Gay Liberation Front in the UK used similar language to the one in the United States.

Visually, the Gay Liberation Front poster was striking by using only black and white colors, thick lines, and a tabloid style with dominant typography. Sans serif fonts were used widely, not only because they come across as gender-neutral but also because they tend to be stronger and more powerful: perfect for sociopolitical movements.

Gay Liberation Front Poster
Gay Liberation Front Poster

The Pride Flag

In his memoir, Gilbert Baker wrote that the LGBT community needed a new symbol as the pink triangle was forcefully imposed by Adolf Hitler on homosexuals and it portrayed a dark past. He wanted to create something that represented the community from a positive perspective. Gilbert Baker’s pride flag includes bright colors that have a positive meaning and accurately showed the characteristic vitality of the community.

Baker assigned a meaning to each of the eight colors on the flag: sex (pink), life (red), healing (orange), sunlight (yellow), nature (green), magic/art (turquoise), serenity (indigo), and spirit (violet). Eventually, the flag ended with six colors, as turquoise and pink were cut off from the rainbow. The pink dye was too costly, leaving the flag with seven colors at first. Then the committee for the 1979 Gay Freedom Day Parade wanted to fly the flag in two halves, so the turquoise was removed from the flag, which became an iconic piece of LGBT design. 

Girl holding Gilbert Bakers pride flag

Baker never trademarked the pride flag because he felt it belonged to the community rather than him alone. In 2015, the flag was introduced to New York's Museum of Modern Art as part of the permanent collection. The rainbow graphic can be seen and is identified as LGBT pride all around the world. The rainbow pride graphic is printed on many objects to reflect support for the LGBT community.

Lesbian, Bi, and Transgender Pride Flags

Over the years, the original Gilbert Baker pride flag has been adapted, modified and has inspired other flags and rainbow pride graphics for the LGBT community. 

  • The Lesbian community pride flag was created in 2018 by Emily Gwen. The original flag had seven stripes, each color representing ideals for the community. The latest version includes five stripes, each one representing gender non-conformity, community, unique relationships to womanhood, love and sex, and femininity. 
  • The Bisexual community wanted to have their own flag that didn't stray too much from the original Gilbert Baker pride flag. In 1998, Michael Page designed a three-color flag to increase awareness of bisexuals. The colors on the flag represent same-sex/gender attraction (pink), different sex/gender attraction (blue), and attraction both to different sex/genders and to your own sex/gender or non-binary (purple). 
  • The Transgender pride flag was designed in 1999 by trans woman Monica Helms. The flag represents transgender pride, diversity, and the rights the community stands for. The flag features two strips of light blue color, two stripes of pink, and a single white stripe in the middle. The significance is straightforward: pink and blue are traditional colors used for baby girls and boys. The white stripe represents neutrality for those who are still transitioning. 
Lesbian Community Pride Flag Bisexual Pride Flag Transgender Pride Flag

Other Variations

Other variations of the pride flag reflect the inclusion of people of color and the diversity of the LGBT community.

  • Gilbert Baker created a version of his original pride flag in 2017 that included nine stripes. The addition of the lavender stripe at the top of the flag was meant to symbolize diversity.  
  • The city of Philadelphia added black and brown stripes to the top of the standard six-color pride flag. This was to bring awareness to people of color within LGBT communities. 
  • Daniel Quasar released a design merging both the Philadelphia flag and the trans pride flag (above) to bring attention to the progress of inclusivity within the community. The flag was based on the six-stripe flag with a chevron added along the hoist with black, brown, light blue, pink, and white stripes. 
Gilbert Baker 2017 Flag City of Philadelphia People of Color Flag Daniel Quasar People of Color and Trans Flag

The Human Rights Campaign

The HRC has been around since 1980 but didn’t have its iconic logo until 1995. The design was started by the Executive Director, Elizabeth Birch, who had been an attorney at Apple and brought in the same minimalist philosophy. The design firm Yamashita helped create a cohesive brand for the organization, and the result is a universal, recognizable, and highly adaptable mark. The HRC has influenced many globally to push forward the progress of full equality and protection for LGBTQ people across the world. 

The symbol below is a version of their original blue and yellow logo. The red version was a synonym for love, and it became popular on social media in support of two cases of same-sex marriage that were presented in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Marriage equality logo Human Rights Campaign
Marriage Equality Logo, Human Rights Campaign

OutRage!

OutRage! came together in 1990 as a radical and non-violent British LGBT rights group. Visually, OutRage! used minimalist, black and white banners with lots of contrast. To mock newspapers, they used tabloid-style text. Sans serif fonts transmit a gender-neutral personality, and the extra bold weight emphasized the messaging of this form of LGBT design even more.

OutRage group with Peter Tatchell marching against the killing of Iraqi gays by Andrew Wales is licensed under CC BY 20
OutRage! group with Peter Tatchell marching against the killing of Iraqi gay people by Andrew Wales is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Keith Haring's AIDS Artwork

Keith Haring is one of the most famous artists involved in AIDS activism. Inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics, his artwork is unique and identifiable anywhere in the world. One of his most famous pieces that reflected the AIDS crisis is Ignorance = fear, silence = death (1989). The artwork depicts his iconic thick-lined drawing of people with an x on their bodies. On the artwork, each person has either their eyes, mouth, or ears covered to reflect the denial of many individuals who refused to see the AIDS crisis. The pink triangle used in concentration camps to single out homosexuals also makes an appearance, creating a comparison of the treatment of LGBT people in history. Keith Haring's artwork is some of the most prominent in the LGBT community and AIDS fight.

Keith Haring at work in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY 40
"Keith Haring at work in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam" by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY 4.0

Gilbert: A Tribute Font

Ogilvy & Mather created a font to commemorate Gilbert Baker’s contribution to LGBT design with his universal symbol of gay pride. Inspired by such an iconic element, we could call it the pride font, incorporating the use of the colors on the flag. The result is a striking font that’s meant to be used as a display font on headlines and on banners for protests as the LGBT community continues to fight for equal rights. 

Gilbert Font
Gilbert Font

Since Baker designed the pride flag towards the end of the 1970s, the designers wanted to represent that period of time in the style of the font. The designers also used the colors of the flag since each one holds a special meaning.

They started by taking apart the flag and reconfiguring it with characters that would make up the Gilbert font. The long rectangular shapes and some proportions were the inspiration for the actual font design. To take it another step further, the rectangles were overlaid to form each character. The colors are blended, and this holds a lot of significance in the LGBT community. The idea of overlapping and creating an open community, along with creating something new out of separate elements, reflects the diversity of the LGBT community. 

It doesn’t just end there: the font comes in an animated version from Animography to use digitally and a version to use on your phone. Due to Gilbert Baker’s collaborative nature, the font was made freely available for anyone to use. You can download the Gilbert font from the typewithpride.com website.

Gilbert Font
Gilbert Font

Conclusion

Rainbow pride graphics are often seen at events that focus on community and political campaigns. Gilbert Baker's design has lived on for over 40 years now and continues to be a universal symbol of LGBT pride. His contribution led to the design of the gay pride font, taking the flag as inspiration. The font is a contemporary tribute to his legacy. Keith Haring's LGBT art has also made a significant impact in the fight for AIDS.

Revolutionary pride graphics have existed for hundreds of years. All of them have helped make strides in the LGBT fight for equality. In many developing countries, LGBT people still face the same struggles from decades ago. LGBT design is still prominent and can help push for broader LGBT rights. 

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