Design is deep-rooted in the history of the queer community and has been a manifesto of their culture and identity. For a community that is so diverse and vibrant, visuals bestow a special meaning in their hearts. Art and design have been a medium for them to express and communicate freely, a voice to negotiate with society and embrace their individuality.

The majority of early queer designs reveal an awareness about their constitutional authority. Graphics became a platform to represent the authenticity and realities of their demands and rights. In this pursuit of defending and asserting their public existence, visual representation does matter, thus becoming a pillar of the community.

The black and white campaign

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Gay Liberation Front Banners_©New York Public Library

Starting from the pre-liberation period in the late sixties, members of the LBTQ community developed the first form of visual symbols to portray their identities, thus challenging the traditional binary sex symbols and blurring the boundaries of gender orientation and identity. For the queer community that had been narrowed to the shadows, these symbols marked as a breakthrough crafting an image that was uncompromising, bold and highly perceptible.

The Gay Liberation front banners in the Christopher Street Parade 1970, often believed as the first Pride March, unapologetically use the term gay and explicit biological iconography that defies the archetypal perception about gender and identity. 

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Gay Liberation Front Manifesto, London, 1971_©Gay Liberation front

Similarly, the LGBT+ groups in the UK used black and white, hand-drawn illustrations and graphic references to initiate action.

The rainbow flag: Manifestation of pride

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The rainbow flag designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978_©

In contrast to the black and white campaign was the rainbow flag that represented pride, hope and diversity. Designed by an artist based in San Francisco, Gilbert Baker, in the year 1978, it has been the most recognized symbol of the LGBTQIA+ community to date.

For a community that is known for its internal diversity, the rainbow became an apt symbol that represents a non-conforming, transgressive group of people. The symbol went on to be used on different materials for political campaigns as well as community celebrations all over the world, thus becoming the community’s universal image.

Repurposing social symbols

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Silence=Death campaign_©wikipedia

The LGBTQIA+ movement throughout its short history has consistently reclaimed cultural symbols to instill a positive change in perspective.

One of the most striking examples of this is the downward pointing pink triangle the Nazis used in their concentration camps to mark them out. The symbol was reinstated during the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s to raise awareness through the “Silence=Death” campaign by inverting the triangle and also in the UK for protests against Section 28 for equal rights towards homosexuals, both of which essentially quashed the dissent by refurbishing this past symbol. 

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Marriage equality movement_©

The mainstream biological male and female symbolisms were also reimagined into the equals symbol which is being widely used in LGBTQIA+ campaigns to challenge the traditional norms and attitudes towards gender association. This was a critical boost towards the campaign as it defined same-sex marriage as an issue of equalitychanging the perspective of many people towards the movement. 

Several variations of the equality symbol drastically altered the motion and is an excellent form of effective UX design, tapping into the moral principle of equality that most humans internally possess and abide by.

Redefining Traditions

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Poster collection from Lisbon Pride Parade_©

Although we can showcase members of the LGBTQIA+ community as pioneers, the truth is that all they are doing is trying to live happily and be themselves. Gay liberation movements have only been striving to live on their accords. This is increasingly challenging because it involves swaying away from the stereotypes which have been plastered into the minds of people over centuries. The non-traditional designs are a manner of expressing liberation of the LGBTQIA+ community by breaking away from those traditions.

For example, a set of posters made for the 16th Lisbon Pride Parade utilizes the LGBTQIA+ flag colours in a new pursuit where it enforces authority and ‘breaks the silence’. The posters not only represent the constant fight for equality but also show resolution and optimism in an independent future without prejudice and violence. The colours of the rainbow are rearranged into 6 different posters to display multiplicity and diversity.

Designs that show less, speak more

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Looking’s logo in memory of the old, neon lights of the cruising bar_©

A major part of the queer history has happened discreetly, in the dark. Although it has progressed towards the better, the community has not given up on its reserved and unassuming approach towards expressing itself. With a wide spectrum of orientations, identities and transient genders, ambiguity is synonymous to them and has made its way into their design philosophy. These designs are not very fancy or enticing but highlight the significance of enigma.

Changes in wider conventional branding

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©David Sizemore via designinspiration

Alienation of the queer community in society happens often as the majority of the representations in every aspect of entertainment are of straight, binary genders. Recently, there has been an inflow of support from major brands that celebrate pride week. Taking inspiration from the tone and visual graphics of the LGBTQIA+ campaigns, advertisements and mainstream branding does not just involve re-tuning of their designs for queer involvement but also completely centre it around the LGBTQIA+ community by drifting away from conventional branding, making significant efforts to blur those divisional lines.

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McDonald’s celebrating diversity_©

Surabhi is a student of architecture and is trying to figure out how she can contribute to the field and society. She finds architectural writing as an escape to a world full of possibilities and hope. Her curiosity, zest to learn, explore and share, is what keeps her going.

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