The Rainbow Flag and Its Connection to the Environment

Learn how LGBTQ+ rights and environmental justice intersect.

Cropped Hand Holding Rainbow Flag In City
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Climate change is and will continue to impact everyone, but not everyone will experience its effects equally. For this reason, analyzing how environmentalism intersects with other social justice movements is so crucial. While protecting the planet is of the highest concern in the environmental movement, protecting one another must coincide; we can only work toward these two goals by grasping the interconnectedness of justice at large.

In 2009, Harris polls began tracking the views of Americans regarding the environment. One 2010 poll revealed that more LGBTQ+ identifying adults surveyed were concerned about the environment than heterosexual adults. In addition, nearly twice as many of the LGBTQ+ people surveyed claimed to actively encourage others to be more environmentally friendly. The need to protect the environment runs deeps in this community, with nature embedded in the very flag that symbolizes LGBTQ+ pride.

History of the Rainbow Flag

The creation of the pride flag was initiated in 1977 when Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official, commissioned artist and activist Gilbert Baker to make a flag that would represent the gay community. Baker, along with activist friends Lynn Segerblom and James McNamara, then crafted an eight-striped, rainbow flag. A team of volunteers sowed the first flag for the 1978 Gay Freedom Day parade in San Francisco. The original hand-dyed flag underwent some changes and ended up as the six-striped flag internationally known today as a symbol of pride.

Baker described his creation as “a natural flag [that] comes from the sky.” Despite historians linking that comment to Judy Garland’s “Over the Rainbow” performance and her strong support for the LGBTQ+ community, Baker claims the idea came from a night of dancing amongst friends in a “swirl of color and light.” The resemblance to a rainbow, he said, was “natural and necessary," symbolizing diversity and hope.

Yet the final colors would come to mean even more. Today each stripe represents something essential to the community. Red symbolizes life and vitality; orange, healing; yellow, sunlight; indigo, harmony; violet, spirit; and the green stripe symbolizes nature.

The Green Stripe

Green as a color has long been associated with nature in the United States, just as the LGBTQ+ community has long had ties with environmentalism. Harvey Milk advocated for many issues under the umbrella of equal rights for the LGBTQ+ community, including the environment.

Surveys reveal that those who identify themselves as part of marginalized communities are more likely to cross movements and advocate for other issues. LGBTQ+ survey respondents are even more likely to join liberal movements and organizations, like those that advocate for environmental protections.

Queer environmentalists have pointed out the undeniable links between social issues that are too often discussed separately, as climate change continues to affect marginalized communities more than others. Homelessness is a considerable example, as up to 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+. People without adequate shelter are more susceptible to the effects of climate change because of protection during storms and extreme heat. This fact has led to more advocacy by and for the community.

LGBTQ+ Environmental Organizations

man sitting on mountain top raised rainbow LGBT symbol flag to sunny blue sky
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Amidst growing concern for the environment, LGBTQ+ groups are actively organizing and working to make a difference. Below are a few of the many organizations fighting for and educating people about LGBTQ+ rights, environmentalism, and where the two intersect.

LGBTQ Outdoor Summit

This multi-day conference is the joint effort of Out There Adventures and Pride Outside, two organizations whose missions are to "provide an affirming space" to the community and reduce barriers to help people get outdoors. The summit includes speakers and workshops aiming to teach about conservation and the environment while supporting "equity and social justice outside."

Out For Sustainability

One of the more popular groups, Out for Sustainability, got its start in 2008. This group rallies the LGBTQ+ community around environmental issues, social issues, and advocacy. It has claimed to be the leading voice for the LGBTQ sustainability movement. Since it began in Seattle, Washington, Out for Sustainability has partnered with other organizations and community leaders to host over 100 events across the country.

Queer Nature

Queer Nature was started to create a community for LGBTQIA+, Two-Spirit, non-binary people and allies to reconnect with nature. The mission encompasses place-based skills and ecological awareness as a way of healing marginalized populations. Through workshops and multi-day immersion trips, Queer Nature shares their expertise in a multitude of areas, such as nature-based survival skills, scouting, and basketry.

Queers 4 Climate

Based in the Netherlands, Queers 4 Climate seeks to mobilize around advocacy for the planet, provide a queer presence in the #climatestrike, and educate people on how to self-organize. Their motto—"No pride on a broken planet"—echoes their pledge to fight for climate justice and connect the struggles of marginalized communities around the globe.

Queer X Climate

Queers X Climate (QXC) was founded by environmentalist and Senior Climate Advisor for the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Diego de Leon Segovia. QXC has grown into an international organization that implements "solutions for our common global climate crisis." The aim is to unite activist organizations to have a greater influence on climate change awareness. They work in four areas: (1) developing strategic communication to be used for marketing and promoting environmental awareness; (2) encouraging sustainable consumption; (3) creating an inclusive and safe community to promote the work of LGBTQ members; (4) litigating for human rights and climate activism.

View Article Sources
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