How Did the Color Purple and the Greek Letter Lambda Get Assoc. with Gay Rights?

How did the Greek letter lambda and the color purple come to be associated with gay rights?


There was a thread on this a while back:

I didn’t read the thread in your link all the way thru. But it appears to be on the triangle and the color pink:).

Actually, I did a search of the archives here on purple and lambda–and turned up nothing.

I’ve never heard of either of those being associated with gay rights

Where did you get that from, anyway?

Purple is associated with gay rights, at least with regard to lesbians, here in New Zealand (experience at a job I had once, that’s the only cite I have at the moment).

Ah. The Purple Pages.

(Gah! Sorry for the triple post here, folks!)

Lambda Youth Project.

Doesn’t answer the OP’s question, though, but there are some connections, at least.

WAG time- I had always assumed that Lambda was a reference to the isle of Lesbos (first letter=lambda), home of Sappho. I’m willing to be corrected, though.

No idea about purple, sorry.

It’s not purple, BTW technically it’s lavender. Ages ago whenI was working on a queer film thesis, the origins of the lavender association was elaborated. It’ll take me a while (and the info I have could be a fallacy), but I’ll see if I can dig it up.

Okay, the Lambda symbol

The “why lambda?” question can only be answered with specuation. Some think it’s supposed to stand for “L” as in “Liberty.” Ancient Greek Spartans used the symbol to mean “unity.” (Supposedly, Ancient Greeks placed the lambda on shields of Spartan warriors, who were often paired off with younger men in battle.) Ultimately, you’d have to ask the NY Gay Rights Alliance to see if anyone remembers why they chose it in 1970.

It used to be a more militant activism symbol and tended to be associated as a male symbol (probably because to the Spartan scenario above.) Today, it’s considered more gender neutral, but still affiliated with activism.

I’m still looking for the history of “Lavender”…

Well, I can tell you that as far back as the 1920s and '30s, “lavender” was used slightingly to refer to effeminate men. In Broadway Melody (1929), for instance, a femmy costumer is told that if he’d desgined the sets, “they’d be in lavender.” So it was already well-known then. I’m assuming gays took it up, like “queer,” in defiance.

I’ve been told (correctly or incorrectly, but often) that the lavender thing is because if you take the pastel shade of blue used to designate little boys and the pale pink used to designate little girls and combine them, you get lavender. I haven’t experimented in Photoshop to see if this is true or not, but it makes sense to my mind’s eye. As to why that would symbolize being gay rather than being hermaphroditic or bisexual I couldn’t tell you.

Another explanation I’ve heard for the choice of the lambda is that it’s used in chemistry to mean “action.”

As for purple? Because it’s the color of royalty, darlings!

At some point I also read that it was quite common in the 1930s club scene (er, well, not the discos of today, the the 30s equivalent) that “lavender” was also used colloquially in some regions amoung lesbians as a term meaning “lesbians.” In a related article, I also saw mention of the same “origin theory” that AHunter3 mentioned – the crossing of the boy/girl baby blanket colours producing a hue of lavender.

I’m still guessing that it has more specific roots, possibly in vaudeville as you said above. I’ll kep looking for something more concrete 'cause now it’s bugging me.

another WAG–I learned in physics that a lambda symbolizes wavelength; I always assumed that the inverted lambda signified being on a different wavelength.

Otto said…Another explanation I’ve heard for the choice of the lambda is that it’s used in chemistry to mean “action.”
This is the explaination I have always head.

That’s an interesting theory, but it doesn’t seem to correspond to the historic use – as a militant activism symbol. Note: Of particular relevence is that the symbol was initially adopted by a New York activism group in 1970. The Stonewall uprisings were in NYC in 1969-1971. Stonewall and the period of activism immediately after it was a very significant time in the history of the gay civil rights movement.

So it’s likely that it was considered most appropriate because it has symbolic connections to “action” “unity” and “liberty.” Plus the legend of lambda’s on the shields of Greek Spartan warriors as they fought alongside their young boyfriends, no doubt had some appeal.

The Spartan connection is also probably the reason it was thought of as a male-only symbol for so long.

I tracked “lavender” further back to Victorian Enlgand until I came across this.
Can anyone verify it?

I see lavendar being used more and more by the bisexual community for the reason stated above - it’s a mix of pink for girls and blue for boys.

The lambda, from what I’ve always understood it, was taken from the Spartan warriors and adopted as an official symbol by the community in the 70’s. Then we had our run on pink triangles (from the Nazi concentration camps), and then in the early 90’s San Francisco adopted the 6-colored rainbow flag, which is used predominantly today.

Hard keeping up with these kids today, with their pride and their colors… :wink: