Earlier this month, the Smithsonian Institute announced it had introduced a number of LGBT artifacts into its collection, including scripts and props from Will & Grace, a tennis racket owned by Renée Richards, and the original transgender pride flag. Monica Helms, who designed the flag, told ThinkProgress that the Smithsonian’s acceptance of the flag is a “huge step” for transgender people.
“It tells the world that trans people are part of this country,” she explained. “We deserve to be recognized and our history needs to be displayed like everyone else’s.” Helms likewise hopes that the Smithsonian continues to collect more trans historical items.
Helms devised the transgender flag in 1999, 20 years after the introduction of the rainbow flag for the LGBT community. Just like the American flag represents the whole country but each state has its own flag as well, Helms feels like “the rainbow flag is the LGBTQ flag for everybody, and each individual group can have their own flag for their own individuality.”
In fact, she was inspired to create a flag for the trans community by Michael Page, who had designed a flag for the bisexual community the year before. Following his example, Helms says that “it was almost like waking up from a dream and seeing it.” She drew it out, contacted the same company who had created Page’s bi pride flag, picked out some swatches, and about a week later she had the first flag. It was that very first flag that she donated this month.
The trans flag has five stripes. The outer two are light blue and the inner two are light pink, representing the traditional colors for baby boys and baby girls, while the middle stripe is white to represent “those who are intersex, transitioning, or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender.” Helms designed it to be horizontally symmetrical so that “no matter which way you fly it, it is always correct, signifying us finding correctness in our lives.” Helms’ design was further adapted in a flag designed in 2010 by Marilyn Roxie for the genderqueer and non-binary communities.
In regards to how the trans pride flag caught on with the community, Helms explains, “I just used it everywhere and anywhere,” beginning with the 2000 Phoenix Pride parade and then at marches, conferences, Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremonies, and other events since then. “People caught on and decided that they wanted one.” She has since seen it displayed in various countries across the world, noting that she recently saw a picture of it displayed in Peru.
Helms is amazed by the progress that transgender equality has made in the 15 years since she first designed the flag. “We have definitely come of age, as it were,” she observed, noting the advance of local nondiscrimination protections and changes to veterans’ benefits, passports, and Social Security. But, she believes that “there’s still a ways to go.”
Two of the biggest issues she still believes face transgender Americans are federal nondiscrimination protections — without any religious exemptions — and transgender military service. Helms is herself a veteran of the Navy and helped found the Transgender American Veteran’s Association.
She hopes the flag’s presence in the Smithsonian continues to inspire young transgender people. “Be who you are, regardless of what other people may tell you,” she urges them. “Continue to be who you are and the rest of us will accept it.”