© Informed Consent
The "Leather Pride Flag" and the "BDSM Emblem" have
become widely known in some BDSM communities. This page outlines their
history, and some of the rationale behind the BDSM
The Leather Pride Flag was created by the late Tony DeBlase in 1989, and first displayed at the International Mr. Leather competition in Chicago that year. (DeBlase's own account of the flag is reproduced at the Leather Archives & Museum)
The flag is a variation on the United States flag, with red and white stripes replaced by black and blue, and the field of stars in the top left hand corner replaced by a red heart: "The flag is composed of nine horizontal stripes of equal width. From the top, and from the bottom, the stripes alternate black and royal blue. The central stripe is white. In the upper left quadrant of the flag is a large red heart."
DeBlase offered no specific meanings for the components of the flag (although "black and blue" has an obvious interpretation): "I will leave it to the viewer to interpret the colors and symbols."
However, the flag's copyright is owned by a commercial operation ("Desmodus Inc.") and according to DeBlase "anyone wishing to use it for purely commercial purposes must receive our written approval. However, we welcome members of the Leather/SM community to use the design for flags, banners, pins, T-shirts, printed material, etc. to be distributed free or sold at cost, or to be used for fund raising for not-for-profit causes that benefit leather men and women."
Since 1989, the flag has become very widely used in the Gay Leather community, and many Leather shops and bars fly it outside their premises, use it on their literature or even sell mugs and T-shirts displaying it (it's not clear how many of these have sought permission from the copyright owner.)
However, the flag has achieved very little prominence, or even recognition,
among the wider "pansexual" (ie largely straight and bi) BDSM
After discussions on an AOL message board, Quagmyr proposed a design for a BDSM Emblem in 1995. His emblem was originally inspired by the Roissy rings in the "Story of O", although he later decided the Roissy design had spirals rather than "teardrops." In fact the Triskelion is an ancient symbol used by many cultures, including Oriental variants with Ying-Yang style dots or eyes.
Quagmyr naturally realised it was impossible for him to copyright a design with thousands of years of history, and instead claims ownership of one very specific emblem: "The rims and spokes are of a color indicating metal. The rims and spokes are of uniform width with the arms rotating clockwise. The inner fields are black. The holes in the fields are truly holes and not dots."
He sells merchandise featuring the Emblem, and allows other people to use his specific emblem for "non-profit cultural, educational and artistic use within the BDSM community." However, written permission is required for any commercial use of the Emblem (including fund raising by non-profit BDSM organisations.)
It's probably due to these restrictions, at least in part, that many variants of the ancient triskelion have been used on BDSM websites and other media instead of Quagmyr's. So, unlike the Leather Pride Flag, no single colour scheme is universally used. Quagmyr's site includes a helpful page showing other triskelions and explaining how they differ from the design he claims rights over.
(As we've used his GIF image, we are legally required to reproduce his
copyright statement here:
"The BDSM Emblem is copyright 1995 by Quagmyr@aol.com
who maintains the copyright in order to protect the symbol. It is
freely available for all educational and non-commercial use
within the BDSM community without charge.")
The BDSM Rights Flag we're promoting, uses the colour scheme and stripes from the Leather Pride Flag, but replaces the curves of the red heart with the curves of a red triskelion.
This combination aims for a symbol which is recognisable by people familiar with either the Leather Pride Flag or BDSM use of the Triskelion, but without the commercial restrictions associated with the other designs, and not under the control of any individual or organisation.
Furthermore, it specifically represents the concept of "BDSM Rights": the belief that people whose sexuality or relationship preferences include Bondage and Discipline, Dominance and Submission, or Sadism and Masochism ("BDSM") deserve the same human rights as everyone else, and should not be discriminated against for pursuing BDSM with consenting adults.
If you support our statement on human rights and anti-discrimination, you may use the BDSM Rights Flag design on your own websites, publications, T-shirts, mugs, whatever - whether for personal use or for commercial gain.
We believe that BDSM vendors, event organisers and publishers are an important part of the various BDSM communities, and that anything they do which publicises the idea of BDSM Rights should be encouraged. You do not need to ask our permission to use the design or the image files we make available.
See the main flag page for more about the flag, free images you can use yourself, and a flag maker program to create images to your own specifications.