So here's a years-long peeve, and boy howdy, am I not the only one. The polyamory flag stinks. It confuses, it fails to communicate a message other than Huh?, and its colors loom angry and foreboding. "Some math or engineering society" is what usually comes to people's minds. It fails to declare for us, fails to inspire,
fails to do a flag's job.
But we keep using it decade after decade, ever since Jim Evans proposed it in
1995 against no competition. It seemed like a good idea at the
time.1 Maybe it was, when the self-identifying polyamory
community was small, insular, and (as Evans later explained) mostly trying to
keep hidden.1, 2
From a typical recent discussion
on reddit/r/polyamory (161,000 subscribers):
"The flag everyone is happy to see burn."
"New rule for this sub. Who ever posts this flag shall be banned. It is
"Every time it's posted, everyone hates it, so everybody just stop using it.
It's no longer our flag."
"Can we please throw that flag out now?"
"Slowly takes walltacks out of the poly flag hanging on my wall I just
learned everyone hates.
Fortunately, many people have created new polyamory flag candidates. At
least two of them IMO would be excellent if enough folks decide to adopt them
as the new standard.
My own favorites are the two below. Both use our universal
infinity-heart symbol, which is by far the most widely recognized emblem of
This first one is by Emma @HECKSCAPER, created September 2019. It seems to be
catching on, and it's my fav.
Here's its Wikimedia Commons page
. Emma tweeted that the Evans flag left her "so visually offended that I had
to make my own version using the infinity heart instead, while maintaining the
general meaning of the chosen colors." She made the colors lighter and less
severe, and the central disk is bold, happy and airy. But shouldn't it be just a
little larger for better proportioning?
This one is by Monroe of RatLab Art, August 2016. Its
Wikimedia Commons page
. Wrote Monroe, "I redesigned the polyamory flag bc the old one seems a
little jarring to me. I like the original meaning behind the colors, though."
Again the colors are more muted than the original's. The infinity heart is
proudly center stage and grabs you from a distance. I might prefer a
brighter gold rather than tan, keeping Evans' original symbolism that went with the gold color
for the pi.1
So, how can we get a new flag into wide use? By using it! The ultimate decider
will be the wisdom of the crowd. If you have a favorite, or design one, promote it (like I just did!) and see if
other people pick it up.
I bet in a few years we'll be using a new poly flag that most of us are
happy with and that carries our message proudly and well.
Update, June 15, 2021: An organized initiative
is starting up for a new and better polyamory flag
and other symbology.
Sarah at PolyamProud
I recently read your article on your distaste for the polyamory pride flag. I noticed that you have seen the reddit post by TheGreyBandit and his new ideas on the Polyam flag. I am currently working with him and several other Polyam people who all agree with you. We have collectively formed @PolyamProud, a volunteer coalition dedicated to establishing a definitive and representative visual identity for the polyamorous community.
In August 2016 Jim Evans wrote about
his thinking behind the flag when he created it 21 years earlier. Among other
things, he says that he kept its meaning deliberately obscure
people were more closeted then. And he used the letter pi partly because he
could simply copy it from a font into Microsoft Paint, while drawing an infinity
heart in Paint would have been challenging "given my limited abilities."
From Evans' post:
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Polyamory, Pride Flags, and Patterns of Feedback
...I've been polyamorous, or "poly" for short, for nearly all of my adult
life. A little over 20 years ago, I lived in the Pacific Northwest, and
for the first time in my life, I experienced first-hand the struggles and
celebrations of what is now known as the LGBT community. One thing that
struck me was the imagery and symbolism those communities used to rally
around, identify other members, and publicly announce their membership in
the community. The pride flag was one image that made a huge impression on
me. At that time, the poly community didn't really have similar symbols to
use, so I took it upon myself to create one. Here's what I made up, and
released into the public domain in the late summer or early fall of 1995.
Here's the text I wrote up describing it to the first mailing list I
shared it with. It's become the canonical description of this
The poly pride flag consists of three equal horizontal colored stripes
with a symbol in the center of the flag. The colors of the stripes,
from top to bottom, are as follows: blue, representing the openness
and honesty among all partners with which we conduct our multiple
relationships; red, representing love and passion; and black,
representing solidarity with those who, though they are open and
honest with all participants of their relationships, must hide those
relationships from the outside world due to societal pressures. The
symbol in the center of the flag is a gold Greek lowercase letter
'pi', as the first letter of 'polyamory'. The letter's gold color
represents the value that we place on the emotional attachment to
others, be the relationship friendly or romantic in nature, as opposed
to merely primarily physical relationships.
Now, here are some things to understand. Clearly, I'm not a visual artist.
My tools for creation at the time were literally limited to Microsoft Paint,
running on Windows 3.1. Nevertheless, the flag design managed to limp along,
with little fanfare. My friends and I used it, and thought of it as quirky
and something that could be used in the way other pride flags were used, as
a symbol to rally around and for identification.
Fast forward 20 years. Apparently, this thing called the World Wide Web
happened, and let all sorts of people communicate and discover things
they'd never known about before. New polyamorous people began to discover
the flag existed. One would think that people might think it was an
interesting idea, given its intent. One would be wrong. The flag has been
called vile, no good, hideous, disappointing, ugly, and many other
One of the issues frequently brought up is that the color scheme is garish
or unpleasing. That's subjective, and I can't argue with their perception.
I still think there's value in the color symbology, if not the actual RGB
values I used when creating it.
Many people seem to take issue with the pi symbol as obscure. There were
specific reasons for choosing it at the time. First, I specifically
avoided imagery that included a heart. The leather pride flag, which
predates the design of mine, includes a heart, and I was trying to avoid
confusion, given that community was there first. The "infinity heart" was
not yet as widely accepted a symbol for polyamory, and would have been
challenging for me to incorporate given my limited abilities in the visual
arts. The letter pi was readily available on computer typographic
platforms even in those days, so I chose that.
Also, at the time, I was
more concerned with "in the closet" polyfolk, and was far more in
the closet myself than I am these days. I wanted a symbol that could be
used relatively anonymously, that could let people who were in on the
symbology connect, without it being too specific.
Additionally, there was already a rich history of existing pride symbols
using Greek letters, the use of lambda as an LGBT symbol
being a concrete
example. I was hoping to evoke similarity and solidarity without being too
explicit or derivative. Finally, the fact that the "poly" in polyamory is
a Greek root seemed to indicate that would be a natural choice. In
retrospect, perhaps a lemniscate ("infinity symbol") would've been a
better choice, but nobody spoke up then.
2. In the history of the modern polyamory movement, one person
stands above everyone else in bringing the small early community out of
its shell of secrecy and fear of public notice. That was Robyn Trask, who
acquired Loving More magazine and its gatherings in 2004 to rescue it when it
was on the brink of extinction.
The common view in the polyworld up to then had been that all the news media are sensationalist and nasty and incapable of treating this thing we do accurately. There were
examples of that. But few in the community seemed able, or willing, to see the
difference between a scandal-seeking hack and the serious writers and
editors who would soon be producing excellent, seminal feature articles about
us for the likes of the
Robyn has always said that her motivation is to help people like her own
younger self: lost and ashamed in a monocentric wilderness, with no idea that
another way is possible. On taking over Loving More, Robyn realized that only
the mass media could reach most such people and let them know that there's a whole community they can join, one that has amassed a great deal of practical polyamory
expertise. She says that early on, she set a goal for Loving More "to make polyamory a household word."
She started sending out press releases to news media. Within two months of acquiring Loving More she got her hometown Denver Post to run a 2000-word feature story on the concept and on local polyfolks who volunteered to be interviewed. The 700 Club, the showpiece
program of the Christian Broadcasting Network, invited her on and she bravely
accepted. They treated her with surprising respect, giving her a chance to
explain, in her pleasant and folksy way, that multiple loving relationships
with everyone's understanding and consent are actually possible and really happening — to more than a million Christian viewers.
She sent out a press release before the 2005 Loving More conference at
Ramblewood in Maryland, the first conference under her leadership, and welcomed
onsite a reporter and photographer from the Baltimore Sun,
which was then
one of America's great newspapers. She introduced them to everybody at the
beginning, they agreed in front of the crowd to hard rules she set around
everyone's privacy, and they left after one day. The result was a major,
excellent feature article
in the Sun,
later reprinted elsewhere. It was surely a
life-changer to some readers who had thought they were the only ones in the world.
Good media like that began to change attitudes in the poly community about
what was possible — especially if you chose intelligently who to deal with, researched
their employers' biases and motives, and learned basic tricks for dealing with
the media successfully. Such as memorizing and rehearsing some key talking
points beforehand, presenting yourself well in the eyes of their audience,
saying nothing that you don't want used even if it means a long silence while you think (they'll
clip that out), and how to walk away from a trap.
The more news stories and TV interviews that poly people did, the better informed
the media themselves became going into interviews, and the
easier it got. This required many intelligent, good-hearted, quick-witted, very out
polyfolks who were ready to go on camera and to talk to writers. But our movement had people like that! By about 2012 "herd journalism" had taken hold: If
your competitor runs a story about an interesting new topic that grabs
people's attention, you have to do it too.
As it happened, that Loving More conference at Ramblewood was my own first.
I'll always remember stepping out of my car in the parking field and walking
toward the gaily decorated registration table, my heart pounding with an
awareness that in a few moments my life would change forever. (I was right.)
Within weeks of the conference and that Baltimore Sun article, I
started doing the project that became Polyamory in the News. My original
intent was to capture and highlight how the mainstream world was actually
treating us, and what we could do about it. That was roughly 4,000 articles and broadcasts ago as documented here, plus many more that I've surely missed.
It worked. Fifteen years later just about the entire
Western world knows about us — and has learned that for some people, multi-relationships can work joyously all around, when carried out in the right environment of abundant communication with work on serious self-knowledge and relationship skills. "The polyamorous possibility" has become widely known.
It's so much better now — thanks to all you dedicated, great-hearted volunteers who are working in ways large and small, year after year, for a powerful idea.
The infinity heart as a symbol for polyamory arose in the
mid-1990s. The very first was the one at right, created and put into the
public domain by Brian Crabtree. New versions quickly appeared (now there are
), and by about 2010 the infinity heart had pushed the once-dominant4
poly parrot nearly to extinction. . .
. . .such as Ray Dillinger's parrot from 1997 or before
, at left, one of the first. For years it was the familiar logo of the alt.polyamory Usenet group
, the first large poly-specific discussion site on the web. The site was created
(with no graphics) on May 21, 1992, by Jennifer L. Wesp, who had just invented
the word polyamory
in a Usenet discussion independently of Morning Glory
Zell-Ravenheart (who first published a form of it in May 1990). See "Polyamory" enters the Oxford English Dictionary, and tracking the word's
. (Though it's often called the first internet poly site, the alt.polyamory list was predated by the "Triples List," founded around 1989 and hosted by Sun Microsystems, recalls Howard Landman, August 2020.)
4. For instance, alt.polyamory had a very old FAQ page (undated
but still in a version of the site "last modified June 1997"),
including, "There are several proposed symbols of polyamory, of which the most common
seems to be the parrot. As parrot pins and other ornaments are
relatively easy to find, this symbol seems likely to catch on over the
Labels: history, history of polyamory, infinity heart, new polyamory flag, polyamory flag, polyamory history, polyamory symbols