Rainbow People Celebrating 50 Years Of Stonewall

Woman's cap, The Netherlands, 1998, worn at the Gay Games of Amsterdam. Woman's cap, The Netherlands, 1998, worn at the Gay Games of Amsterdam. TRC 2019.1613

5. Lambda and Labrys

In the 1970s, a number of symbols were adopted by gay and lesbian activists to show a new-found pride. Such symbols helped to identify each other and to create a sense of community and solidarity. These symbols were used in organisations’ names and on posters and publications. The symbols were displayed on badges, which were produced and distributed cheaply and quickly, and easily worn. The symbols were also reproduced on T-shirts and jewellery, affordable objects often made by gay and lesbian entrepreneurs. Community groups and projects also sold such garments and accessories in order to raise funding.

These symbols included the lowercase lambda (the 11th letter in the modern Greek alphabet). Graphic designer, Tom Doerr, selected this symbol for the New York chapter of the Gay Activists Alliance in 1970. The lambda denotes action in chemistry and physics and was chosen to represent “a commitment among men and women to achieve and defend their human rights as homosexual citizens.” Many LGBTQ+ organizations, from civil rights groups to literary foundations, still use this symbol, both in their name and in logos.

2019.1617Silver earring in shape of labrys. Peru. TRC Collection (TRC 2019.1617). For more information, click on the illustration.Interlocked or double signs for the female sex (from the astrological symbol for Venus) were worn by lesbians (see TRC 2019.1629), while the double sign for the male sex (from the astrological symbol for Mars) was used by gay men.

Another symbol adopted by Western lesbians around this time was the labrys, or double axe (TRC 2019.1617). This image was associated with the (presumed) goddess-worshipping Minoan culture of ancient Crete, and with the Amazons, tribes of women warriors mentioned in the Iliad and by the Greek historian, Herodotus.

Lesbians wore labrys images to signify pride in their independence and a willingness to fight for their rights. The image helped to create a shared sense of continuity with an imagined past history.


R. Mosaic of Amazon with double headed axe 4th century CE Turkey. Now in the LouvreMosaic of Amazon with double headed axe, 4th century CE, Turkey. Now in the Louvre (AGER MA 3457). Photo: S. Anderson