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Updated: Jan 31, 2022

Written by Jeanne Gachet

Purple is a queer color symbol that often goes unnoticed. However, it has been carrying historical significance since the 7th century BC.

Ancient Greek poet Sappho first attributed the color to desire in her papyrus telling erotic predilections for young women with “violet tiaras”. In the 1920s, lesbians utilized this symbolism by gifting each other these delicate flowers as an act of romantic interest.

In the 19th century, the industrial revolution created a monotonous world, characterized by its lack of beauty and color. Then began the wave of Aestheticism in Europe, in favor of the practice of “art for the sake of art”. Purple synthetic dye was then accidentally invented, leading to the creation of purple clothing later associated with homosexuality. Newspapers claimed that Aesthetes were effeminate, and moral scandals erupted surrounding the use of homoerotic themes in great works of literature of the time. Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray” was seen as outrageous due to its authors’ reminiscing of 'purple hours’ spent with male escorts.

During the McCarthy era in the 1930s, president Eisenhower signed an executive order which led to a national witch-hunt to purge queer people from the federal government. Over 5000 allegedly queer agency employees lost their jobs due to what historian David K. Johnson dubbed “The Lavender Scare”.

In the end of the 60s, queer people reappropriated the color by using it as a symbol of empowerment in protests following the Stonewall riots. In fact, lavender sashes were distributed in a “gay power” march in New York City in 1969 to commemorate the riots that had taken place a month earlier.

This same year, president of the National Organization for Women of the U.S.A., Betty Friedan, opposed herself to the “Lavender Menace”, which she designated as the threat lesbians represented to the feminist movement that was in place at the time. She refused to wear a purple armband out of political solidarity, considering queerness not to take center stage in women’s issues.

Nowadays, lavender is used as a symbol in multiple fields ranging from haute couture to educational events such as “purple friday”; but also so much more. The purple color is now one that represents more than the pain and struggles of the queer community, it also represents the battle for the right for queer people to live their truth in full color.

Jon Key’s The Man No.6. (2020) represents his lineage and identity as a queer, southerner, African-American man


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